Should Catholics throw cold water on the Ice Bucket Challenge?

I’ve always enjoyed time travel stories. Lately, I wish I could go back to last November and a meeting of The Catholic Post’s board of directors. I’d love to see their reaction as I announce:

“I’ve got a novel idea for the newspaper’s 2014 Delivering Unity Campaign. It will use social media. We’ll have someone prominent, maybe the bishop, make a brief video. He’ll speak of the importance of the diocesan newspaper and announce he’s making a pledge of support.

“Here’s where it gets good,” I’d continue with a wry smile. “The bishop would then have a bucket of ice water poured over his head, and challenge three friends to also make a pledge to the paper. The friends would pour ice water over their heads, and post their video. Soon, everyone will be doing it!

“What do you think?”

My guess is their expressions would indicate it was my last day on the job.

Yet, as we know, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” has swept the nation, raising tens of millions of research dollars as well as awareness to confront the awful disease of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

We’re not here to throw cold water on the challenge. It’s wildly successful and has unleashed a lot of creativity, compassion and joy, all the while putting the focus on — and often seeking prayer for — loved ones fighting the disease.

But there is a concern. As noted by an increasing number of Catholics on social media — including Father Benjamin Reese, whose struggle with ALS is described here — the ALS Association, to which the majority of donations are going, currently supports human embryonic stem cell research. The Catholic Church teaches that the destruction of human embryos in that process violates the sanctity of human life. Meanwhile, promising research using adult stem cells, a process which does not take an innocent life, is supported.

So are we down on the dumps?

On the contrary. We say keep making a splash by 1) voicing our ethical concerns to the ALSA, which does so much good work in other areas, and 2) making sure our participation is reflective and supportive of a moral means of research to treat and, please God, end this disease.

Three alternative organizations were promoted by Dr. Sharon Weiss, diocesan superintendent of schools, in a letter this week to pastors and principals regarding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. They include

— the John Paul II Medical Research Institute
— the Cell Therapy Foundation, or
Compassionate Care ALS

Since I can’t travel to the past and be the first to suggest a Catholic Post ice bucket challenge — probably not practical for our February drive anyway — I’ll have to come up with a creative way to use social media in promoting The Catholic Post’s next Delivering Unity Campaign. In fact I already have an idea. And you’ll know about it as soon as I gauge the expressions of our board of directors. — Thomas J. Dermody

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