“He took my hands and blessed me for my work. I couldn’t help myself. I burst into tears,” she recalls in her memoir, “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.”
Pope Benedict’s blessings marked a high point in the Komen charity’s relationship with the Catholic church. But even before the papal jetliner touched down at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington in 2008, American church leaders had already begun to emerge as critics of Komen’s long-standing ties to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization whose services include birth control and abortion.
Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.
Church opposition reached dramatic new proportions in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen.
Such pressure helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials. The decision, made public in January, and Komen’s reversal only days later, sparked an angry outcry from both sides of an intensifying American debate over abortion.
The anti-abortion movement gathered momentum last year when hundreds of newly elected Republicans entered office across the country and ushered in a wave of local and federal legislation aimed at restricting abortion services and family planning.
“From a moral point of view, and that’s what this is about, it has to do with cooperation and doing things contrary to the church’s teaching,” Bishop Leonard Paul Blair of Toledo said of the agreement the Catholic Conference of Ohio reached on diocese donations.
“In today’s world, there are a lot of entanglements of many things and one has to exercise a certain prudence about standing firm on principle and church teaching and the moral conscience,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Komen officials at the Dallas-based charity declined to speak on the record about relations with the Catholic church.
Signs of discord
The earliest signs of discord came in 2005, when South Carolina’s Catholic diocese pulled out of the local Komen fundraiser. It was followed over the next four years by individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states, where bishops either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.