Organ donation OK?

Question: I am confused with something said in the YOUCAT (“Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church”), which seems to forbid organ donation: “The Fifth Commandment forbids also the use of violence against one’s own body ... Self-destructive acts against one’s own body (body piercings, cutting and so on) are in most cases psychological reactions to experiences of abandonment and a lack of love; hence they call first and foremost for our sincere and loving response. Within the context of organ donation, it must be made clear, however, that there is no human right to destroy one’s own God-given body” (YOUCAT, No. 387). Does this mean we can’t be organ donors?

Maureen Normann, Washington, D.C.

Answer: The YOUCAT is a catechism aimed at youth, which was developed in conjunction with World Youth Day. While it is a valuable resource, it limits its answers to a very brief question and answer format. As such, it does not always develop what it says. The hope is to connect young people with the larger Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium.

The passage quoted above is a bit murky. However, the YOUCAT later states more directly about organ donation: “Donating organs can lengthen or improve the quality of life, and therefore it is a genuine service to one’s neighbor, provided no one is forced to do it” (No. 391). The YOUCAT then points to paragraph 2296 of the catechism, which develops the matter further.

On the American scene, organ donation is seen as altruistic, and an almost unqualified good — and surely it can be such. However, remember the catechism (including YOUCAT) is written for a worldwide setting where, in some places, the buying and selling of organs is becoming a problem. For example, in China, prisoners have been compelled to donate their organs. Hence, the Church wants to encourage organ donation, but balance it with the respect we should have for bodily integrity and the physical and emotional health of the organ donors. Increasingly, the powerless and poor are being compelled to donate or tempted to sell their organs.

The YOUCAT quote is likely aiming here in its analysis and clarifies later the good of donation in the right circumstances.

Mass in the home?

Question: Does the Church have a position on saying Mass in a private home? A retired priest lives near our parish and says Mass in his home. A few people who do not seem to like our liturgies attend it, and this causes tension.

Name withheld

Answer: There is not a juridical problem here. However, home Masses ought not be conducted without the approval of the territorial pastor. Many dioceses have limited the celebration of home Masses, which used to be very popular. Masses are best celebrated in a church or oratory, at the dedicated altar, and so home Masses should only be celebrated for serious pastoral needs.

However, the norm can allow for a retired priest to celebrate in his home (especially if he has mobility issues) and a few of the faithful can attend. So, if the local pastor and diocesan norms permit, what you describe is allowable as a pastoral provision for a retired priest. As for the tensions you describe, it is unfortunate, but allow the two priests to work that out.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.