Catholic school superintendent takes part in ALS ice bucket challenge

August 22, 2014

By John Stegeman

Catholic News Service

CINCINNATI - Showing his support for those suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Cincinnati Archdiocese took part in the ice bucket challenge Aug. 21.

Superintendent Jim Rigg was joined by Tom Otten, principal of Elder Catholic High School, on the school’s campus. The challenge has taken the nation by storm to raise money in support of research into the disease, which is formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure and no proven treatments.

In the challenge, people are asked to share videos through social media that show them dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads - or having someone else do the dumping. They also have to name others to do the same in the next 24 hours or donate $100 to the ALS Association.

But questions raised about research supported by the ALS Association have left some Catholics concerned about participating in the effort.

The association, which has received the most donations related to the ice bucket challenge, supports research associated with the use of embryonic stem cells, which the Catholic Church opposes. So many Catholic participants in the challenge, in Cincinnati and elsewhere, have chosen to send their donations to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, based in Iowa City, Iowa.

The institute on its website says it focuses on “the most ethical and cost-effective way of conducting medical research to help develop therapies and cures for a variety of diseases.”

Youths from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Columbia, MD, participate in the ice bucket challenge Aug. 24 along with their youth minister, Wayman Scott. The group participated in support of the John Paul II Center for Medical Research and the Brigance Brigade Foundation. Scott's mother is an ALS patient.
(Courtesy Wayman Scott)

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati was the center of media reporting Aug. 20 after an email from Rigg was leaked to the press. Contrary to some media reports, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had not forbidden schools from participating in the ice bucket challenge for ALS. Rather, Rigg instructed schools to make sure any donations raised went to morally licit charitable organizations, such as the Iowa institute.

“We support efforts that are in line with our principles as Catholics to end that devastating medical condition,” Rigg told media gathered at Elder High the morning of Aug. 21. “However, as schools, we have to ensure that all of our efforts are reflective of our principles, including the belief in the sanctity of life. The John Paul II Medical Research Institute reflects these principles. They’ll be the recipients of these funds here today.”

Watch Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters take the challenge.

On Aug. 21, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik said he, too, would direct donations to the Iowa institute when he announced he was taking part in the ice bucket challenge.

Stegeman is a staff reporter at The Catholic Telegraph, newspaper of the Cincinnati Archdiocese.

Also see:

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops