CINNCINNATI – A Roman Catholic diocese in Ohio is discouraging its 113 schools from participating in the ice bucket challenge to benefit the ALS Association, saying the group's funding of embryonic stem cell research is "in direct conflict with Catholic teaching."
Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told the schools in a letter Tuesday to "immediately cease" any plans to raise funds for the association or to instead direct donations to another organization that combats ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease that causes paralysis and almost certain death.
The Catholic Church relates the use of embryonic stem cells in research to abortion and says it violates the sanctity of human life. The use of adult stem cells in research is not forbidden by Catholic teaching.
"We certainly appreciate the compassion that has caused people all over the country, certainly including many Catholics, to be interacting and engaging in a fun way to support ALS research," diocese spokesman Dan Adriacco said Thursday. "But it's a well-established moral principle that not only the ends be good, but the means must be good, too."
The diocese said schools could participate in the ice bucket challenge, but any money raised should be directed to groups like the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which conducts "pro-life driven" research, according to its website.
Carrie Munk, a spokeswoman for the ALS Association, said her group largely funds adult stem-cell research but does fund one study involving embryonic stem cells using money from one specific donor.
She said all donors to the ALS Association can stipulate where their money goes and can ask that it not pay for embryonic stem cell research.
The group hasn't heard of any other Catholic dioceses in the country recommending against donating to the group, Munk said.
Adriacco said the Cincinnati diocese's superintendent wrote his directive to the schools after consulting with the Catholic Conference of Ohio. The Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center affirmed the decision Thursday, he said.
Spokespeople for both groups didn't immediately return calls for comment Thursday.
Don Clemmer, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the group views the Cincinnati diocese's actions as "a local matter" and that his organization has not issued any directives to its bishops discouraging donations to the ALS Association.
Since the ice bucket challenge took over the Internet, the ALS Association received $41.8 million in donations from July 29 to Thursday. That's compared to $2.1 million in the same time period last year.
Munk said the association is amazed by the wave of donations.
"I guess the most remarkable thing about this ice bucket challenge is the level of visibility it has brought to this disease," she said. "The dollars are incredible, but people are talking about ALS now, they're talking about research, they're talking about patients and their families. It's really so incredibly valuable."