Catholic dio­cese icy over ALS chal­lenge

SundayXtra - - TOP NEWS - By Han­nan Adely, Jeff Green and Ab­bott Koloff

THE Ne­wark, N. J., Ro­man Catholic Arch­dio­cese has told pas­tors and Catholic school of­fi­cials that hold­ing Ice Bucket Chal­lenges, a pop­u­lar fad that has raised mil­lions of dol­lars to com­bat a crip­pling ill­ness, con­flicts with church teach­ings by fund­ing em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search.

The warn­ing was is­sued in a let­ter from a church of­fi­cial and with the bless­ing of Archbishop John J. My­ers. It said some of the re­search funded by the ALS As­so­ci­a­tion, which re­ceives much of the money from the Ice Bucket Chal­lenge, in­volves em­bry­onic stem­cell re­search, which is op­posed by the Catholic Church be­cause it con­flicts with its anti-abor­tion mis­sion.

The chal­lenge in­volves dump­ing ice wa­ter on par­tic­i­pants’ heads and do­nat­ing money for re­search into ALS, or amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease. The Rev. Lawrence Fama, direc­tor of the arch­dioce­san Of­fice of Re­spect Life, called the chal­lenge “a stunt” that can be “fun and en­gag­ing,” but ques­tioned whether the prac­tice con­flicts with “Catholic moral teach­ing.”

Ne­wark is one of just a few dio­ce­ses across the na­tion that have is­sued ad­vi­sories about the Ice Bucket Chal­lenge, which has be­come a so­cial me­dia sen­sa­tion.

The arch­dio­cese sent the let­ter Thurs­day to prin­ci­pals at all 94 Catholic schools in the arch­dio­cese, and to pas­tors and re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion staff at 218 parishes. It sug­gested send­ing do­na­tions to or­ga­ni­za­tions that don’t use em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search.

The ALS As­so­ci­a­tion re­sponded to the warn­ings with a state­ment say­ing it pri­mar­ily funds adult stem-cell re­search, which is not op­posed by the Catholic Church. The state­ment went on to say that the as­so­ci­a­tion is fund­ing one study that uses em­bry­onic stem cells, and that re­search is funded by “one spe­cific donor who is com­mit­ted to this area of re­search.”

“In fact, donors may stip­u­late that their funds not be in­vested in this study or any stem-cell project,” the state­ment said.

It was un­clear what im­pact the arch­dio­cese’s let­ter would have. Catholic schools won’t be back in ses­sion for an­other week and a half. Pas­tors were sent the letters for in­for­ma­tional pur­poses, said arch­dioce­san spokesman Jim Goodness, but it’s up to them to de­cide how or whether they will share that in­for­ma­tion with parish­ioners.

Em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search does not rank as a ma­jor is­sue for most Catholics. In a 2009 Gallup sur­vey, 63 per cent of Catholics said em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search was “morally ac­cept­able.”

Last Septem­ber, Pope Fran­cis said church lead­ers had be­come too fo­cused on so­cial is­sues such as same-sex mar­riage and abor­tion, and had strayed from their pastoral mis­sion of help­ing the poor.

Goodness said the guid­ance re­gard­ing do­na­tions to ALS does not con­flict with the pope’s mes­sage, and merely tells peo­ple to be aware of po­ten­tial con­flicts with Catholic teach­ing.

Raul Cac­eres, a Tea­neck parish­ioner who has cam­paigned against lav­ish up­grades to My­ers’ future re­tire­ment home, said the let­ter is an ex­am­ple of the arch­dio­cese de­fy­ing the wishes of Pope Fran­cis.

Cac­eres, a sur­geon, said he dis­agrees with church teach­ing on the is­sue of em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search. “I’m a doc­tor; how could I op­pose that?” he said.

The U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops hasn’t is­sued any ad­vi­sories about do­na­tions to the ALS As­so­ci­a­tion, said spokesman Don Clem­mer.

— MCT In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

A New Jer­sey Ro­man Catholic Arch­dio­cese has warned ALS re­search in­volves em­bry­onic stem- cell use, which the church doesn’t sup­port.

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