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Published: Tuesday, 7/12/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Bishop of Toledo bars assistance to Komen group

Fear of stem-cell use cited

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Walkers hold signs as they start the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Toledo in this Sept. 28, 2008, file photo. Walkers hold signs as they start the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Toledo in this Sept. 28, 2008, file photo.
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Toledo Catholic Bishop Leonard Blair has banned parishes and parochial schools from raising funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, citing concerns that the global anti-cancer giant may someday fund embryonic stem-cell research.

Mary Westphal, executive director of the Northwest Ohio Affiliate Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and board chairman Angie Ash said they were "extremely disappointed" in Bishop Blair's decision.

Neither Bishop Blair nor other diocesan leaders called or met with local Komen officials before the decision was announced, Ms. Westphal and Ms. Ash said, giving them no opportunity to discuss his concerns.

VIEW TEXT: Read Bishop's Letter

Ms. Westphal and Miss Ash said they will request a meeting with Bishop Blair, who was out of the country Monday and not available for comment.

A similar ban on fund-raising for Komen was announced this year by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, but not by the state's four other Roman Catholic bishops.

Carolyn Jurkowitz, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, said the bishops have discussed among themselves Komen's policy on embryonic stem-cell research, but have not issued a statement or set policy as a group.

Last year, Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland met with Komen officials in his city and the two parties released a joint statement Sept. 4 in which the bishop said he was "satisfied that the monies raised here in our diocese are going to help prevent and cure breast cancer without violation of Catholic teaching."

Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair is introduced to the crowd before speaking at a luncheon on "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" at The Toledo Club in this Feb. 3, 2011, file photo. Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair is introduced to the crowd before speaking at a luncheon on "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" at The Toledo Club in this Feb. 3, 2011, file photo.
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Bishop Blair, in his letter sent over the weekend to all priests and parishes in the 19-county Toledo diocese, stated that "at present the Komen Foundation does not fund" embryonic stem-cell research.

However, he said, "their policy does not exclude that possibility" and the foundation "may very well fund such research in the future."

A spokesman for the national Komen Foundation acknowledged that if it received a request to fund embryonic stem-cell research, it would be considered.

Andrea Rader, senior communications writer for the Komen Foundation at its Dallas headquarters, pointed out that the nonprofit organization has not in the past, nor does it currently, fund such stem-cell research.

But Komen's policies "do not preclude" it from doing so, she said.

"If we received a request to fund such research, we would weigh it very carefully, as we do all of our research proposals, for its likelihood to have a positive impact on breast cancer research and treatment," Ms. Rader said by e-mail.

Bishop Blair in his letter also cited concerns that the Komen Foundation makes contributions to Planned Parenthood, which he called "the largest provider of abortions in our country."

Ms. Westphal said the local Komen affiliate has never given a dollar to Planned Parenthood.

She said the national office restricts such funds to breast health projects, and that the local affiliate reviews Planned Parenthood's records twice a year to ensure there are no violations.

Ms. Westphal and Ms. Ash said the local Komen affiliate has "a strong, positive working relationship with many of the Catholic schools, hospitals, and other Catholic organizations in our service area."

Breast cancer survivors wave to the crowd as they form a human pink ribbon at Fifth Third Field following the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Toledo in this Sept. 28, 2008, file photo. Breast cancer survivors wave to the crowd as they form a human pink ribbon at Fifth Third Field following the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Toledo in this Sept. 28, 2008, file photo.
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They said the northwest Ohio affiliate has an annual budget of $1.272 million, and over the last five years has funded $339,872 in grants to Catholic hospitals in northwest Ohio for mammograms, diagnostic services, education awareness services, and other breast-health projects.

But because of the national organization's lack of an explicit ban on embryonic stem-cell research funding, Bishop Blair said Catholics need to find alternatives to the Komen Foundation for fund-raising efforts "in order to avoid even the possibility of cooperation in morally unacceptable activities."

Research on embryonic stem cells, which typically are culled from abandoned embryos at fertility clinics, has shown that the cells can be programmed to become different types of body parts, including nerve or heart cells.

Scientists say that stem-cell research may lead to the cure for a number of diseases.

According to Catholic teaching, "life is present from the beginning of conception, and so embryonic stem-cell research is condemned," said the Rev. Joseph Cardone, a Toledo priest and bioethicist who is the diocese's vice president of mission and values integration at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.

Bishop Blair said he is "directing that in the fight against breast cancer, fund-raising carried out under Catholic auspices, including our schools, should be channeled to our locally known Mercy Cancer Centers instead of Komen."

Mercy Cancer Centers offers cancer treatment at five Catholic hospitals in northwest Ohio: Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Mercy Children's, Mercy St. Charles Hospital, Mercy St. Anne Hospital, and Mercy Tiffin Hospital.

In a statement Monday, Mercy said it "is aware of Bishop Blair's letter and as a Catholic-sponsored organization, we understand his position. Because cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., Mercy, along with many organizations including the local affiliates of Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society, strongly believe in education and early detection and treatment. All of us are working toward a common goal of eradicating cancer someday."

Mike Sugg of Toledo, whose wife, Jenny, died last December at age 31, said he checked out the Komen Foundation when his wife was first given a diagnosis of breast cancer.

"I went in and sat down with Mary Westphal and I learned there were no conflicts with my faith as a Roman Catholic," Mr. Sugg said. "If people will do their own homework, they will find that there is no conflict with their faith and what Komen is doing."

More than 600 people, almost all of whom were Catholic, were inspired by the Suggs to take part the local Race for the Cure in 2008, Mr. Sugg said.

"I would say initially Bishop Blair's decision is disappointing, but as a Catholic I want to look into why he said it," he said.

The Komen Foundation said about 25 percent of revenue raised at affiliate races goes to national breast cancer research, while 75 percent is used for local cancer screening, treatment projects, and health education.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.


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