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Archbishop Coakley: Loans keep ‘essential ministries’ going during national emergency

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee said the federal emergency "bridge loans" that dioceses, parishes and other Catholic entities applied for provided a lifeline, allowing "our essential ministries to continue to function in a time of national emergency."

"The Catholic Church is the largest nongovernmental supplier of social services in the United States," said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City. "Each year, our parishes, schools and ministries serve millions of people in need, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion."

"The novel coronavirus only intensified the needs of the people we serve and the demand for our ministries," he said. "The loans we applied for enabled our essential ministries to continue to function in a time of national emergency."

Archbishop Coakley, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, made the comments in a statement released late July 10 in response to an Associated Press story claiming the Catholic Church “used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion” in federal loans.

The AP story described the loans as “the church's haul” and claimed the total amount might “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.” The news service said its July 10 story was based on its analysis of recently released federal data.

“The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to protect the jobs of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of whether they work for for-profit or nonprofit employers, faith-based or secular,” Archbishop Coakley said.

“The shutdown orders and economic fallout associated with the virus have affected everyone, including the thousands of Catholic ministries — churches, schools, health care and social services — that employ about 1 million people in the United States,” the archbishop said.

"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," he added.

By some estimates thousands of individual churches, schools, food pantries and other social service programs would have been shuttered all around the country were it not for federal loan program.

Even with the emergency loans, "more than 100 Catholic schools have announced that they plan to close, with hundreds more facing an uncertain future," Archbishop Coakley said. "Businesses, hospitals, schools, and churches all across the country are facing many of the exact same problems."

In late April, statistics compiled by the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference showed that 8,000 parishes, 1,400 elementary schools, 700 high schools, 104 chanceries, 185 Catholic Charities agencies and 200 other diocesan organizations in 160 dioceses had applied for assistance at that point.

The church entities that received assistance were able to "sleep better knowing help is on the way and for now they do not have to lay staff off," said Patrick Markey, executive director of the conference.

Markey also said church entities that were not funded in the first round or applied after the original allocation of federal money was exhausted had already applied or planned to file applications as new monies flowed into the program.

In early April, Congress approved — and President Donald Trump signed into law — the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program as part of a $484 billion emergency relief measure developed in response to the economic fallout caused by the spread of COVID-19. Congress later allocated an additional $310 billion for the loan program, which is administered by the Small Business Administration.

According to CNN, more than 4.8 million small business owners have utilized the program. June 30, the U.S. Senate extended the deadline to apply for the loans until Aug. 8. The extension came as over $130 billion allocated to the program remained unused.

The Paycheck Protection Program loans are partly "forgivable," meaning the money does not need to be repaid if the employer uses the money for payroll costs, mortgage, rent and utilities as required by the program.             

While "some people may react with surprise that government funding helped support faith-based schools, parishes and dioceses," Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pa., told AP, "the separation of church and state does not mean that those motivated by their faith have no place in the public square."

“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,” Archbishop Coakley said in his statement.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020