US Pandemic Support Money Props Up Catholic Dioceses Involved In Sex Abuse As Church Gets $1.4 Billion
The US Roman Catholic Church has used an unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion worth of taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid.
Millions of dollars worth of aid money has reportedly gone to dioceses that have previously paid out large settlements or sought protection from bankruptcy, on account of cover-ups of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
As per an Associated Press analysis of newly released federal data, funds received by the church may have been as much as – or more than – $3.5 billion, making it one of the biggest beneficiaries of the US government’s pandemic relief efforts.
Places of worship and faith-based organisations usually wouldn’t be eligible for this sort of US Small Business Administration funding.
However, with the economy and employment rates having taken a hit, Congress permitted faith groups and other nonprofits access the Paycheck Protection Program, a $659 billion fund established to keep Main Street open and Americans in employment.
AP found that by through the aggressive promotion of the payroll program – as well as through marshalling resources – Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries were able to get approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans.
The Archdiocese of New York received 15 loans worth at least $28 million for its top executive offices, with the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue having been approved for at least $1 million.
Over in Orange County, California, a glass cathedral with an estimated cost of $70 million was recently opened, with diocesan officials at the complex receiving four forgivable loans worth at least $3 million.
Meanwhile, a loan of at least $2 million was received by the diocese covering Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, where a 2019 investigation revealed that the then-Bishop Michael Bransfield had embezzled funds and made sexual advances toward young priests.
Being eligible for low-interest loans presented new opportunities, however the church wouldn’t been approved for this many loans if it wasn’t for religious groups persuading the Trump administration to free them from rules that would usually disqualify applicants employing more than 500 workers.
This preferential treatment allowed many Catholic dioceses – which would have otherwise been ineligible because their employees exceeded the usual 500-person cap – to rake in the money.
University of Virginia law professor Micah Schwartzman, who specialises in constitutional issues and religion, told AP:
The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism. And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.
US dioceses have faced increased financial pressure even before the pandemic struck due to a dramatic steep rise in clergy sex abuse claims.
In 2018, Pope Francis ordered the former Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to a life of ‘prayer and penance’ following allegations of abuse against minors and adult seminarians.
In this same year, a grand jury report concerning abuse in six different Pennsylvania dioceses revealed bishops had long covered up for predators in the clergy, resulting in investigations across more than 20 other US states.
Reports of abuse tripled during the year ending June 2019, with a total of almost 4,500 across the country.
During that very same year, dioceses and religious orders paid out $282 million, a sum that had risen significantly from the $106 million reported just five years prior. Most of this money went to settlements, as well as towards legal fees and support for accused members of the clergy.
As reported by AP, amongst the recent loan recipients were approximately 40 dioceses that had spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years paying victims either through compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings.
AP’s found these dioceses had been approved for around $200 million, however it’s thought the actual value could be far higher.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on their website or on their free helpline 0808 800 5005, open 9am–5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 8am–8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10am–2pm Saturdays.