February 4, 2011

Why the Pope can't be an organ donor.

For one thing: "his body belongs to the entire Church and must be buried intact." But:
Furthermore, if papal organs were donated, they would become relics in other bodies if he were eventually made a saint.
I don't know enough Catholic theology to understand what's wrong with a saint's relic functioning in someone else's body. Saints are supposed to help us out only in ways that that are unachievable by ordinary dead people?

46 comments:

Original Mike said...

"Furthermore, if papal organs were donated, they would become relics in other bodies if he were eventually made a saint."

I've been having a bad morning, but that picked my spirits up. Funny.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

This a 'tweak you,' 'tweak you back' argument and, Ann, I believe you are currently ahead on tweaks. Meanwhile harvesting of organs from 80 y.o men goes on unapace.

DADvocate said...

Popes are generally really old. Would their organs be of much use to anyone?

Paddy O said...

So, Christ who gave his body and blood for the sake of the church isn't a good example. Indeed, in the Mass, Catholics believe they are taking the actual body and blood of Christ, which is why they honor the ceremony so much. Priests are called priests because of this celebrating of the sacrifice.

Jesus gave his life for the sake of all, which we remember as often as we celebrate communion.

But the Pope's body is too precious to give to help even a single person live?

Of course, I'm not Catholic and while there's a lot I appreciate about Catholic theology I do not really understand how the idea of "relics" are anything but a pagan idea. I'm willing to be educated, however.

Plus, he's old. But, given the lifestyle of early and more recent popes (we'll ignore the medieval popes" there's probably some healthy organs in there.

Harsh Pencil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harsh Pencil said...

The comment about relics is odd since a pope is considered by the Church to be no more or less a candidate for sainthood than anyone else. But the Church has nothing against Joe or Jane Catholic donating organs posthumously (assuming that death isn't hastened so doctors can get their hands on the organs). And if Joe Catholic is canonized, then all his body parts become relics in the same way, no more no less, than if a pope is canonized.

former law student said...

If they're worried about having his pieces scattered about, why did the Church allow separate burial of people's hearts?

William said...

I wonder if they supervise his barber and the disposal of his shorn locks. I bet the barber could pick up some decent money selling Papal hair on E-bay......There used to be a belief that on the day of the Last Judgement, you went around and picked up all your missing body parts. That's why soldiers carried a lock of the hair of their beloved into battle. It couldn't possibly hurt to have a Papal visit on Judgement Day.

Ann Althouse said...

The theology is obviously not about the Pope's age. Yes, the organs aren't in fact useful and won't be used when he died, so why raise the subject at all? Why opine on it? The Vatican thought it was worth saying this, and I'm interested in the theological reasoning.

Original Mike said...

"There used to be a belief that on the day of the Last Judgement, you went around and picked up all your missing body parts. That's why soldiers carried a lock of the hair of their beloved into battle."

Interesting.

Original Mike said...

"The comment about relics is odd since a pope is considered by the Church to be no more or less a candidate for sainthood than anyone else. "

I bet he really is, as this pronoucement reveals.

edutcher said...

This is a new one on me, too. I can't ever recall the subject coming up at Mass.

As to the author, interesting to see all the Know-Nothings haven't completely died out.

DADvocate said...

Popes are generally really old. Would their organs be of much use to anyone?

No less than any other geezer carrying an Organ Donor card.

Paddy O said...

Okay, I'll jump back into the fray.

Theology can be both descriptive and situational. Meaning, a lot of theology -- especially concerning the Church -- arises out of contexts, concerns, and other situations.

So, the Church has a theology of saints. I disagree with it on this point, but it's there.

A Pope who may be equal to everyone in potential still has a definite lead in consideration, as they are both broadly known and have made key decisions. The present pope was involved, like it or not, in key decisions of the church for decades, so he definitely has a good likelihood.

Because of the doctrine of saints, people in the Church take the role of saints seriously. So, someone who has been sainted, or potentially sainted, or was just a really important person, is seen as a special figure of honor, as is their tomb, or other parts and pieces.

For the Church then, this means they have to be careful not to objectify the Pope for coming generations. No one church or group or region could be seen as having control of his particular saintedness. Just as the Pope now has to be careful not to show bias towards different regions, as he is the head of the whole church and not just Rome, so too his body has to be guarded to protect it from misuse by others.

And someone who receives an organ from the Pope would be treated, no doubt, much like a toasted cheese sandwich with an image of the Virgin Mary on it. That person would be adored, and prayed to, and otherwise set apart.

So, in this instance, my guess is the theology is serving a functional role to guard against misuse and misunderstandings. The pope can't donate because people would make such a huge deal about where the parts went.

While the donation of organs itself may not be theologically incorrect, the practice may indeed encourage or lead to expressions of invalid theology and practices, which the Vatican wants to avoid by negating the whole issue.

DaveW said...

Yes, the organs aren't in fact useful and won't be used when he died, so why raise the subject at all? Why opine on it?

No idea.

And I don't know the theology behind the Pope not being an organ donor. Just taking a wild guess I'd say they want to avoid any clamoring for his kidneys when he dies - so it could be more PR concern than theology. But there could be some theology behind it in that he's the direct successor to Saint Peter.

David said...

The more relics, the more tourist attractions.

I say chop him up in little pieces when he's gone and share the wealth. Hope and change, baby.

Richard Dolan said...

"The theology is obviously not about the Pope's age."

It's not a question of theology at all but of Church tradition, institutional practices and canon law. Like other legal systems, canon law adopts rules designed to avoid problems; and also like other legal systems, canon law is subject to revision as times change and new situations arise.

While theological principles (the divinity of Christ, e.g.) are constantly subject to reinterpretation -- the idea is that they can never be perfectly or fully captured in human terms -- the principles themselves remain constant. The notion of constant principles subject to changing understandings is itself hard to pin down. Partly for that reason, the Greek fathers relied more on apophastic theology -- the process of saying what God is not as the better way to approach an understanding of divinity -- than the Latinate approach.

Freeman Hunt said...

I ignore stories sourced from "Vatican officials." They are often entirely wrong and consist of statements not endorsed by the Church.

This may be accurate, or it may not. I'm betting the relics part is totally inaccurate.

former law student said...

Suddenly I recall that the turkey's tail was referred to as "the Pope's nose." Transplant material?

MaxedOutMama said...

More realistically, the Popes die so darned old that no one would want one of their organs.

But does anyone else remember the spate of "personality transferring with transplanted organs" stories when transplanting became more common?

Wouldn't that be a great basis for a movie? Down-and-outer gets a papal kidney and suddenly walks around blessing people. It would be a sort of cross between Taxi and all those angel series.

Okay, maybe not so great. Maybe this policy does a favor to us all.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

And in related news, Mr. Gibbs started off his press conference today with the statement the Barack Obama would not be a sperm donor. Ann, over to you.

Bruce Hayden said...

I do think that there is a logical inconsistency between the idea that the Bishop of
Rome would have no better chance at sainthood than anyone else, but that he couldn't be an organ donor because of the chance that he might, indeed, become a saint after death.

But, being mainline Protestant, I have serious theological problems with the idea that a human, born of a normal man and woman, could have the power to make someone a saint. But, then, I don't believe in saints in the first place, and feel that they have no place in (my) Christianity. This is part of the idolatry and polytheism that I mentioned earlier today on another thread. I just can't help thinking that a good Jewish boy like Jesus, if he were to come back to us today, would be mortified about much of what is done in his name.

Ann Althouse said...

There's a real PR issue here. The Pope is recommending organ donation, encouraging it, but the Church's tradition reflects the old idea of respecting the integrity of a dead body. Which one are you for? Why a special rule for the Pope? Is organ donation good or is the integrity of the corpse good? Pick one. If you're making a distinction, you need to explain it.

Paddy O said...

Why a special rule for the Pope?

"While the donation of organs itself may not be theologically incorrect, the practice may indeed encourage or lead to expressions of invalid theology and practices, which the Vatican wants to avoid by negating the whole issue."

Misuse of the donee might be the reason more than misuse of the donor.

Cog said...

This is about a policy and should not be considered a theological issue. The Vatican could change its mind about it but for now this is the policy. The Vatican spokesman spoke of it as the “church's tradition” that a pope's body be buried intact. Also, the Vatican spokesman made it clear that “That takes nothing away from the validity and the beauty of donating one's organs." There’s no mention about relics in the Catholic News Service reporting of this. Obviously, you don’t have to be pope to be a saint and there is no theological reason that says saints can’t donate organs.

Bill White said...

Criminy - people discussing a Reuters report attributed to "Vatican officials". I'd expect this at Nancy Nall's place, where everyone is relatively sane until someone says "Pope" or "Bush", but not here.

former law student said...

I have serious theological problems with the idea that a human, born of a normal man and woman, could have the power to make someone a saint. But, then, I don't believe in saints in the first place, and feel that they have no place in (my) Christianity

I hope saints have a place in your Christianity, because these are simply the people whom God has granted eternal life in heaven. God makes the saints, not the church. The named saints are people who the Church is quite certain are in heaven. The beatification (deceased may be venerated) process and canonization (deceased must be venerated) process assure this.

Richard Dolan said...

"Why a special rule for the Pope? Is organ donation good or is the integrity of the corpse good? Pick one."

There you go again, with those either/or choices. Life is complicated, and 'pick one' is not often the best advice. But OK.

In Catholic tradition, the Pope is seen as having been deputized to safeguard the Church -- he is fully human, as capable of failing to live up to the ideal as the next guy but still the successor to Peter and the Vicar of Christ (that's the usual moniker). The voters who elect him are men, but the Spirit that picks him out is not.

By according his person reverence, both during life and after death, the faithful are honoring the Spirit who selected him for that unique role. There are many ways in which that idea of reverence (offered to the man but in recognition of other values) could be expressed, and there is nothing to say that it won't change over time. But, if you accept the premise of the uniqueness of the papal office, it's not a large step to accepting unique treatment for its current holder. (Much the same kind of thing explains the special treatment according presidents and royalty, too.)

Paddy O said...

This is about a policy and should not be considered a theological issue.

While certainly true in a literal way, there is common practice of using the term theology to mean anything to do with practice or belief. Thus, theology proper is about God, especially the Father, but we also have ecclesiology, which is theology about the church.

More importantly, though, is that over the centuries policies and customs can easily transition into being full-fledged theology (in its broader meaning). The custom and policy of the bishop of Rome being important led, over the centuries, to him being understood as the head of the church, even though the churches of the East disagreed.

Moreover, his being given this position theologically led to the Vatican I establishment of even more important theological powers. His ability to speak ex cathedra, for instance, as an infallible teaching, was only codified in the 19th century (IIRC).

So, policies and statements that are made from church officials may not be binding theology, but they do point to thoughts and practices which might lead to more developed theology of his role and thus on the church as a whole.

Ann's point about his body being sacred, for instance, could lead to a Christian theology that no one should donate organs because of the sanctity of all Christian bodies.

DaveW said...

Which one are you for? Why a special rule for the Pope? Is organ donation good or is the integrity of the corpse good?

I think they committed a faux pas in how they explained this.

PaulV said...

I have donated 82 units of blood over the years, hoping to get to 100. I have come down with an autoimmune disease, myasthenia gravis and cannot donate unless it goes into remission (unlikely). Can someone be a pope if they have donated blood or a kidney?

paul a'barge said...

um .. why I'm a Protestant.

wv: listo

look it up in Spanish.

Paul said...

Ann,

By the time the Pope dies I don't think there is much to donate...

traditionalguy said...

What's wrong with more of those catacombs like those under the Capuchin Convent? The Church could then run St. John's entire body around in a Mummy's Saint Mobile at festivals and do miracles. And that would become a source of Catholic jobs doing embalming work.

Ralph L said...

Aren't Jews supposed to be buried in tact, also? Should all those Jewish doctors be performing transplants and recommending donation?

That's why soldiers carried a lock of the hair of their beloved into battle.
You just made that up. Everyone knows they originally carried her toe-nail clippings off to war.

I think the Pope rule is designed to prevent people from clamoring for papal parts, just as the Queen doesn't attend funerals.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

PR can be a chess game and the Vatican sees limited benefit in playing the one offered. For example, take the obvious answer (known already to the questioner if her IQ broaches 60), "He's too old." Questioner's move: 'Then how can he rule on (insert favorite topic here)?' Possible answer 2, 'He will.' Then he is left going through a meaningless and possibly humiliating exercise (if in doubt refer to answer 1) or be left, like John Kerry, providing a semi-quiet laughing stock to any interested party. The answer, in any event, is a cultural and social answer and not a theological one. It is revealing in its own way. We, anybody I disagree with anyway, often think of the Pope as the Josef Stalin of Christianity. He can order a viewpoint and it, for Catholics, happens. As his recent interesting statement about condom use and the denouement suggests, he probably is subject to an amorphous consensus of Vatican officials, cardinals, and tradition.

Theology itself is a chess game or solution to an algebraic equation first majorly broached by St. Paul. Jesus spoke, however he did so, truth to Paul. Paul had to have a solution to the problem that his Messiah was crucified and died. Christian theology is first of all the solution to that historical fact.

William said...

Well, as leader of the faithful, he should do nothing to weaken their faith. If he donates a liver and the recipient continues with his heavy drinking, how would that look? The fact that he is Pope completely changes the equation. Consider again something as extraneous as his shorn locks. How would it look if Bill Maher purchased sufficient quantities to make a hair piece or Rosie O'Donnell had a merkin made to wear in some gay sex scene. That would be very wrong. Mortality treats the Pope's body the way it treats the body of all others, but all others treat his mortal body differently.

Bender said...

Not having read many of the previous comments, but --

This is NOT a question of theology. It is merely a question of practicality, not to mention the question of the tradition and practice of the Church with respect to burials of popes. Typically, popes lay in state for a period of time. (And I'm not sure, but I've read that they use minimal embalming, if any.)

Moreover, immediately after death of a pope is a time for prayer, etc., and not a time for the organ ghouls to come in to harvest. By the time those prayers, etc. are over, the organs would be far from useful for transplant.

As for Church teaching on organ transplantation in general, that is found in Evangelium Vitae --

86. As part of the spiritual worship acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1), the Gospel of life is to be celebrated above all in daily living, which should be filled with self-giving love for others. In this way, our lives will become a genuine and responsible acceptance of the gift of life and a heartfelt song of praise and gratitude to God who has given us this gift. This is already happening in the many different acts of selfless generosity, often humble and hidden, carried out by men and women, children and adults, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick.

It is in this context, so humanly rich and filled with love, that heroic actions too are born. These are the most solemn celebration of the Gospel of life, for they proclaim it by the total gift of self. They are the radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one's life for the person loved (cf. Jn 15:13). They are a sharing in the mystery of the Cross, in which Jesus reveals the value of every person, and how life attains its fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.

Bender said...

I do not really understand how the idea of "relics" are anything but a pagan idea

The pagans do not have a monopoly on the idea of showing respect for the body of a deceased or for having a special reverence or loving attachment to those items associated with the deceased.

Surely, you would treat the relics (body) of your loved ones with respect and give them a decent burial, rather than merely cart their body down to the curb to be taken out with the trash? Likewise, you would treasure various heirlooms of the dearly departed loved one, which might even include not only inanimate objects, like clothing or watches or jewelry, but also things associated with the body, like locks of hair, etc.

Bodily relics especially are, in a very real sense, part of the person. Most times, the body of a deceased is kept intact, but in the case of very popular people, since the entire body cannot be everywhere, some parts (piece of bone, heart, etc.) might be removed to accomodate the desires of others to have that person with them as well. Such would never be done for someone to have such a relic personally, but to accomodate an entire community. For example, when they moved the body of Fr. Damien to his home country of Belgium, the people of Molokai were quite upset, but later a relic (his hand) was returned to his original grave in Molokai.

As for the relics of popes and saints, at least with respect to non-bodily relics, such as bits of articles of clothing, these are quite frequently given out. For example, I have a relic (very tiny relic) of St. Padre Pio, which is attached to a prayer card.

Blue@9 said...

See, religion is just flat out weird. Most people don't realize it because they're so accustomed to the beliefs around them. My Christian friends are mildly amused when I refer to their faith as "Obeisance to the zombie lord." (The guy died and came back, and now you ritually eat his flesh and drink his blood. That shit's got 'zombie' written all over it.)

Revenant said...

the Pope can't be an organ donor

I was briefly worried that the Pope's existence might serve some useful purpose for humanity, but thankfully the above revelation cleared that up.

Paddy O said...

Bender, thanks for your very helpful (to me at least) answers.

Joan said...

I was briefly worried that the Pope's existence might serve some useful purpose for humanity, but thankfully the above revelation cleared that up.

Wow, Rev really went there. Usually he has more sense than to trumpet his small-mindedness like that.

Christopher said...

"My Christian friends are mildly amused when I refer to their faith as 'Obeisance to the zombie lord.'"

I suspect your friends are 'mildly amused' to the same level as they would be watching a child shit his diapers and smear feces on the wall while crowing about what a funny boy he was.

Here's something "mildly amusing," cockholster - go find some Muslims and refer to their faith as 'obeisance to the pedophile sand monkey.' Let us know how that works out for you, mkay?

Revenant said...

Wow, Rev really went there. Usually he has more sense than to trumpet his small-mindedness like that.

Any organization which places veneration of its leader ahead of saving human lives is run by moral midgets.

If you think feeling that way proves I'm "small minded", fine.

Suburbanbanshee said...

If there really are any rules against the Pope being an organ donor (the which I doubt, seeing as I mistrust news reports which involve the Vatican unless I get to see the original documents), it's not a matter of relics or of the body "belonging to the Church".

It's a matter of protecting the Pope against weird crappy doctors. Look up what happened to some of the popes last century. Doctors with weird embalming experiments. Doctors with weird quack techniques performed on dying and defenseless popes. Nasty stuff.

It's also a matter of protecting the Pope from weird crappy intrigue. Popes have been assassinated before, and organ donation has probably been judged a likely way to destroy the evidence and subvert the procedures to determine death and make sure everybody knows the Pope is dead.

That said, if Pope B really does feel like donating his organs, and if he's not on any medications that would make it inadvisable, I think he'll figure out a way to make it happen. He just wouldn't tell all the bureaucrats about it, that's all. The element of surprise is the way to reform. :)

However, it's also possible that this German doctor guy is one of the "make organ donation mandatory, and do it before natural death to keep the organs fresh" crowd. In that case, I can see where the Pope would want to stop him from using his letter to misrepresent Catholic doctrine.

Firehand said...

It's a bureaucratic thing; we wouldn't understand.