Brenau University’s Makenzi Wooten, left, drenches Kaylynn Samples as they take the ALS ice bucket challenge at the school’s amphitheater in Gainesville, Ga. (Scott Rogers/Gainesville Times via Associated Press)

The Cincinnati Archdiocese has warned Catholic school principals against donating to the ALS Association due to concerns that the money could wind up funding research that uses embryonic stem cells.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Catholic schools are still allowed to participate in the “ice bucket challenge,” the inescapable viral video sensation that challenges individuals to either dump a bucket of ice water on their heads or donate $100 to the ALS Association.

But the archdiocese wants Catholic participants to re-purpose the fundraising juggernaut by donating to a different research group — one the archdiocese believes is more in line with Catholic values.

“We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this,” Andriacco told the paper. “But it’s a well-established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit.”

Cincinnati-area Catholic schools participating in the challenge should direct donations to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City instead, Andriacco said. Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, will take the re-purposed version of the ice bucket challenge Thursday morning and make a donation to the archdiocese’s preferred charity.

The ALS Association has raised more than $30 million through the “ice bucket challenge” since late July, including funds from 637,527 new donors to the association. By comparison, the organization received just $1.9 million in donations for the same time period last year. The funds support the organization’s mission of pursuing research, treatment and care for the disease better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Like just about everyone in your Facebook news feed, several Catholic schools and organizations have already participated in the challenge, seemingly without any dissonance over the charity it benefits.

Those participants include the seventh-grade volleyball team at St. James Catholic School, seen here:

As the challenge caught on, a few Catholic organizations began to raise questions about what sort of research the ALS Association funds. Although the Vatican has in recent years expressed support for research using adult stem cells, the issue of embryonic stem cells is more morally complicated for Catholics.

In general, the church believes that adult stem cell research is more scientifically and morally sound than that conducted on embryonic stem cells.

A 2008 directive from the Vatican argued that “the use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them – even when these are provided by other researchers through the destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available – presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal.”

The anti-abortion group American Life League keeps a running tally of organizations that do and don’t support embryonic research, based on the League’s belief that embryonic stem cell research is comparable to abortion. The ALS Association earned a “red” rating from the group, which means that the American Life League does “not consider the organization worthy of support from pro-lifers.”

That’s because the association funds a single study using embryonic stem cells, mainly through the funds of a single donor. In a statement to the American Life League, ALS Association spokesperson Carrie Munk said that donors are able to specify whether they want their funds to support embryonic stem cell research or not.

The negative rating caught the attention of Patheos blogger Fr. Michael F. Duffy, who wrote a post last Thursday about “The Moral Problem with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.”

“While I can’t donate to the ALS Association,” Duffy wrote, “I will certainly pray for those that suffer from this disease.” Duffy encouraged nominated Catholics to donate to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute instead.


Stop hating on the ice bucket challenge — it’s raised millions of dollars for charity