Pope Benedict's organs

by Joshua J. McElwee

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There was a bit of particularly odd news making the rounds last week: According to the Vatican, the Pope cannot be an organ donor.

The weird question came about when Pope Benedict's secretary, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, wrote a letter to a doctor in Germany asking him to stop advertising the fact that the pope, while a cardinal, had carried an organ donor card.

"Contrary to public opinion, the card issued back in the 1970s became de facto invalid with Cardinal Ratzinger's election to the papacy," Vatican Radio quoted from Gaenswein letter Feb. 4.

Now, Religion News Service has posted a story with this headline: "There’s a good reason why Benedict’s not an organ donor."

An excerpt from the beginning of Francis X. Rocca's piece:

“A decision of a personal character made when (Benedict) was a private citizen is no longer operative now that he is the head of the Catholic Church,” said the Vatican’s top spokesman, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi.

Lombardi also called the idea of transplanting the organs of a man who is already almost 84 “a little surreal.”

Lombardi dismissed reports that the church preserves a dead pope’s body in order to supply holy relics in case he’s declared a saint. But Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Vatican’s health care office, told an Italian newspaper that one reason to keep papal remains intact would be for “possible future veneration.”

Since Benedict’s five predecessors are now under formal consideration for sainthood, it’s not a huge stretch to see Benedict—still alive and kicking—as a possible saint-in-waiting.

And where there’s a saint, there are often bodily relics to be venerated by the faithful. Generally speaking—at least in modern times—the church prefers the relics all be in one place.

What do you think? Putting aside the pope's age, which would likely disqualify him from donating anyways, should the pope be allowed to donate his parts?

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