The US Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups. The church's haul may have reached—or even exceeded —$3.5 billion, making a global religious institution with more than a billion followers among the biggest winners in the US government’s pandemic relief efforts, an AP analysis of federal data released this week found. Houses of worship and faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren't usually eligible for money from the Small Business Administration. But as the economy plummeted and jobless rates soared, Congress let faith groups and other nonprofits tap into the Paycheck Protection Program, a $659 billion fund.
The church couldn't have been approved for so many loans without a second break: Religious groups persuaded the Trump administration to free them from a rule that typically disqualifies an applicant with more than 500 workers. "The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism," a University of Virginia law professor says. "And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars." Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have so far received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans, the AP found. But its tally of what the church collected, between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion, is an undercount. The government's data doesn't name recipients of loans under $150,000—a category in which many smaller churches would fall; a survey of Catholic financial officers not carried out by the AP found that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans. (Read much more here.)