St. Lawrence giving the wealth to the poor (by Palma Il Giovane, 1582). 

This item from the Associated Press got a lot of attention yesterday, and late last night the USCCB issued a statement in response:

Following the publication of a national news story on Catholic churches receiving loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued the following statement in response:

“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. The novel coronavirus only intensified the needs of the people we serve and the demand for our ministries. The loans we applied for enabled our essential ministries to continue to function in a time of national emergency.

“In addition, shutdown orders and economic fallout associated with the virus have affected everyone, including the thousands of Catholic ministries — churches, schools, healthcare and social services — that employ about 1 million people in the United States. 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.

“The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to protect the jobs of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of whether they work for for-profit or non-profit employers, faith-based or secular.

“Despite all of this, more than 100 Catholic schools have announced that they plan to close, with hundreds more facing an uncertain future. Businesses, hospitals, schools, and churches all across the country are facing many of the exact same problems.

“We will continue advocating for everyone negatively affected by this terrible pandemic, praying for all the sick, for all who have died and are in mourning, and especially the poor and vulnerable at this time of great need.”

Examples of the USCCB’s advocacy on COVID relief, which encompassed the needs of all of the poor and vulnerable, may be found herehere, and several letters are linked here.

America magazine added this: 

On social media Jame Martin, S.J., America’s editor at large, noted that the A.P. assessment suggested a misunderstanding of how the church in the United States actually operates. Commenting on Twitter, he called the report “highly misleading.”

“The ‘Catholic Church’ didn’t ‘cash in,’ to quote one of the subheads in this report,” he said. “There are hundreds of individual Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and social service agencies that care for the poor, which applied for funds often for employees whose low-paying jobs were in jeopardy, like other Americans.

“Other churches, non-profits and charitable organizations applied for funds as well,” Father Martin said. “Yes, most Catholic dioceses have (rightly) paid out millions to the victims of the crimes of sex abuse, which is one reason why individual parishes, schools and social service agencies were even harder hit during the pandemic.

“No Sunday Masses means no weekly collections in already poor dioceses and parishes that themselves care for the indigent as part of their ministry,” he said. “But the idea that the ‘Catholic Church’ is now ‘cashing in’ false. Should a teacher in a Catholic school in the inner city or an employee at a social service agency run by the church, people who had nothing to do with the abuse crisis, not receive aid during the pandemic?

“Which employees should these parishes, schools and social service agencies have laid off rather than accepting these government funds?” Father Martin asked.

When this crisis first hit, back in March, I spoke to two pastors who were seriously worried their parishes would be forced to close because collections would be drying up.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen, in large part because of the PPP program.

Bottom line: Thousands of parish employees and people who work for the church in one way or another are still able to pay their bills and feed their families because of this program; countless food banks, charities and social service agencies of the Catholic Church are functioning because of this relief. The impact is immeasurable.