Government Should Step In to Right the Catholic PPP Loan Situation
According to Catholic News Service, the US Catholic Church collected almost 10,600 individual loans during the first round of government stimulus. This figure is triple the amount estimated by the Associated Press, which reported that at least $1.4 Billion had been borrowed among at least 3,500 loans. Extrapolating those AP figures to the number of grants acknowledged by CNS, it would appear at least $5 Billion has been awarded to Catholic entities nationwide.
The 8,000 US parishes that received funds are slightly less than half the 17,000 parishes throughout the United States. And according to CNS, Catholic entities are going after more funds during the next round of the PPP.
The typical business that receives a PPP loan is not likely to own its building or have an endowment, but rather to be a small, local business that is in danger of laying off staff or closing its doors. Conversely, the Catholic Church in the US owns its parishes, schools, and buildings, often with no debt. It employs professional money managers to oversee its portfolio of investments and – as this situation demonstrates – professional lobbyists to advance their interests in Washington.
What is striking to SNAP is that in the span of three months, the 200 Bishops leading the various dioceses of the United States were able to organize a massive, highly successful effort to collect these forgivable loans. That push required the mobilization of thousands of individuals with legal and financial expertise.
At the same time, these same bishops still have not organized themselves to defeat clergy sexual abuse, whether by actively seeking out and purging abusers and enablers from their ranks or even by producing an accurate list of abusive priests. Despite the promises made in 2002 and codified in the Dallas Charter, every week brings new stories and examples of abuse and cover-up.
From a financial standpoint alone, it is obvious to us that these taxpayer-funded loans made to the Church should be repaid: The Catholic Church is asset rich and has the ability to borrow in the municipal bond markets, to tap their endowments or to sell surplus real estate, and to mobilize a vast and wealthy base of donors in times of emergency.
From a moral standpoint, it is hard to swallow that an organization that continues to drag its feet on dealing with abusers and enablers within its ranks is receiving billions of dollars to enforce the status quo, putting more children and vulnerable adults at risk.
We call on the federal government – whether through an executive order from the President, or through an act of Congress – to establish an oversight committee dedicated to these loans to Catholic entities and the recovery of them. Each and every loan should be audited. The government should demand collateral. The Catholic Church owns enough land and buildings to offer meaningful collateral for these loans that over time can be financed or sold to repay US taxpayers.
There are at least 7,000 priests in this country known to have abused tens of thousands of victims. Money enables abuse and also enables Catholic officials to pay lawyers to deny or delay justice. While these loans are in place, the government should demand immediate changes, including a halt to any and all bankruptcy proceedings and an agreement to be overseen by a special master who can demand access to the Church's secret files so that reforms can be enforced.
If the Church wants to borrow or get grants from the taxpayer, it must do its part and once and for all open its books and secrets to the public. After all, we are paying for them.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)