Target's Largess Puts It in a Gray Area

MINNEAPOLIS—What could be wrong with a company agreeing to give back 1% of the sales made on its credit cards to a local school of the cardholder's choosing?

That's a question hanging over Target stores. The Minneapolis-based megaretailer supports boasts of supporting more than 104,000 schools, including Catholic schools, through its Take Charge of Education program.

But, as several letters to the Register noted after a recent article, Target also gives money to Planned Parenthood.

And that's where the problem is, the readers say.

They contend that good Catholics can't accept the support of companies who fund abortion.

“Some parents say it's conscience money,” said Bob Marcucci, head teacher at the Catholic Academy, a parochial elementary school in Omaha, Neb. His school doesn't take money from Target.

“We thought about taking money from Target a few years ago,” Marcucci recalled. “But then someone showed documentation that they were tied to Planned Parenthood, so we decided not to do that.”

Marcucci said he relies on parents to alert him to connections between corporations and Planned Parenthood, but added that it's tough to know where to draw the line.

“If [investor] Warren Buffett said he wanted to give $10,000 to the school, should we take it?” Marcucci asked. “Other people say it's $10,000 less that he can give to population control programs. It's tough to know.”

Indeed it is, agreed a prominent moral theologian contacted by the Register.

“People want simple answers to these questions, but they are not going to get them,” said Germain Grisez, whose recent book, Difficult Moral Questions, deals with dilemmas such as those raised by Marcucci.

A Denial, Sort of

Meanwhile, contending that “Target does not support Planned Parenthood,” company spokes-woman Carolyn Brookter acknowledged that Target's parent, formerly called Dayton Hudson Corp., has given an annual $18,000 “education” grant to Planned Parenthood of Minnesota. “It's a continuing grant annually,” she told the Register, “it's been several years.”

Brookter noted Target is in the midst of a corporate shake-up, and Dayton Hudson is now called Target Foundation.

“We are in transition,” she said. “What we are doing is looking at things that were funded by Dayton Hudson and changing the focus of the foundation.” at to Planned Parenthood? “I can't speculate on that further,” Brookter said.

That's all Doug Scott needed to hear. For the president of Life Decisions International, a nonprofit organization which tracks corporate support of Planned Parenthood, money produced by a single branch infects the whole tree.

“They must think people are stupid,” Scott said. “They are trying to convince people that Target stores and [their parent company] have nothing to do with each other. Target would have no money if it weren't for [the parent firm].

“All Target has to do at corporate headquarters is say that neither our corporate foundation nor any local stores can give to Planned Parenthood.”

Some argue that since Target gives to so many organizations, they shouldn't be vilified for giving an annual $18,000 grant to Planned Parenthood.

A school official from a large U.S. diocese who didn't want to be quoted by name praised Target for its generous support of parochial schools in his district.

“I just don't have single bad thing to say about Target,” the official said. “It's just unbelievable what they've done for our schools.”

He added that when Target first started offering money to the schools, the diocese looked into its purported connection with Planned Parenthood, but found the allegations wanting.

“I'd hate to see a company that gives $1 million a week to schools being zapped,” he added.

Would his diocese ever take money from someone it knew supported Planned Parenthood? “Heavens no,” the official said.

So what about the claim that Dayton Hudson, not Target, gives the money to Planned Parenthood?

Scott at Life Decisions said that when a company gives to Planned Parenthood, it is offering an implicit endorsement of its abortion business. “Faye Waddleton even said that,” he added. Waddleton is a former director of Planned Parenthood.

Scott offered this analogy: “If the Ku Klux Klan had a reading program that had no racial element to it, would a company give to the Klan and say they are just giving to help education …? If you support any part of the program, you are supporting the Klan. The same goes for Planned Parenthood.”

The Rumor Mill

But some think it's more complicated than that, even if a subsidiary tries unconvincingly to distance itself from its parent.

For theologian Germain Grisez, even companies that have a demonstrable link to Planned Parenthood don't provide a simple case. He said the whole area of morality touched upon by the Target case, called material cooperation, calls for deeper reflection.

Grisez noted that the Church has historically accepted money from all sorts of questionable people.

“If someone leaves you their estate and you know they've gotten in from nasty business habits, there are going to be very few bishops turning it down,” he said.

Grisez added that unless someone intended to support abortion or some other evil practice, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with accepting money or buying products from a company that does.

What does have to be considered, he contended, are the side effects of such an action. One such good effect would be if a customer or someone who receives aid could exert pressure on a corporation to change its polices, Grisez said. Another effect to consider is bad witness, if dealing with a notorious company would give scandal. Still another factor, Grisez said, is the case of companies that give money with strings attached.

So can someone do business with a company that is involved with an organization whose work is morally objectionable in principle? Grisez said there were no easy answers to questions of material cooperation, but added that in the end, “you still have to use judgment.”

Boycott Denied

A recent spate of e-mails distributed among pro-lifers claims that Planned Parenthood has organized a boycott of Wal-Mart after the retailer decided not to carry the abortion pill Preven.

But Planned Parenthood spokesman Julie McCabe denied that her employer had called for a boycott. “We don't engage in boycotts,” McCabe told the Register.

Wal-Mart spokesman Jessica Moser said she had heard the rumor for six months, but also denied that it had any basis in fact.