The United States (US) Roman Catholic Church could have reportedly amassed US $1.4 to $3.5 billion using the US government's pandemic relief packages, with millions of dollars going to church dioceses that are embroiled in clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.
These dioceses had earlier opted for bankruptcy protection after having paid huge amounts for settling cases involving the clergy.
The upto $3.5 billion haul would make the church one of the biggest beneficiaries of the US government relief programs. Usually, religious organisations promoting beliefs are not considered to be eligible for aid from the US Small Business Administration.
Some diocese are said to have spent thousands of dollars in lobbying efforts in order to ensure that the Church and its affiliates were eligible for various federal aid programs.
However, with soaring unemployment and a badly hit economy the US Congress allowed faith groups and non-profit set ups to draw funds from the Paycheque Protection Program. The latter is a $659 billion fund that was created to help businesses to remain open and to keep unemployment rates under check.
Associated Press reports that the Catholic dioceses, parishes and schools have been able to secure 3,500 forgivable loans so far and that they were able to do this through aggressively promoting the payroll programme and deploying its own resources.
Further, the AP report highlighted the case of a diocese in Orange country, California where a new cathedral built at a cost of $70 million was just opened. The complex secured loans worth a minimum of $3 million. Similarly, in New York the Archdiocese secured 15 loans amounting to $28 million for its top executive offices alone.
Another Catholic financial officers organisation has reportedly admitted that nearly 9,000 Catholic entities received federal pandemic aid.
The Catholic Church has only just recovered from a string of abuse complaints. In 2018 Pope Francis ordered Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, "to a life of prayer and penance" after he was alleged to have abused children.
In 2014, the archdiocese of Los Angeles alone paid $660 million to settle sex abuse complaints from nearly 500 victims.
In the US state of Pennsylvania it was reported that at-least six dioceses had suppressed or covered up for priests caught in abuse complaints. With 4,500 abuse reports on clergy and staff until July 2019, the dioceses and other orders are reported to have spent hundreds of millions in legal fees, settlements and in support of clergymen accused of abusing children, the AP report said.
Amongst the most controversial recipients of aid is the Saint Luke Institute, the Catholic treatment centre that many clergymen accused of sexual abuse are sent to. The institute could have benefitted to the tune of $350,000 to $1 million in aid.
AP cites a bishop's conference representative to establish that the Church did lobby to be part of the payroll protection programme. Lobbying efforts also involved several representations to the US President Donald Trump who is said to have claimed that he was the best (President) the Catholic Church has ever seen.
The loopholes that allow the Roman Catholic Church to tap into government funding are also available for other religious bodies.
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