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Bishop Sorondo defends China’s ‘reform of the organ donation system’

Bishop Marcel Sánchez Sorondo (Getty)

A Vatican bishop has defended the Chinese government’s record on organ harvesting.

In a letter seen by the Catholic Herald, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo said it was “myopic” to criticise the Holy See’s engagement with China, and that the Chinese government has “accomplished the reform of the organ donation system”.

Bishop Sorondo, the head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PAS), said last month: “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”

His remarks were intended to support a possible deal between the Vatican and China, in which the state would have a greater role in the selection of bishops.

While the deal’s supporters say it will unite the Church, critics say it will leave Catholics under the sway of the Communist Party and leave the “underground” Catholic community vulnerable to persecution.

Bishop Sorondo’s latest comments come in his response to a letter from the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China. The letter cast doubt on China’s claimed reforms, pointing out that the registries of organ donation are not open to the public.

The letter-writers also expressed their dismay at the Vatican’s decision to invite Wang Haibo, head of China’s organ distribution system, to a conference last month. A former health minister, Jiefu Huang, was also invited – a decision criticised by some human rights campaigners.

In 2015 China said it no longer extracted organs from prisoners. But human rights groups and academics have claimed that the procedure – in which victims are strapped to tables and cut open – is still widespread in China.

The letter from the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse In China says that the government has “passed no new laws or regulations” to regulate the practice, that public data is “minimal, and sometimes contradictory”, and that China has “never acknowledged the extrajudicial execution of prisoners of conscience for their organs”.

“The horrendous abuses that have been extensively documented, and brought to your attention previously,”the letter told Bishop Sorondo, “cannot be confirmed to be merely a thing of the past. Indeed, even if they were, the perpetrators must still be brought to justice.”

The letter-writers argued that the Pontifical Academy’s reputation could be severely damaged if it defends China’s reforms without enough evidence.

In his response, Bishop Sorondo affirmed the Vatican’s commitment to human rights, and said that attacking Chinese attempts at reform could backfire. “Those that seek to undermine Professor Jiefu Huang do so at the risk of undermining the leadership of reform,” the bishop wrote.

Bishop Sorondo said that “ideological political groups” were trying to obstruct the Vatican’s engagement with China. These groups “for various reasons do not want to understand that the Church, the United Nations, and the people of the earth must follow the evolution of a country with a population of 1,300 million and 31 million Christians, which is becoming one of the most important protagonists of the new world scenario that is passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, like it went from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic in the past.”

China’s current policy, the bishop told the letter-writers, forbids the use of organs from executed prisoners. “The disposition of China regarding this reform,” he writes was publicly promulgated at the PAS Summit of February 2017 and is a citable reference for this new China Model.”

He also tells them that the “continued attacks” on Vatican outreach to China will not persuade the Chinese government, because “the authors of the attack targeting the PAS are perceived by colleagues in China to be spokespersons for a political organisation.”

The news comes as China reaffirms the state’s authority over the Church. A state official told a press conference yesterday: “Actively guiding religions in adapting to the socialist society means guiding religious believers to… be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people.”