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Bishop Marcel Sánchez Sorondo

VATICAN CITY, April 5, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A high-ranking Vatican bishop close to Pope Francis has pilloried concerns raised by more than a dozen doctors, lawyers, and professors that China may still engage in ‘horrendous abuses’ in its organ transplant system, including the illegal harvesting of organs from convicts. 

In a March 19 open letter to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of two Vatican dicasteries, The International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC) asked the Vatican to “reserve its judgement” about claims that China now harvests organs ethically. 

The letter took issue with a recent Vatican-run conference on human trafficking where Dr. Wang Haibo, the head of the controversial China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS), was invited to give a speech. 

The letter also took issue with a different Vatican-run conference last year where China’s former deputy health minister Huang Jiefu, who has spearheaded the overhaul China’s transplantation system, was invited to attend. Critics warned at the time that Jiefu’s invitation risked giving a propaganda boost to China’s scandal-plagued transplantation program.

While Chinese officials have claimed that since January 2015, COTRS no longer allocated organs from prisoners, the coalition stated in its letter that such claims are “scarcely credible.” The letter had 18 signers, many of whom are experts on China and who are doctors, lawyers, and professors. 

“The horrendous abuses that have been extensively documented, and brought to your attention previously, 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 to Sorondo states.

The coalition states that Dr. Haibo’s attendance at the conference has now been used for “domestic and foreign propaganda purposes” related to current Vatican and Beijing negotiations. Beijing would like the Vatican to allow the Communist government to select bishops, a request that is contrary to Catholic teaching. A deal is expected any time. 

“We would also like to note that the attendance of Chinese representatives at the recent event has been used for domestic and foreign propaganda purposes by Chinese state-controlled media entities. Chinese transplant officials explicitly linked their participation to relations between the Vatican and Beijing,” the letter states. 

The coalition warned that the Pontifical Academy’s reputation could be damaged if China’s organ reforms prove false. 

“We respectfully advise the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to reserve its judgement about claims of total reform of China’s transplant system, prior to demonstrated transparency and significant independent verification of the alleged 2015 reforms. If such claims are found to be false, the reputation of the Academy is at stake, along with that of China’s leading organ transplant officials,” the letter states. 

But Sorondo, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Academies for Sciences and Social Sciences, scoffed at the concerns raised in the letter. 

He accused the letter-writers of trying to interfere with Vatican-Beijing negotiations. 

Sorondo wrote that it was “myopic” to criticize the Vatican’s relationship with China. He said that “ideological political groups” were trying to undermine Vatican’s negotiations with China. The UK’s Catholic Herald reported March 4 on Sorondo’s response. 

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,” Sorondo wrote. 

He asserted that the communist Chinese government had “accomplished the reform of the organ donation system” and that attacks on the reform were misguided. 

“Those that seek to undermine Professor Jiefu Huang [the official in charge of reforming China’s organ transplant system] do so at the risk of undermining the leadership of reform,” Sorondo wrote.

ETAC protested in its letter the Vatican’s invitation of Haibo because, it alleged, evidence suggests that the Chinese government still engages in harvesting organs from political prisoners. 

The People’s Republic of China has stated that it has not taken organs from prisoners of any kind since 2015, and yet “the claimed number of organ donations in China has risen almost exponentially—a truly remarkable feat,” the ETAC committee wrote. Despite the reforms China says it has made,”there is a continued widespread cultural resistance to organ donation,” the letter states.   

The ETAC committee told Sorondo that despite its assurances, China had neither passed laws forbidding the harvesting of prisoners’ organs nor admitted that it had ever executed prisoners for their organs. ETAC wrote that there was “robust evidence” not only that this had happened in the past, but that this still happens. 

ETAC cited an ally of Jiefu Huang, Francis Delmonico of the Transplant Society, as having told U.S. Congress in 2016 that he couldn’t verify that use of organs from Chinese prisoners had ceased. 

According to the Catholic Herald, Sorondo told ETAC that “China’s current policy…forbids the use of organs from executed prisons” and that Chinese authorities would pay no attention to their criticism of the Pontifical Academy for Science, as they are perceived to be “spokespersons for a political organisation.” 

According to the 2017 Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, China’s religious minorities have been victims of organ harvesting. The document states, “Organ donors often are nonconsenting, particularly executed Falun Gong prisoners and detainees, though individuals from other faiths have also been targeted, such as Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians.”

A report released by the “International Coalition to End Organ Pillaging in China” in June 2016 stated that 60,000 – 100,000 organ transplants are performed in the PRC each year despite the government’s assurances that only 10,000 take place.

Sorondo made headlines in February this year when he said, “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”  Sorondo has also advocated for small families, saying at a Vatican conference on “biological extinction” that “many times” Catholics do not really understand Church doctrine about “the question of fecundity.”