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Papal Foundation denies adult stem cell research grant while Francis, Wuerl secure millions for scandal-ridden hospital

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

April 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Medical researchers at a U.S.-, Catholic-based institute say they were shocked at being denied a $150,000 Papal Foundation grant for their groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research last year while $25 million was recently awarded to a scandal-plagued dermatological hospital in Rome.

The Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute (JP2MRI) was rejected for a $150,000 grant for Alzheimer’s research in August 2018, just as controversy arose surrounding the Papal Foundation, the Holy See, and a stunning $25 million grant to the Istituto Dermopatico dell'Immacolata (IDI), a dermatological hospital, in Rome.

The JP2MRI grant was titled "Developing Ethical Adult Stem Cell Therapies for Degenerative Neurological Diseases," and had been made in June 2018 for a budget period of September 2018 through August 2019.

The JP2MRI grant was declined, according to a August 17, 2018, letter from the office of Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

The explanation given by a representative of the nuncio was that “while the Papal Foundation recognizes the importance of the initiatives of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, the grants issued from the foundation typically provide assistance for projects that will benefit people in developing countries; therefore, the Papal Foundation decided that this proposed project does not qualify for this grant.”

The nuncio’s representative requested in his letter that the local ordinary, who is required to sign off on grants to the Papal Foundation, inform the JP2MRI of the grant denial.

The fact that Alzheimer’s research would benefit people across the world notwithstanding, the reasoning behind the denial of the project that would benefit people in developing countries adds to questions about how the IDI qualified for a Papal Foundation grant of any amount.

LifeSiteNews broke the story last February with leaked internal Foundation documents showing that beginning in the summer of 2017 Pope Francis personally requested, and later partially obtained, the $25 million grant for the fiscally and legally troubled IDI. The grant’s handling from Rome to the U.S.-based Foundation’s board, which is composed of U.S. bishops, including every U.S. cardinal living in America, had some lay members angry and/or resigning from the Foundation.

Aside from the large amount of the grant, there were significant questions regarding the use of the funds, given the hospital’s troubled history, and concerns expressed by lay members did not stop the grant from going through.

Lay membership, or becoming a “steward” in the Papal Foundation, entails pledging “to give $1 million over the course of no more than 10 years with a minimum donation of $100,000 per year.” Those funds are invested to make a perpetual fund to assist the Church.

The foundation usually awards grants of $200,000 or less to organizations in the developing world via the Holy See.

While lay stewards provide the funding for the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, the bishops on the board control Foundation decisions, and grants are administered through the Holy See.

The controversy surrounding the IDI grant is complex and ongoing, but its size being 100 times the normal grant amount alone — along with its controversial handling and the fact that the dermatological hospital is in Rome and not in the developing world — have raised significant concern.

Further, since the story broke, questions persist and continue to arise regarding Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s actions to push the grant through, and whether the massive grant was tied in any way to prospective leniency at the Holy See for disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who remained listed on the Foundation roster until the story broke last June of his serial sexual abuse.

LifeSiteNews inquired with the Papal Foundation about the JP2MRI grant request and also status of the IDI grant but did not receive a response.

An attempt to make the same inquiry with the Vatican Secretary of State resulted in an email response that bounced back.

In lieu of making contact with the Vatican Secretary of State, LifeSiteNews inquired with the Vatican Press Office and did not receive a response.

LifeSiteNews did not reach out to the U.S. papal nuncio because JP2MRI had done so after the grant denial. The nuncio himself advised JP2MRI in clear terms that the Vatican Secretary of State had directed the nuncio’s office to pass along notification of the grant denial, and that communication regarding grant requests was the extent of the nuncio’s role in the matter.

Dr. Alan Moy, JP2MRI founder and scientific director, said he was shocked to see that $25 million was to be given from the Foundation to the Vatican to bail out the dermatology hospital.

Like many, the IDI grant caused him to question whether Papal Foundation funds are being spent as they are represented.

Moy points out that his institute’s grant was to fund research to develop treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects individuals worldwide regardless of locale or socio-economic status.

And in addition to JP2MRI achieving medical research success that would benefit people across the world, it is also doing so while conducting its work expressly in accord with Catholic teaching, making it highly unique in the medical field today.

JP2MRI has made substantial progress in adult stem cell research and currently has one of the largest adult stem cell repositories in the United States.

“John Paul II Medical Research Institute, which is essentially one of the few pro-life medical research institutes in the world to develop stem cell therapies consistent with Catholic teaching, is the only organization to develop a stem cell that fully replaces the need for embryonic stem cells,” he said. “This work has been published. Ironically, we receive more interest from secular entities than from the Catholic Church.”

JP2MRI is focused on regenerative medicine in which adult stem cells will be used to treat patients with chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, pulmonary disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, which Moy said make up 75 percent of healthcare costs. Adult stem cells have the potential to repair damaged organs, he said, which in return would decrease those healthcare costs.

JP2MRI recently announced the regenerative medicine milestone of creating safer and ethical pluripotent stem cells from cord blood and peripheral blood obtained from donors – meaning that there is now an ethical alternative to the unethical method of harvesting embryonic stem cells from a newly conceived human person (embryo), often at the cost of that person's life. 

JP2MRI is also in the midst of a “Campaign for Cures” to conduct research to replace aborted fetal cells used in medical research and pharmaceutical manufacturing of a variety of drugs.

Moy said the experience with the Vatican has been disappointing and gives the sense of minimal priority with regard to the issue of embryonic stem cell research.

“It appears there is a disconnect between the Vatican and the advancement of pro-life medical research,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Additionally, JP2MRI’s inquiry to the Vatican asking whether alternative grant sources were available within the Holy See was to no avail.

“We received no response from the Vatican to our appeal to find a suitable support mechanism within the Vatican if the Papal Foundation was not the right vehicle,” he said.

Moy stresses that the Institute’s experience in being denied a grant is nothing compared with the sexual abuse of children and seminarians and its subsequent cover-up. Still, what seems to be in some parts of the Catholic Church a disregard for the promotion and support for advancing pro-life causes and the promotion of Catholic teaching is nonetheless disheartening.

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