As Millions Suffer From Unemployment, The Catholic Church Gets $1.4 Billion In Relief Funds

Sarah Midkiff

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church successfully lobbied government officials to make an exception from federal rules to include the church in the Paycheck Protection Program, despite not meeting specific requirements. Because of this exemption, at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid has been awarded to the church. And, there is reason to believe that the total payout may have exceeded $3.5 billion, making the global religious institution one of the biggest recipients in the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts

According to an analysis of federal data conducted by the Associated Press, millions of dollars are “going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.” Data shows that the majority of the church’s money was approved during the loan program’s first two weeks. However, in that same time, many local businesses were unable to receive loans from the initial $349 billion funding to the program because it was first-come, first-served. In total, nearly 500 loans exceeding $1 million each were approved for Catholic entities. At least eight reached the maximum payout range of $5-10 million. Among the listed recipients are the offices of bishops, major churches, headquarters of leading religious orders, schools, and chapters of catholic charities. 

Faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren’t usually eligible for money from the U.S. Small Business Administration, reports the Boston Globe. When the coronavirus hit and millions became unemployed, Congress made an exception to let faith groups and other nonprofits apply for the Paycheck Protection Program under the same parameters as other businesses. The PPP’s 500-employee cap qualification for applicants would have otherwise meant that many Catholic dioceses would have been ineligible; however, religious groups reportedly lobbied the Trump administration for an exception. 

The Archdiocese of New York, for example, received 15 loans totaling at least $28 million that just goes toward its top executive offices. Forty dioceses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years paying settlements to those coming forward about their experiences of sexual abuse in the church. The AP’s review found that these dioceses were collectively approved for about $200 million, though the total could be higher because the government’s data – released after multiple news outlets sued Congress – didn’t name recipients of loans under $150,000.

The exact amounts are difficult to quantify because the government released only ranges of loan amounts. The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference reported that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans. That is nearly three times the number of entities AP could identify, reports the Boston Globe. AP’s analysis showed that 407,900 jobs within the Catholic church and its affiliated organizations were retained with money awarded through the loan program.

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a king of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor who studied the Paycheck Protection Program told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.” The PPP was open to all religious groups, and many applied, including evangelical advisers to President Donald Trump and many big-name churches.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor reported unemployment claims have surpassed 44 million since the start of the coronavirus shutdowns. A study conducted by a Columbia University professor estimated that homelessness in the United States could grow as much as 45% in the next year as a result of the coronavirus and its crippling effect on the economy. 

Upon the news breaking, some publicly criticized the payouts claiming that scores of dioceses faced self-inflicted financial pressure as a result of hiding rampant sexual misconduct. 

It is difficult to ascertain the total wealth of the Catholic church, but reported estimates and investigations estimate that just within the United States, the entity is valued at tens of billions.

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