Pope Benedict’s body will belong to the Catholic church when he dies, say Vatican officials.
Pope Benedict carried a donor card back when he was plain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He has carried an organ transplant card faithfully for years, but Joseph Ratzinger’s election to the papacy has ruled him out as an organ donor, the Vatican has revealed. Instead of providing a liver or kidney to a needy recipient, pope Benedict’s body will belong to the church when he dies, said one Vatican official, who suggested that veneration of the pontiff’s remains would be complicated if they were not all in the same place. His championing of organ donation dates back to his days as a cardinal. In 1999 he said helping someone live after you die was “an act of love”.
That prompted a doctor to cite Benedict in a recent drive to recruit organ donors in Germany. But the campaign drew a letter of complaint from the pope’s secretary, Georg Gaenswein. He said: “It’s true that the pope owns an organ donor card ... but contrary to public opinion, the card issued back in the 1970s became de facto invalid with Cardinal Ratzinger’s election to the papacy.”
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: “The pope evidently made the choice many years ago. As a private citizen he could make that decision, but now he has a different role” . The head of the Vatican’s health office, Polish archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, said a pope’s body should remain intact because it belongs to the church. “It is also understandable in view of possible future veneration”, he told La Repubblica newspaper.
Vincenzo Passarelli, the president of the Italian Association of Organ Donors, said he was very surprised by the Vatican’s decision. “If he decides to give up an organ, does that mean the rest of his body no longer belongs to the church?” he said. “Organ donation is a noble act and if the pope donated to a Muslim or a Jew, it would become a truly universal act”. Passarelli admitted that if a papal organ was transplanted, the recipient might risk becoming the object of veneration. “But once an organ is transplanted, it immediately becomes part of another person. “You cannot say that Antonio, for instance, has the pope’s kidney – at that point it is just Antonio’s kidney.”
Until 1903 the organs of popes were removed when they died to make embalming longer lasting, with the organs preserved as relics in the church of Saints Anastasio and Vincent near the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
(Tom Kington, guardian.co.uk - Friday 4 February 2011).