FFRF condemns Catholic lobbying for billions in taxpayer support

Catholic Benson

Greed is said by the Roman Catholic Church to be one of the “seven deadly sins.” Yet that entity, including many of its dioceses involved in clergy sexual abuse cover-ups, has appeared to rake in the biggest haul of taxpayer COVID-19 relief money going to religious institutions — possibly exceeding $3.5 billion, according to a shocking analysis by Associated Press.

“By aggressively promoting the payroll program and marshaling resources to help affiliates navigate its shifting rules, Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have so far received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans,” AP reports.

The Catholic Church successfully lobbied to be exempted from a Small Business Administration rule disqualifying Paycheck Protection Program applicants with more than 500 workers. “Without this preferential treatment, many Catholic dioceses would have been ineligible,” AP notes.

Nearly 500 loans approved to Catholic entities exceeded $1 million, and at least eight were between $5 million and $10 million. Loan recipients of about $200 million included some 40 dioceses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years paying victims through compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings, AP reports. The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has reported that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans, nearly three times the number of Catholic beneficiaries that AP could identify, making AP’s estimate that $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in public funds have gone to Catholic entities an undercount.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese, which paid a record $660 million to settle claims of sexual abuse by more than 500 victims in 2007, spent at least $20,000 to lobby Congress for benefits. The payoff: 247 of its 288 parishes and all but one of its 232 schools received loans. AP reported 37 forgivable loans to that archdiocese and its affiliates of between $9 million and $23 million.

Likewise, Catholic Charities USA — whose motto must be that “charity begins at home” — spent $30,000 in lobbying. The organization and its member agencies walked away with 110 taxpayer loans of between $90 million and $220 million minimally.

AP reports that in late April several hundred Catholic leaders urged President Trump during a conference call to give even more funds after thousands of Catholic institutions had already secured loans. During the call, Trump engaged in electioneering and boasted that he was the “best [president] the Catholic Church has even seen.”

Among the beneficiaries of the massive handout is the Archdiocese of New York, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan created a victim compensation fund to discourage victims from suing. It received 15 loans of at least $28 million “just for its top executive offices,” AP reports. The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese of West Virginia, where it was revealed last year that then-Bishop Michel Bransfield embezzled funds and made sexual overtures to priests, received at least $2 million. Many other dioceses implicated in massive cover-ups of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic officials applied for taxpayer funds, including the St. Paul Minneapolis Archdiocese, the Diocese of Erie, Pa., and others.

AP writes that “nothing illustrates the church’s aggressive pursuit of funds better” than the four dioceses that are in bankruptcy due to claims by sexual abuse victims, which sued the federal government to receive loans — even though SBA rules bar loans to applicants in bankruptcy.

This grotesque governmental favoritism toward religion — the complicity with religious demands that the rules do not apply to them — is as egregious as the raid of taxpayer funds. The “deadly sin” is that our nation’s wall of separation between religion and government has been breached, to pad the coffers of one of the world’s wealthiest and most corrupt religions.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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