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GERMAN BISHOPS DIVIDED ON ABORTION ISSUE

Resisting pressure from the pope, Germany's Catholic bishops failed to reach an agreement Friday on whether they would stop offering abortion counseling.

The German Bishops' Conference, divided after a four-day meeting, said the church would stay in the state counseling system "for an interim period" because they needed more time to respond to the pope's demands that they drop out.

Women in Germany are required by law to show they have received counseling -- offered by Catholic and Protestant church groups, family planning agencies, the Red Cross and state health centers -- before they can legally get an abortion.

About 20,000 women seek abortion counseling in Catholic-run centers each year, and church officials say at least 5,000 of them decide afterward not to have an abortion. Pope John Paul II has tried since 1995 to convince the German church to stop issuing the certificates.

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