Women's Way, a fund-raising coalition of feminist agencies, has been denied membership in the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania because some of its work in contraceptive and abortion counseling is contrary to the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church.
The rejection brought to light an unpublicized 5-year-old agreement between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the United Way that said the charity would not fund any program or service that is in serious opposition to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
A United Way spokesman confirmed the terms of the understanding and said that Women's Way was the first group to be rejected under the agreement. A spokesman for the archdiocese was not available for comment.
[Philadelphia is at least the fourth major city in which the United Way has found itself caught between abortion services agencies and the local Catholic Church. Previously, Toronto, Minneapolis and Baltimore have seen such squabbles.]
Among the six member agencies of Women's Way are the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center, which provides abortions and medical services to women, and CHOICE, which provides contraceptive counseling and abortion referrals.
"The unfortunate part of the agreement is that one segment of the comment has been able to affect who is going to have access to United Way money," Judith Harris, president of Women's Way.
In a Jan. 16 letter to Harris, United Way President H. Francis De Lone said, ". . . Women's Way insistence on including agencies and services that would contravene United Way's agreement with the Catholic Arch-diocese make it unacceptable for United Way funding."
De Lone also said the United Way did not want to admit any more coalitions; it already includes the Federation of Jewish Agencies and the Catholic Federation.
The agreement between United Way and the archdiocese is stipulated in a April 24, 1978, letter to John C. Haas, then the United Way president, from John Cardinal Krol, archbishop of Philadelphia.
". . . The archbishop of Philadelphia (either I or my successor) would have no choice but to terminate this agreement in the event that the United Way should decide at some later date to fund a program or service which is in complete opposition to the moral teachings and principles of the Catholic Church. The archbishop would be forces to do this because we cannot in conscience be associated with a program or service which the church regards as seriously immoral, even when the association is solely through our membership in the United Way."
Haas, vice chairman of the board of Rohm and Haas Co. in Philadelphia, said that similar statements were contained in a 1975 letter to the United Way from Cardinal Krol, when the archdiocese first merged its Catholic Charities fund-raising efforts with the United Way. He said the United Way had accepted the conditions set by Cardinal Krol.
In 1975, the archdiocese merged nine agencies with the United Way under the name of the Catholic Federation. Fund raising for these and about 50 other Catholic agencies continues under the name Catholic Charities.
"We'd rather not have it, but we're willing to live with it," Haas said of the agreement. He said the Catholic Federation was important to United Way because it provides human services to so many people. He said that both organizations felt that they could raise more money by joining forces.
Haas said he believed that the church's real objection was to funding of any abortion services, not to contraceptive counseling. If the archdiocese withdrew from the United Way, Haas said, the United Way would lose some contributions from Catholics.
Last year, the United Way raised $26.4 million, of which $1.37 million, went to the Catholic Charities appeal, conducted through Catholic parishes, raised about $3.8 million more for these and other agencies, said Jesse Clark, director of Catholic Charities.
De Lone said the archdiocese had not been consulted about the application from Women's Way. "We make our own judgment as to what would be inconsistent or contradictory to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
De Lone said United Way would be glad to entertain applications from individual Women's Way organizations that do not provide services objectionable to the archdiocese. The other agencies under the Women's Way fund-raising umbrella are Options for Women, Women in Transition, Women Organized Against Rape, and the Women's Law Project.
Harris said the individual organizations could decide to apply individually to United Way. "But what we decided internally was that all the services were important, all were key, and we were not willing to put aside one service for the sake of preserving the others," she said.
Women's Way raised $112,049 last year, $31,500 of which came from a grant from the William Penn Foundation.
[Five years ago, the archdiocese banished 330 Girl Scout troops from their church meeting places because the local scout council was conducting sex education workshops.]