We Can’t Let Bishops Slow Down Race For The Cure

Last weekend, the Roman Catholic bishop in Toledo, Ohio, Leonard Blair, issued a letter banning parishes and parochial schools from raising money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.

If you are surprised that anyone would do this to a group committed to finding a cure for breast cancer, you’re not alone.

Mary Westphal was stunned. She is the executive director of the bishop’s intended target, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s northwest Ohio affiliate.

“I found out about it from the media and from friends,” she said in an interview Monday. “We did not get a copy of the letter from the diocese, nor did we have any conversation with the bishop before he made his decision.”

In a letter, the bishop expressed concern that Komen may one day fund embryonic stem cell research to find a cure for breast cancer.

Not now. But someday.

“For some time, moral questions have been raised from various quarters about the research funded by the Komen Foundation,” he wrote in his letter. “The Bishops of Ohio have discussed this and have looked into the matter. As best we can determine, at present the Komen Foundation does not fund cancer research that employs embryonic stem cells. However, their policy does not exclude that possibility.”

That’s true, spokeswoman Andrea Rader said in a phone call at Dallas headquarters. “We’re not funding any stem cell research now, but we don’t categorically rule it out. We are always looking to move the needle on research that, in the shortest amount of time, will find a cure for breast cancer.”

Every proposal, she said, is subject to rigorous review.

“We have a panel of 68 scientists and advocates who look at every proposal,” Rader said. No proposal for embryonic stem cell research has made the cut. Yet.

The bishop’s letter took a swipe at Planned Parenthood, too.

“(Susan G. Komen for the Cure is) also (a contributor) to Planned Parenthood, which, though it may claim to provide needed medical services to poor women, is also the largest provider of abortions in our country.”

The bishop’s letter illustrates why we must continue to repeat the facts: Ninety percent of Planned Parenthood’s patient services are preventive, primary care. This includes birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and screenings for breast cancer.

For many poor and uninsured women, a Planned Parenthood clinic is the only option for this crucial care.

The Komen foundation has awarded 2,000 community grants this year. Only 19 have gone to Planned Parenthood clinics, Rader said. The Toledo affiliate hasn’t given a single dime to Planned Parenthood.

In Cleveland, where I live, Bishop Richard Lennon took the time to meet with officials from the Komen affiliate. Then the bishop released a letter saying 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.”

In Arkansas, the Diocese of Little Rock warned in 2008 that Komen fundraising sometimes supported Planned Parenthood — and then apologized.

“To let the statement stand would be an act of injustice,” Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert said. “With apologies to Komen, to those fighting breast cancer and to the survivors, to the Catholic clergy and faithful who were embarrassed by this mistaken policy, I rescind the position statement in its entirety.”

The Komen foundation ranks second only to the U.S. government in funding for breast cancer research. In its 29 years, it has raised $610 million. This year alone, it has contributed $66 million.

Seventy-five percent of the money raised by the 121 Komen affiliates stays in the communities they serve.

The Toledo bishop’s letter risks bringing harm to the most vulnerable of women with breast cancer: those without the resources for screenings or treatment.

After Toledo Blade reporter David Yonke’s story broke about Bishop Blair’s letter, the calls started pouring in to Westphal’s office in Toledo.

“Nobody is calling to celebrate the diocese’s decision,” she said. “We’ve gotten lots of calls from Catholic women — and men — calling us to express disappointment in the bishop.”

Bishop Blair is out of the country and unavailable for comment.

The diocese told Westphal he’ll return in three weeks.

“We’ll be here,” she said. “We’ll always be here.”

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. To find out more about Connie Schultz (cschultz@plaind.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.



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