Catholic Church received at least $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief aid

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church received at least $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief aid, making it one of the largest beneficiaries of federal assistance during the pandemic.

An analysis by The Associated Press found that the church could have received as much as $3.5 billion since figures provided by the government were in ranges instead of exact amounts for loans distributed through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other Catholic-related entities received at least 3,500 forgivable loans through the program, according to the AP.

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The Archdiocese of New York — one of the largest in the country — received 15 loans totaling at least $28 million. St. Patrick's Cathedral, located on Fifth Avenue, received at least $1 million.

Places of worship and faith-based organizations typically aren't permitted to receive Small Business Administration loans. However, due to the pandemic, Congress allowed them and other nonprofits to apply for forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created by the CARES Act and disbursed an estimated $659 billion to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

Religious groups successfully lobbied the Trump administration to lift one of the loan restrictions that had prohibited organizations with more than 500 workers from applying, AP reported. Had that restriction stayed in place, many larger dioceses would have been ineligible to participate in the program.

Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirmed to the AP that its officials had lobbied for PPP eligibility, but noted that they were not tracking how much each diocese was receiving.

"These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis," Noguchi said in a statement.

The church and its affiliated organizations were able to provide paychecks for more than 400,000 employees because of the loans, the AP found.