US Church pours cold water on Ice Bucket challenge

Church leaders in several US dioceses have poured cold water on the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon, which has gone viral since June.

The challenge involves ice-cold water being poured over a person’s head, in order to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But some archdioceses, including Cincinnati and Chicago, have told Catholic schools not to donate to the ALS Association, which is behind the challenge.

This is because the association currently funds one study that uses embryonic stem cell research, which Church does not consider morally licit.

The Archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, emailed priests asking them to ensure their parishioners only donated to “morally acceptable” research.

The Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, has also asked parishioners to donate to charities that only use adult stem cells.

The Bishop of Evansville, Indiana, Charles Thompson praised participants’ “humbling generosity”, but said that the association’s research went against Church teaching.

But he urged Catholics to donate instead to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa and for people suffering in Gaza, Iraq and Syria.

The institute does ALS research, but only uses adult stem cells.

A spokesperson for the ALS Association, Carrie Munk, told Time that the organisation currently funds one study using embryonic stem cells, but added that donors can ask that their money not be used for this purpose.

In Boston, John Frates, a Catholic who spearheaded the ice-bucket campaign after his son Peter was stricken with ALS, said that he recognised the reasons for Church leader’s qualms about the effort.

“I understand the Catholic dogma,” he told the Boston Herald.

“I’m also conflicted with the teachings. I struggle with it, too. I just want my son cured.”

Writing for the National Catholic Reporter, columnist Michael Sean Winters questioned the Church’s lack of imagination on the issue.

“Did the officials in the archdiocese of Cincinnati reach out to the ALS foundation and voice their concern about embryonic stem cell research?” Winters asked.

“Did not the Pope say that he would rather a Church that makes mistakes in its efforts to help the poor, than a Church cooped up in the sacristy?”

Among those who have taken part in the challenge is former US president George W. Bush, who, in 2001, restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.


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