Pope Benedict's private secretary has announced that the organ donation pledge the pope made as Cardinal Ratzinger is no longer in effect.
The archbishop who heads the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers later told an Italian newspaper that, "It’s understandable that the body of the Pontiff should rest intact because ... he belongs entirely to the Church in spirit and body."
Since every Catholic belongs "entirely to the Church in spirit and body" I find it hard to follow the archbishop’s logic. If any of the pope’s organs would benefit another child of God in need, I would certainly be willing to give up my share in his body for the sake of my and his sister or brother before the whole thing belongs to the worms.
I hope and suspect that Pope Benedict probably feels the same way, but even popes are from time to time put into a position where they cannot contradict some of the Vatican’s more zany "logic." As Benedict XIV, pope from 1740 to 1758 said, "The pope orders, the cardinals do not obey, and the people do as they please."
The fate of Joseph Ratzinger’s desire to be an organ donor, though, provides an opportunity for each of us to look at the issue of organ donation and to act upon it.
When Korea’s Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan
died in 2009, word that he was a cornea donor sparked a movement in the Catholic Church there to increase the number of Catholics who are donors. His death anniversary this month will be marked with organ donor drives.
Sisters in Tokyo with whom I celebrate the Eucharist have made provision that after death their organs will be donated to those who need them, and their bodies may be used for scientific research and the training of health care professionals like doctors.
In their 2001 message
, Reverence for Life, the Japanese bishops said, "Recent [Japanese] media reports on organ transplants use the English word ‘donor’ to describe those who offer their organs. The etymology of this word associates it with ‘gift-giving.’ It contains the sense that one is giving another something that is precious to oneself. Offering one’s organs for transplant to someone in need is indeed a precious gift of a part of the life we have received from God. The Catholic Church has consistently affirmed this as a work of charity."
A popular 1931 song contains the lyrics, "All of me, why not take all of me?" Today, that line can be a motto for us Christians.
Modern science has blessed us with opportunities to give ourselves for the sake of others not only in life, but even after death. My corneas can restore sight to the blind. My heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, bones and more can give life to the dying and improved life for the disabled. And, of course, while I am alive my regular blood donations can save the injured and sustain the sick.
Perhaps particularly in Asia there seems to be a reluctance on the part of people to offer their bodies for the sake of others. There are various irrational fears, some of them provoked by ghoulish tales of organ thieves. This may be a situation in which the Church in Asia might be a light to the nations.
If each nation’s Church were to encourage organ and blood donation and were to set up programs to make it easy for people to become donors it would be a powerful sign of the love we each have for those in need.
Tertullian observed that people looking at our Christian ancestors in the Roman empire commented in awe, "See how these Christians love one another!"
Let’s all of us become donors of life to others so that Asia’s people looking at us might say in awe, "See how these Christians love us!"
Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.