In January, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, known for its numerous contributions to breast cancer marketing and research, announced that it was severing ties with Planned Parenthood due to a new policy barring grants to organizations under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Rep. Cliff Sterns (R-FL) had launched a congressional investigation into whether or not Planned Parenthood was using public funds for abortions. Planned Parenthood had been using the funds for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services for low-income women, many of whom had nowhere else to turn.
To say that public outcry over the Komen’s Foundation decision was huge is an understatement. After a “firestorm” of criticism, the Komen Foundation’s founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker, announced that they would continue to fund Planned Parenthood’s grants and “preserve” its eligibility for future grants. Brinker said that the foundation’s original decision had not been “done for political reasons, or specifically to penalize Planned Parenthood.”
But a March 15th article by Reuters reveals that other groups, specifically the Catholic church and its bishops, had put pressure on the Komen Foundation. In particular, the 2011 announcement by Ohio bishops of a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen “helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood,” according to current and local Komen officials.
The relationship between the Catholic church and the Komen Foundation is indeed “complicated.” As Reuters details, the Catholic “simultaneously contributes… and receives grants” from the breast cancer charity. Catholic dioceses have contributed to the Komen Foundation, through fundraisers at the local level. At the same time, at least $17.6 million of the donations Komen receives has gone to Catholic universities, hospitals and charities in the US in recent years. For instance, Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution in Washington, has received $15 million in Komen grants. In 2011, Catholic institutions overall received $7.4 million from Komen, substantially more than the $684,000 Planned Parenthood received that year.
Conservative Shift Among Catholic Bishops Under Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Starting in 2005, says Reuters, dioceses across the US started to withdraw support from Komen fundraisers, first in South Carolina; individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states followed suit, as bishops there “either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.” Then, in 2011, bishops in Ohio — where no Planned Parenthood clinics receive funding from Komen — met in Columbus and made this decision:
… diocese funds should no longer benefit the charity, for fear that money sent from local Komen affiliates to the Dallas headquarters could wind up in Planned Parenthood’s coffers or help fund research on stem cells collected from human fetuses, according to church officials.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference next advised its nearly 190,000 parishioners against donating to Komen. In California, Komen officials found themselves receiving requests for the first time in two decades to meet with Catholic officials who “expressed concern about Planned Parenthood but took no action.”
When asked, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that there is no official policy about donating or not donating to Komen as such “funding activities take place at the local level.” The spokeswoman also noted that there were “no plans” to consider the issue.
Of note is that a “conservative shift” among local bishops — including the calls to cease donating to Komen and a greater focus on social issues — occurred at the same time as New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan became the head of the bishops’ conference in November of 2010. Under his leadership, the bishops’ conference has created a new ad hoc committee on religious liberty whose specific focus is opposing government policies which are seen as conflicting with official church teachings on issues such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage. As Reuters observes, this conservative shift among Catholic bishops has “coincided with the rise of social conservatives in Congress and state legislatures during the 2010 elections and has gathered pace during the 2012 presidential campaign.”
Again, at the same time as the Catholic church has warned dioceses against fundraising for the Komen Foundation, Catholic institutions have receives millions of dollars in grants from Komen. As University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan says, “It is morally inconsistent, and difficult to explain, why you would condemn donations but continue to accept grants. It makes no ethical sense at all.”
Put another way: In regard to the Komen Foundation funding, the Catholic Church is quite glad to receive what is given (millions of dollars funding), but quite a bit less willing to give itself, due to certain policies.
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Photo taken at St. John Cantius, Cleveland, Ohio, by Eddie~S