The Slatest

The Catholic Church, With Billions in Reserve, Took More Than $3 Billion in Taxpayer-Backed Pandemic Aid

A person kneels in front of a Nativity scene at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Behind her a person wearing a mask stands looking at their phone.
Quite the Hail Mary. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Here’s a maddening pandemic fact: Catholic dioceses in the U.S. and other institutions backed by the Roman Catholic Church took more than $3 billion in taxpayer-funded government aid as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That appears to make the Catholic Church the single largest beneficiary of the emergency aid program. While availing upon taxpayer-funded payments, designed to keep small businesses afloat and employees in their jobs during economic shutdowns, the AP reports the Catholic Church was sitting on $10 billion in cash, short-term investments, and other available funds.

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The financial statements of 112 dioceses showed that they—along with the churches and schools they operate—collected at least $1.5 billion in PPP funds, even though, the AP reports, most of those dioceses had enough cash reserves to operate for six months with no revenue coming in at all. The fact that the market quickly recovered—and then grew—meant that many of the dioceses relying on investment vehicles likely made money on the pandemic. The Archdiocese of Chicago, for example, had more than $1 billion in cash and investments as of May, yet its affiliated institutions collected $77 million in paycheck protection funds.

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“Church officials have said their employees were as worthy of help as workers at Main Street businesses, and that without it they would have had to slash jobs and curtail their charitable mission as demand for food pantries and social services spiked. They point out the program’s rules didn’t require them to exhaust their stores of cash and other funds before applying,” the AP reports. “The financial resources of several dioceses rivaled or exceeded those available to publicly traded companies like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, whose early participation in the program triggered outrage. Federal officials responded by emphasizing the money was intended for those who lacked the cushion that cash and other liquidity provide. Many corporations returned the funds.”

While the Catholic Church appears to have been the largest religious recipient of government PPP funding, it wasn’t alone: Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Jewish faith-based entities received at least $3 billion. “Dioceses, parishes, schools and other Catholic entities also routinely assert to the Internal Revenue Service that they are affiliated so they can maintain their federal income tax exemption,” according to the AP. “While some Catholic officials insisted their affiliates are separate and financially independent, AP found many instances of borrowing and spending among them when dioceses were faced with prior cash crunches.”

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