Bishop England stance on Race for the Cure an educational one

DANIEL ISLAND — When Bishop England High School took a pro-life stance and withdrew its support of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, it took some criticism in the community but the action was educational.

The school withdrew use of its campus and computers for the Oct. 22 race because the foundation supports breast cancer screening at some Planned Parenthood centers.

“I think that in terms of the school community it has been a very positive experience, because we’ve been able to affirm our Catholic identity,” said David Held, Bishop England principal, in an interview with The Catholic Miscellany.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation makes no secret that it has provided funding for mammograms conducted at the centers. A member of the Bishop England theology department brought that fact to Held’s attention after the race last year. He initiated contact with local and national Komen representatives, who confirmed that the centers were selected for funding.

“They were very open and they didn’t try to hide anything,” Held said.

After consultation with Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, vicar general, who oversees the Office of Christian Formation, and with the former superintendent of schools, Sister Canice Adams, the high school withdrew its support of the race.

The decision was made in April and race organizers were made aware of it at that time. It was a difficult decision because many at the school volunteered and took part because they have personally lost a family member to breast cancer.

The story made local news, and was picked up by the Catholic Online Web site and garnered some national attention. Held was inundated with comments and said that he received about 45 phone calls the week after the race, most of which were positive.

Most of the criticism came locally. The perception was that the diocese’s pro-life stance was not supporting saving the lives of women with breast cancer, Held said.

“I think that communication between Bishop England and race organizers was very positive the whole way through,” Held said.

The principal thinks that the experience was a lesson in theology about the sanctity of life as well as a lesson in community for his students.

“I think it was the message for the students because it was a diocesan decision and a school decision and they had a better sense of the school’s role in the diocese,” he said. “We are an institution in the Catholic Church and as adults and teachers we realize that, but students sometimes don’t see the connection between school and church.”

A lot of the questions students had were handled through theology class. Students were told the first week of September about the school’s decision to withdraw. Theology teachers explained what Planned Parenthood is, the impact of the stem cell research that the organization supports, and why it is in violation of Catholic teaching, Held said.

On race day, the principal went down to the campus to look around and said he saw no problems whatsoever.

The school would like to find some other way to support breast cancer research but no decision has been made about that, Held said.

“I’m not sure what will happen next year,” he said. “We won’t participate.”

Decisions about sponsorship are a constant in Catholic schools.

Daniel Dorsel, co-principal at Cardinal Newman High School, said that his school had a casual dress day several weeks ago for teachers to raise money for breast cancer research. After they were made aware of the diocesan decision to withdraw Bishop England’s support for the Race for the Cure, they had to do some research of their own.

“The money was going to go to the Komen Foundation, but after the diocese made the decision, we have decided instead to give the money elsewhere for breast cancer research,” Dorsel said.

Held said they have to consider theological issues with textbooks and signs on campus.

“You’re always cognizant of it,” Held said, “but this is clearly the most public decision we’ve had to consider. It was obviously the right thing to do and that’s what the lesson for the students is, do the right thing. It’s a simple choice.”