COVID bailout funds were intended to help businesses and non-profits that are struggling in the midst of the pandemic — the kind of businesses that wouldn’t be able to survive without an injection of cash to keep workers afloat — so it’s infuriating to read that the Trump administration gave millions of dollars to churches and chains that can absolutely weather the storm.
The Catholic Church may be one of the largest beneficiaries of all. According to the Associated Press, the organization received at least $1.4 billion in aid — and possibly more than $3.5 billion — including to churches that have paid out sexual abuse settlements or filed for bankruptcy. The AP has accounted for at least 3,500 separate loans.
There may have been many, many more, but the Trump administration did not publicly release the names of any group that received less than $150,000.
The Archdiocese of New York, for example, received 15 loans worth at least $28 million just for its top executive offices. Its iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was approved for at least $1 million.
In Orange County, California, where a sparkling glass cathedral estimated to cost over $70 million recently opened, diocesan officials working at the complex received four loans worth at least $3 million.
As with all the other bailouts, these loans will be forgiven if they’re primarily used for salaries and general business expenses, but the AP notes that while other businesses with more than 500 employees were not eligible for the funding, the Catholic Church received a special exemption.
“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” said Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in constitutional issues and religion who has studied the Paycheck Protection Program. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”
Once again, it’s worth asking: Why does the Church need this help? This is an institution worth hundreds of billions of dollars. It would be easy for them to continue paying workers and funding individual churches without struggling in any real sense. Instead, it took money from a budget intended for people who actually needed it, taking advantage of loopholes along the way. These loans effectively free up money which can now be used for future sex abuse settlements.
The Church doesn’t need or deserve the money. But as usual, they took it and screwed over those with far less power in the process.
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