Atlanta Archdiocese tells parishes to end support for Komen

The Archdiocese of Atlanta has directed its parishes, missions and schools to end support or participation in activities related to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

In a memo dated Monday, the archdiocese acknowledged the beneficial work of Komen to raise awareness about breast cancer and treatment, but it criticized grants given by some Komen affiliates to Planned Parenthood because of that organization’s role as an abortion provider. The memo called any support for Planned Parenthood “an occasion for scandal.”

Critics said the directive, coming during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, appears to be “mean-spirited.”

The archdiocese’s actions put the spotlight once again on an issue that many thought had died down.

Earlier this year, Komen decided — then reversed that decision — to end grants to Planned Parenthood for breast exams. The initial move drew the ire of women’s groups and public health advocates while drawing support from conservative groups.

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The archdiocese says Facebook postings by Komen’s affiliate in Atlanta and news reports led the archdiocese to believe it was “working behind the scenes to encourage the national Komen office to resume funding.” The articles and Facebook posting were several months old.

“Until recently, donations to the Greater Atlanta affiliate of the Komen fund did not constitute a direct cooperation with evil, because none of the money they raised went to Planned Parenthood,” the memo stated.

As a result, the archdiocese, which represents about 1 million Catholics in North Georgia, said support for Komen by Catholic institutions should end.

Pat Chivers, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said an individual’s participation in Komen-related events or other kinds of support would be up to that person.

The timing of the memo comes at an inopportune time for Komen because Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a big opportunity for the organization to raise its profile.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women, according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates that in Georgia there will be nearly 7,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women in 2012.

Chivers said parishes had started inquiring about participation in Komen events. Later this month, for instance, the Greater Atlanta Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure will hold “Worship in Pink Weekend” activities. Metro Atlanta’s churches, mosques and synagogues are asked to help spread the word about early detection and to honor survivors.

The Atlanta Komen affiliate said in a statement that it had never given funding or received requests for funding from Planned Parenthood Southeast. “Komen Atlanta remains committed to ensuring that all women, especially the underserved, in our community have access to lifesaving breast cancer screening and support services,” the statement said. “Any decrease in support directly impacts our ability to serve these women.”

The statement did not directly address the archdiocese’s directive, and Lauren Musso, a local Komen spokeswoman, said the organization “wanted to focus on our mission.”

But Kay Scott, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the memo “feels mean-spirited.”

“There are a lot of positive things to help women be informed,” Scott said. “The archdiocese has not offered anything of its own. Just women — last again.”

But Chivers said it doesn’t mean parishes can’t have other events to raise awareness about breast cancer, as long as they’re not tied to Komen.

“Any Catholic parish that was in the planning stages for an event in support of Komen will be asked to pursue another avenue of breast cancer education and awareness, ” she said.

If Komen affiliates no longer supported Planned Parenthood, Chivers said, then “we would reinstate our support for Komen.”

Susan Nolin, a Duluth retiree and lifelong Catholic, supports the archdiocese’s decision.

Any relationship between Planned Parenthood and Komen “goes contrary to our religious beliefs,” she said.

Others disagreed.

“I think it’s bad,” said Norcross resident Brigitte Craig, who was raised Catholic in her native Germany but is no longer active. “Human freedom is No. 1. … It’s hurting the women who need Komen.”

The archdiocese’s action is not unique. The Archdiocese of Saint Louis sent a similar letter in 2010. All the Catholic conferences in Ohio joined in opposition in 2011, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore sent out a letter saying it neither “supports nor encourages” giving to Komen the same year.

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