A widely circulated Associated Press article on Catholic parishes’ and agencies’ participation in a federal coronavirus aid program is one of the most scurrilous pieces of mainstream journalism we’ve seen in a long time.
It sets up a false premise that the U.S. Catholic Church bent government rules to scoop up at least $1.4 billion— and possibly up to $3.5 billion—from the Payroll Protection Program, a forgivable loan program aimed at allowing employers to maintain their payrolls, hire back laid off employees and cover their overhead during an unprecedented pandemic.
Never mind that the Catholic parishes, schools and health care and social service ministries employ about 1 million workers nationwide and help millions of Americans in need regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
Never mind that the Catholic Church, through its charitable agencies, is the largest nongovernmental supplier of social services in the United States, or that Congress designed the aid program to protect the jobs of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of whether they work for profit-based or nonprofit employers, faith-based or secular.
The AP ignored all of that in its zeal to paint the Church as a greedy, monolithic entity that made a shady backroom deal to take in a massive “haul” of taxpayer funds.
That may be good click-bait, but it’s wrong.
According to a Washington Post analysis that was reviewed by a political science professor and used the same database as the AP, at least 10,000 religious groups, including houses of worship, schools and other nonprofits received loans to make up for losses suffered in the pandemic. A full 70 percent of those loans were between $150,000 and $350,000, and they went to virtually every faith group and denomination in the country—and to several atheist groups as well.
Some two dozen Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations got loans of $5 million to $10 million, the highest tier of funding.
Given the perilous condition of news organizations in this country, we’re concerned that Americans may lose access to accurate and fairly presented accounts of happenings at home and around the world.
For that reason, we’re extremely hesitant to criticize another news organization, especially one like the AP, which has long been known for unbiased reporting and analysis.
In this case, however, the AP lost its way.
We’d like to remind everyone that whether or not any Catholic parish, school or charitable agency received funds under the loan program, they’re all still struggling through the pandemic.
Even with the emergency loans, more than 100 Catholic schools around the country—including 20 here in the archdiocese—have announced they will close due to sharply lower enrollment related to the pandemic and uncertainty about the future.
And, like every other organization affected by temporary shutdowns, local parishes lost much of their main source of revenue—money in the collection basket—in places where Masses and other public services could not be held.
The pandemic hit us like a ton of bricks, and we’re grateful for all who soldiered through here in New York. The economic fallout has been and will continue to be huge, but the mission of the Church goes far beyond money.
As Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the U.S. bishops domestic policy committee, explained, “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.”
Well said, indeed.