The Associated Press released a dubious report claiming the Catholic Church in the United States received over $1.4 billion in Covid-19 aid which was used, in part, as payoff money for families who have experienced sexual abuse by priests. Across the globe, the Associated Press claims, “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 U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts.”
With this the Associated Press’s investigative team threw a radical claim against the worldwide Church. Their claim is twofold. One, that taxpayer money which was given to the Church to pay their employees was used, rather, to pay off their legal fees and retribution for the worst type of abuse known to man—namely, abuse by the clergy of the most vulnerable. Two, that the Catholic Church should never have received any federal aid because they were not truly deserving of it due to their self-inflicted wounds of paying out lawsuits for abuse and because the law disqualifies loans for companies with over 500 employees.
The pivotal topics here are money and abuse—that is, financial scheming and clerical wrongdoing. Behind all other issues, the sexual abuse is why the Associated Press claims that the Church does not deserve federal aid. Abuse is a problem and it affects those in the Church in a profound manner. Only a year ago, the Pew Research Center recounted their findings on the effects of sexual abuse: “Roughly one-in-four Catholics (27 percent) say they have gone to Mass less often in response to the reports, and a similar share (26 percent) say they have reduced the amount of money they donate to their parish or diocese… About one-in-five (18 percent) say they have expressed support or encouragement to the priests at their parish.” Along with the pandemic, the clerical abuse crisis is, undoubtedly, responsible for church attendance residing at all-time lows.
Those in the media know that the topic of the Church as an abuser of coin and sex draw attention. Therefore, several outlets jumped on the bandwagon of the Associated Press’s accusation. These accusations remain without evidence and are unfounded. The AP article attacked the global Church generally and the Archdiocese of New York in particular.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) came out with a statement in response. These bishops noted that the Catholic Church in the United States employs nearly 1 million people through its schools, institutions, churches, and agencies. “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.” These funds provided a way for the meaningful and needed work of the Church to continue along with allowing for countless numbers of workers to retain their jobs and provide for their families. The money was used for employment aid, period.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, released a statement as well, where he unequivocally denied that any federal aid was used for anything other than retaining employees during the lockdowns. “Not one penny of that money was used in any way to settle lawsuits or pay victim-survivors of abuse. We have none of this money left. It has all been distributed to our workers, and the government is carefully auditing it.”
The Archdiocese of New York, which includes the span of nearly 5,000 square miles and ten counties, employs 6,000 full-time employees and over 4,000 part-time employees. These are teachers, secretaries, principals, custodians, board members, Catholic Charities officers, financial advisors, and countless others devoted to spreading love over hate and providing hope over despair. Without the aid of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) there would have been numerous men and women forced to go without pay.
Cardinal Dolan noted that “without assistance from the PPP, many of our employers would have had no choice but to lay-off their employees, reducing the church’s ability to assist people in need, and forcing our people to seek unemployment.” The archbishop continued, “That means your parish’s secretary, or the teachers in your child’s Catholic school, for instance, could easily have lost their jobs. So, the money did not go to ‘the archdiocese’ but to our workers.”
The Church does not get a pass for the sexual abuse crisis which it has paid and continues to pay for financially, communally, and spiritually. This does not, however, give the vast majority of the media the window to accuse the Church of any sin under the sun without proof. Cardinal Dolan’s stance—along with that of the USCCB—against these accusations is not an attack on the freedom of speech, but a call for factual reporting, not biased and slandering accounts that deem the Church as not worthy of aid because of its flaws.
Money and abuse have inflicted harm on the Church in the past, but the handling of the PPP is not another example of it. This is the plain and simple truth.
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