TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -A Roman Catholic bishop told parishes and schools in his diocese to stop raising money for a national breast cancer charity out of concern it might one day decide to fund embryonic stem cell research.
Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair's sent a letter barring the diocese's Catholic institutions from fundraising for Susan G. Komen for the Cure to priests and parishes in the 19-county diocese last week. Cincinnati's archbishop earlier this year decided that schools and parishes in the 19-county Cincinnati Archdiocese cannot raise funds for Komen for the same reason.
Scientists say research on embryonic stem cells, which are usually taken from discarded embryos at fertility clinics, may lead to cures for diseases. The Catholic Church maintains that destruction of embryos amounts to the killing of human life.
A spokeswoman for the national Komen group says it has never funded stem cell research, though its policies don't prohibit that, The Blade of Toledo reported Tuesday.
If the group received a request to fund such research, it "would weigh it very carefully, as we do all research proposals," Andrea Rader, spokeswoman for the Dallas-based organization, told the Toledo newspaper in an email. Research proposals are considered for their likelihood to have a positive impact on breast cancer research and treatment, Rader wrote.
In an email to CBS 11, Rader gave the full statement, saying:
"We're the largest non-profit funder of breast cancer research outside of the federal government, with $610 million invested in our 30 years and touching every major advance in breast cancer research. We do not fund embryonic stem cell research and have not funded it in the past, although our policies do not preclude doing so. 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."
Blair's letter said that Catholics need to find alternatives to Komen for fundraising efforts "in order to avoid even the possibility of cooperation in morally unacceptable activities."
In a written response to the letter, Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas issued the following statement to CBS 11:
"This is an important issue that calls for more detailed research of how funds are currently used. Catholic teaching calls for the protection of life from conception to natural death. The Catholic Church also recognizes the importance of access to health care for all people which includes preventative health care. Bishops cannot encourage Catholics to fundraise for any organization until there are assurances that the organization is not engaged in anything that violates Catholic teaching. Certainly the efforts of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in the battle against breast cancer are admirable and I welcome a discussion of this issue with Komen leadership in Dallas."
Blair's letter directed fundraising by Catholic institutions to organizations other than Komen "to avoid even the possibility of cooperation in morally unacceptable activities." A statement from the diocese Tuesday stressed that Blair did not ban individual Catholics from contributing locally to Komen with the charity's "assurance that no local funds go to Planned Parenthood or to embryonic stem cell research."
Leaders with Komen's northwest Ohio affiliate say no local dollars have gone to either one. They are disappointed and will ask to meet with Blair, executive director Mary Westphal said Tuesday. She said diocesan leaders did not call or meet with them before the decision.
Westphal said she is optimistic that individual Catholics will continue contributing.
Blair was out of town, but spokeswoman Sally Oberski told The Associated Press that she was not aware of previous Komen requests to meet with Blair or other diocesan officials on fundraising.
Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and other officials in the archdiocese met with Komen representatives from Cincinnati before telling them in a Feb. 1 letter that its parishes and schools wouldn't be allowed to raise money for Komen, given the possibility that the charity could fund such research.
Schools in the Toledo diocese and the Cincinnati Archdiocese have raised money for Komen, but Oberski and Cincinnati Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco didn't know how much, saying schools handle their own fundraising and channeling of donations.
Westphal also didn't have totals. Messages left Tuesday for the Cincinnati chapter weren't immediately returned.
Bishop Richard Lennon of the Cleveland Diocese released a joint statement with Komen last year, 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."
Bishops in the Catholic Conference of Ohio have discussed Komen's policy concerning the research but haven't issued a group statement or policy, executive director Carolyn Jurkowitz said.
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday at the Toledo diocese. The diocese issued a "clarification" on its website. You can read it here.
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