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No special exemption for Catholic churches

A recent Associated Press article in the Mirror headlined an undocumented claim that there was a linking of coronavirus paycheck protection assistance to payouts for clergy sex abuse by Catholic dioceses.

That our own local diocese did receive assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program is true.

In fact, the Catholic Church in this country has received between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion in federal funds under the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal initiative designed to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ordinarily, businesses that employ more than 500 people and all faith-based organizations are not eligible for federal small business loans.

In this instance, however, Congress and the Trump administration waived those rules. The unspoken premise of the AP claim is that the church may have been undeserving of paycheck protection funds because it had settled lawsuits.

In reality, however, there was no special exemption for Catholic churches. All religious groups were similarly exempted.

A second truth: Our diocese and many dioceses in this country have over the years made significant financial settlements to the victims of clergy sexual abuse of minors. However, though the AP implies the contrary, there is no connection between these two truths.

These PPP federal funds were distributed to every kind of small business, without consideration for whether they had settled lawsuits related to sexual abuse, or environmental damage, or negligence or malpractice.

The unspoken premise of the AP claim is that the church may have been undeserving of paycheck protection funds because it had settled lawsuits. Yet no other industry was subjected to such a test.

How have these funds actually been used? The chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee, Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley, responded to the AP article:

“The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental supplier of social services in the United States. Each year, our parishes, schools and ministries serve millions of people in need, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. … These loans have been an essential lifeline to keep hundreds of thousands of employees on payroll, ensure families maintain their health insurance, and enable lay workers to continue serving their brothers and sisters during this crisis.”

I hope that this letter puts to rest the implication of the AP article that the Catholic Church was undeserving of these federal funds, or that they were used for purposes other than for payroll protection during this pandemic.

And one further point: The employees who are assisted with this funding, as well as our churches themselves, are taxpayers.

Msgr. Michael A. Becker

St. John the Evangelist Church

Altoona

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