Archdiocese of Cincinnati douses enthusiasm for ice-bucket challenge in Catholic schools

Embryonic stem cell research at heart of issue

CINCINNATI -- The Archdiocese of Cincinnati says it understands motivations for Catholics to participate in the "ice-bucket challenge" benefiting ALS research spreading across social media.

The problem, the diocese states, is the organization benefiting from all the attention funds scientific research that goes against Catholic teachings.

"The beneficiary of the ice-bucket challenge funds a study using embryonic stem cells, which can only be obtained by destroying embryonic life. For that reason, we have determined that our schools should not raise money for the ALS Association, and should instead – if they wish – donate to another organization doing ALS research," the Archdiocese wrote in a prepared statement.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a disease that attacks the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary motion.

Participants in the ice-bucket challenge film themselves pouring buckets of ice water over their head, post the video to social media websites and challenge others to do the same, or to donate money to the ALS Association.

Celebrities from Steven Spielberg to Dr. Dre to Novak Djokovic have participated in the challenge.

As of Wednesday, the association raised $31.5 million to fund ALS research through the duration of the challenge. That is compared to $1.9 million raised from July 29 to August 20 last year.

"I'd like to thank those who have already participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by dousing themselves and making donations to ALS organizations," said Marlin K Seymour, executive director of the ALS Associaiton's central and southeastern Ohio chapter. "My mother died of ALS nearly 20 years ago and I can tell you that this phenomenon (the ice-bucket challenge) has brought more awareness to ALS than anyone in our community has ever seen before. Those like me who know and understand the devastation of this terminal illness, are incredibly appreciative for the coverage of ALS -- before this, only about half the general population knew what ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease is. Maybe now, many more will know."

On Tuesday, staff in the Archdiocesan system received an email from Jim Rigg, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, obtained by WCPO, demanding they not participate in any challenge as representatives of Catholic schools.

"If your school is planning an effort to raise funds, you should immediately cease such planning, or direct your fundraising to another organization with a similar goal, but whose practices are consistent with the Church," Riggs wrote.

The ice-bucket challenge has sparked debate for some Catholics on the Internet as well, citing the teaching of Pope John Paul II who stated, β€œAny treatment which claims to save human lives, yet is based upon the destruction of human life in its embryonic state, is logically and morally contradictory, as is any production of human embryos for the direct or indirect purpose of experimentation or eventual destruction.”

Religious websites such as uCatholic outline the controversy for Catholics in detail, pointing out the church does support researching involving adult stem cells. There is no clear indication through media reports that other Archdioceses in the country have issued similar warnings to private schools and their employees.

In response to religious concerns and the Archdiocese letter to school staff, Maegan T. Bracken, manager for online fundraising for the ALS Association, said a majority of research funded by the group goes toward adult stem cell research.

"Currently, the association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)," Bracken said. "This research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research."

In addition, she said, "donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project."

Stephen A. Trosley with Cincinnati's Archdiocese, recommended Catholics donate to The John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, IA that he says conducts research using only adult stem cells.

Riggs ended his letter to staff by stating, "Individual Catholics are still free to donate their own funds to the ALSA, although our Catholic schools should not encourage, organize, or sponsor such efforts."

In addition to the letter, on Wednesday afternoon the Archdiocese announced Riggs and Elder High School Principal Tom Otten would participate in their own ice-water challenge to benefit the John Paul II Medical Research Institute.

Seymour recommended anyone interested in learning more about ALS or to participate in a "Walk to Defeat ALS at Winton Woods Metro Park" on Sept. 28 to visit

Earlier this year, local Catholic schools became the target of protests when new contracts explicitly forbade

employees from participating in and even supporting things such as gay lifestyles, out of wedlock sexual relationships, abortions and certain fertility methods that go against the teachings of the church.

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