Pope's secretary puts papal organ donation discussion to rest


Though he promotes organ donation, the Pope's own organs were officially rendered unavailable for further use when he was elected to the papacy, according to his secretary.

Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, Pope Benedict XVI's personal secretary, silenced debate in Germany over whether the Pope was still a card-holding organ donor.

Gloria TV produced a copy of a letter from the secretary to a German doctor clarifying the Pope's donating status. Dr. Gero Winkelmann had reportedly attempted to lend credibility to the idea of organ donation in lectures and articles by saying that the Pope himself had a donor card.

Before his election as the successor to John Paul II, the Pope had been a potential donor since the 1970s, explained Msgr. Gaenswein in the Feb. 5 message. But, he wrote, the donation card was rendered "obsolete" when Benedict XVI was elected Pope.

The Vatican's "health minister," Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper that the Pope's body must remain intact "because it belongs to and for the Church, in body and soul."

He added that this "takes nothing from the validity and the beauty of the gift of organ donation."

Although any claim on Benedict XVI's organs at this point is not recognized, his teaching on the matter stands. Even as Pope, he has spoken about the need for organ donors and the beauty of donating.

He spoke about its importance in a Nov. 2008 address to participants in a congress on transplants sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life. On that occasion, he called organ donation an "act of love ... that remains as a genuine witness of charity which knows how to look beyond death so that life always wins."