Faced with empty churches and an unprecedented drop in weekly giving, New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses used a special exemption to apply for taxpayer-funded loans through a federal program designed to help keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Metuchen, Paterson, Trenton and Camden received loans through the federal government. Paycheck Protection Program to help pay employees in their parishes, schools and administrative offices, church officials told NJ Advance Media.
Spokesmen for the five dioceses did not respond when asked how much of the taxpayer-backed aid they had received so far, but said the help was badly needed.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the The U.S. Catholic Church has received between $ 1.4 billion and $ 3.5 billion in federal aid for the coronavirus Millions of people go to dioceses that recently filed for bankruptcy protection or paid large settlements related to allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
“This funding was necessary to help maintain essential ministries and services, and to ensure continued employment of staff members, including school teachers, parish staff, and workers in homeless shelters, soup kitchens. and other ministries that serve the most vulnerable among us, “said Maria Margiotta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark.
“These parishes and schools met all the requirements for the loans,” added Margiotta. “Without this assistance, they would not have been able to preserve many of these jobs, which would affect not only employees and their families, but also the communities that depend on them.”
Churches and other places of worship are generally not eligible for federal loans from the US Small Business Administration. But faith groups and other nonprofits lobbied Congress and the Trump administration to be included in the fund. of $ 659 billion created to help keep Main Street businesses afloat with low-interest forgivable loans to pay employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
They also lobbied to be exempted from a rule that only businesses and organizations with fewer than 500 employees were eligible for the money.
So far, dioceses, parishes, schools and other Catholic ministries have received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans through the program, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.
The Archdiocese of New York received 15 loans worth at least $ 28 million for its main executive offices alone, the AP found. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was approved for at least $ 1 million.
The Diocese of Orange County, California, which recently opened a new $ 70 million cathedral, received at least $ 3 million in federal loans. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, received a $ 2 million loan for coronavirus a year after a church investigation found its former bishop embezzled money and was accused of sexual misconduct.
It is difficult to obtain a complete accounting of exactly which Catholic dioceses or other faith institutions received forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. The facts about the program were released after pressure from Congress and a lawsuit from news organizations, including the AP. But the data did not include the identities of loan recipients who received less than $ 150,000, a category that includes many local churches, the AP reported.
The program has also been criticized for making coronavirus loans to celebrities, billionaires, politicians, lobbying companies and large corporations.
In New Jersey, the Archdiocese of Newark said that more than 200 of its parishes in Essex, Bergen, Hudson and Union counties were unable to hold weekly collections during the closure of state-mandated worship services.
“Although the Archdiocese of Newark did not accept all of the financial assistance for which it was eligible under the law, many of our archdiocesan parishes and schools applied for and received vital financial assistance through funds from the US Pay Check Protection Program. the SBA, ”Margiotta said.
New Jersey, which has one of the largest percentages of Catholics in the nation, has only begun to allow indoor worship services in June. But meetings were limited to 50 people or 25% of a building’s capacity, whichever is less. Larger services can be performed outdoor.
Catholic dioceses in the state have not said how great the financial impact has been on local dioceses or parishes. Even with a decrease in attendance and donations, the church’s work has continued, said Anthony Kearns 3rd, chancellor and spokesman for the Diocese of Metuchen.
“Even as we face the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, our parishes, social service ministries and schools have continued the work of Jesus, ministering and responding to the needs of others,” said Kearns. “The suspension of in-person Masses in our parishes has resulted in a financial challenge for our parishes and institutions and the PPP was of great help to those who were approved.”
The Diocese of Trenton said it used federal loans to continue to employ many of the nearly 7,000 people who work in its parishes, schools and other organizations.
Trenton diocese officials objected to any link between the Catholic Church’s lack of money during the pandemic and recent payments to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
“The suggestion by some in the media that the prior legal settlements paid for by the Church have something to do with the need for this COVID relief is false and defamatory,” the Diocese of Trenton said in a statement.
The five dioceses of New Jersey created a fund last year, called New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program – for priests who are victims of sexual abuse who want to resolve their cases in private without going to court.
By January, the program had awarded more than $ 11 million in settlements to 69 New Jersey victims whose cases were resolved, administrators said. Hundreds more cases remained to be reviewed.
New Jersey’s five dioceses previously paid at least $ 50 million in settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse in the years before the compensation fund was established, church officials said. Much of that money came from insurance policies and self-insurance funds established by the dioceses.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
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