By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI was once a card-carrying organ donor, but the offer expired when he assumed the papal throne, according to the Vatican.
A donor card acquired by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 1970s "became ipso facto obsolete" with his election as pope, according to Monsignor Georg Ganswein, Benedict's private secretary, as reported by the German website of Vatican Radio on Wednesday (Feb. 2).
Ganswein recently wrote to Dr. Gero Winkelmann, a German physician, to refute frequent references to Benedict's donor card in lectures and articles promoting organ donation.
In a 2008 speech, Benedict praised organ donation as an "act of love," provided that extraction of the organs is done with "informed consent" of the donor, and not as part of a business transaction.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said that Ganswein's statement did not reflect any change of heart by the pope on the value of organ donation. Nor is there any Vatican policy of conserving papal body parts to provide relics in case of canonization as a saint, he said.
"But the idea that a man of his age, when he dies, that somebody might present himself seeking his organs, makes no sense," Lombardi said. "It's surreal."