Pre-emptive Strike on Stem Cell Research?

In what will surely be challenged as a questionable use of episcopal authority, Toledo 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," according to the Toledo Blade. The foundation is one of the nation's largest fundraising entities for breast cancer research.

Since 1982 its "race for the cure" and other efforts have netted more than $1.9 billion for breast cancer screening and research efforts. The bishop's move represents a pre-emptove strike against embryonic research since there is no evidence that the Komen Foundation is using any money raised now for this controversial research. Embryonic stem cell research, unlike so-called adult stem cell research, requires the destruction of human embryos.


In a letter to parishioners explaining his decision last weekend, 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."

Bishop's Blair's cultural war of choice is certain to raise hackles among Toledo Catholics since the bishop's order effectively cuts them off from one of the nation's most popular fundraising activities for cancer research, the "race for the cure." Bishop Blair's decision follows a similar ban on fund-raising for Komen issued by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. In contrast, Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland came to a different conclusion after meeting with Komen officials in his city. According to the Blade, 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."

Although the foundation has never funded embryonic stem cell research in the past and has no plans to do so now, Komen officials acknowledge that the foundation does not specifically preclude the possibility of such funding in the future.

A national Komen spokesperson 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."

In his letter to parishioners, Bishop Blair also cited concerns that the Komen Foundation makes contributions to Planned Parenthood, a charge local Komen officials denied outright.

According to the Blade, these Komen representatives described themselves as "extremely disappointed" by the bishop's decision and said that neither Bishop Blair nor other diocesan leaders called or met with them before the decision was announced, "giving them no opportunity to discuss his concerns."

The foundation reports that 25 percent of the money raised by its local "race for the cure" events, which have drawn more than 1 million fundraiser/runners since 2005, is spent on breast cancer research and the remaining monies are directed to funding local cancer screening campaigns.


The Bishop's letter follows below:

Dear Friends in Christ,

Few of us remain untouched by the scourge of breast cancer. Whether among our families, friends or neighbors, there are a great many women in our country who confront this disease every day with tremendous faith and courage.

Researchers, physicians and medical personnel, using their God-given intelligence and skill, work very hard not only to provide healing of those who are afflicted, but also to find a cure. We are all familiar with the mobilization of effort in our country on behalf of this worthy goal.

One of the most widely known initiatives is that of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Many people participate in efforts to raise funds for this cause, including some of our Catholic institutions and schools.

While we want to do everything possible to support the search for a cure, sadly the landscape of medical research today is sometimes marred by the erroneous belief that research is not bound by moral norms rooted in faith and reason, as reflected in the teaching of the Church. That teaching holds, for example, that it is not morally acceptable to destroy one human life, even in its embryonic stage, in order to save another human life.

For some time, moral questions have been raised from various quarters about the research funded by the Komen Foundation. 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. They are open to embryonic stem cell research, and may very well fund such research in the future. They are also contributors 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.

In order to avoid even the possibility of cooperation in morally unacceptable activities, the other Bishops and I believe that it would be wise to find alternatives to Komen for Catholic fundraising efforts.

For that reason, I am directing that in the fight against breast cancer, fundraising carried out under Catholic auspices, including our schools, should be channeled to our locally known Mercy Cancer Centers instead of Komen.

Through Mercy, we can help local women who are without financial means to receive specialized care which includes treatment, detection and support in their fight against breast cancer. We can be assured that at Mercy, these women will receive a high level of compassionate care that respects their human dignity.

More information will be coming to you from Mercy regarding this opportunity. I thank you for your cooperation and support. Together let us pray for all cancer sufferers, especially those in the greatest physical, spiritual and emotional need.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair
Bishop of Toledo

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Dale Rodrigue
7 years 6 months ago
Oh, for heaven's sake.  A hierarch who is so full of pride that he doesn't think he needs to at least talk to them before releasing a statement. 
Now, he has made a complete ass of himself in my opinion. 
Just makes the rest of us thinking Catholics look like fools.  He needs a course in critical thinking.
Sally Oberski
7 years 6 months ago
Bishop Blair's letter is neither a condemnation, censure, nor-as the Blade claimed-a ''ban'' on the Komen Foundation. Individual Catholics who want to contribute to Komen locally can continue to do so on the basis of Komen's assurance that no local funds go to Planned Parenthood or to embryonic stem cell research. However, there are some who in good faith continue to have misgivings about Komen's association with Planned Parenthood and its openness to embryonic stem cell research. For that reason the Bishops of Ohio determined, as Bishop Blair says, that ''in order to avoid even the possibility of cooperation in morally unacceptable activities...fundraising activities carried out under Catholic auspices, including our schools, should be channeled''elsewhere. In the Diocese of Toledo, Mercy Cancer Centers are a very appropriate local way to channel donations raised under Catholic auspices for the fight against breast cancer.
Jack Barry
7 years 6 months ago
It is noteworthy that Bishop Blair did not extend his preemptive piety to the conceivable future funding of embryonic stem cell research related to prostate cancer.  Is that somehow different in his view?
ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
The Catholics in Toledo can't even properly fund the Churches and Catholic schools. Next we will hear episcopal pronouncements not to fund Muslim mosques. Who brings up these non-issues in every Chancery? Stop it..It makes fools of Catholic laity who are struggling to keep connected to the Gospel. . .
Dale Rodrigue
7 years 6 months ago
Oops, sorry about that Kevin.
Thanks for the reminder!
Jason Miller
7 years 6 months ago
Ms. Oberski,

If the Bishops of Ohio came to this conclusion together, how is it that Bishop Lennon (who actually bothered to meet with Komen officials) came to a different conclusion? Apparently the Bishops of Ohio did not come to a joint decision then, as the Diocese of Toledo contends.
Thomas Piatak
7 years 6 months ago
Sally Oberski's comment says what needs to be said. 
Jim McCrea
7 years 6 months ago
From Morris L. West's "The Devil's Advocate."  As true today as it was when written in 1959:

"There is no stigma in being a professional priest  - a a career churchman.  There is no stigma in that.  It is much already to be a good professional.  There are many who fall short, even of this limited perfection.  Part of the problem is that too many (professional) priests have been removed too long from pastoral duty.  They have lost touch with the people who keep them in touch with God.  They have reduced the faith to an intellectual conception, an arid assent of the will, because they have not seen it working in the lives of common folk.  They have lost pity and fear and love. They are the guardians of mysteries, but have lost the awe of them.  They work by canon, not by charity.  Like all administrators they believe that the world would topple into chaos without them, that they carry even the Church of God on their backs.  It is not true, but some of them believe it till the day they die."
Molly Roach
7 years 6 months ago
Thanks Jim.  And I would add, they have lost the capacity for praise and live only to defend.
Rebecca Roth
7 years 6 months ago
I just want to point out that Sally Oberski, commenter #2 above, is the Director of Communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo.  She is paid to be the spokesperson for Bishop Blair.


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