(Pope Benedict XVI greets Catholic faithful as he exits the altar after celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York April 20, 2008. REUTERS/Julie Jacobson)

When he visited the United States four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI blessed a box of silver ribbon-shaped pins for breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure and sent them to its founder, Nancy Brinker. Brinker was touched by the gesture and thanked the pontiff in person on the day of his departure.

“He took my hands and blessed me for my work. I couldn’t help myself. I burst into tears,” she recalls in her memoir, “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.”

Pope Benedict’s blessings marked a high point in the Komen charity’s relationship with the Catholic church. But even before the papal jetliner touched down at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington in 2008, American church leaders had already begun to emerge as critics of Komen’s longstanding ties to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization whose services include birth control and abortion.

Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.