Pope can no longer donate organs: Vatican

VATICAN CITY Fri Feb 4, 2011 4:55am EST

Pope Benedict XVI kneels as he leads a vesper mass to mark the presentation of the Lord feast in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 2, 2011. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pope Benedict XVI kneels as he leads a vesper mass to mark the presentation of the Lord feast in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

VATICAN CITY (Reuters Life!) - Pope Benedict has a soft spot in his heart for organ donations but his body parts can't be donated to save lives after he dies, the Vatican says.

A doctor in Germany had been using the fact that the pope possessed an organ donors' card from a medical association to advocate the practice. The Vatican asked him to stop but he did not.

To settle the matter, the pope's secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, sent a letter to the doctor and the missive was reported in the German program of Vatican Radio.

"It's true that the pope owns an organ donor card ... but 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 the letter.

In 1999, six years before he was elected to the papacy, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger disclosed that he always carried an organ donor's card with him and encouraged the practice as "an act of love."

Vatican officials say that after a pope dies, his body belongs to the entire Church and must be buried intact. Furthermore, if papal organs were donated, they would become relics in other bodies if he were eventually made a saint.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)