In ‘Shaking the Gates of Hell,’ a preacher’s son examines his church’s culture of silence on civil rights

By Wendy Smith

When John Archibald won the Pulitzer Prize for his Birmingham News columns in 2018, the citation read, “For lyrical and courageous commentary that is rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance in scrutinizing corrupt politicians, championing the rights of women and calling out hypocrisy.” Archibald dismisses this assessment in his questioning and questing book “Shaking the Gates of Hell,” a fascinating blend of family memoir and moral reckoning. “I’m a coward,” Archibald writes. “My pulpit is a pen. It is meant to provoke and to question, but it does not depend on tithes and diplomacy and butts in pews.”

He’s drawing a contrast with his father, a White Methodist minister whose silence from the pulpit during the civil rights struggles’ most violent years troubles his son as he looks back from the vantage point of middle age. “I believe Dad feared losing his congregation,” Archibald writes, “that it was better to have subtle influence than outright rejection.” Methodist ministers who spoke openly about racial justice were sent to tiny churches in remote towns, while his father rose steadily through assignments in northern Alabama to a desirable post in Decatur. There he began to preach more about civil rights — quiet sermons, careful not to alienate parishioners who considered themselves good Christians while ignoring or even condoning the police terror unleashed on African Americans who dared to claim their legal rights.

That seemed too little, too late to Archibald at age 50, when shortly after his father’s death he reread the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s measured but damning words in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies,” King wrote in 1963 (the year Archibald was born). Instead “too many . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent.”

Anyone tempted to conclude smugly that hesitancy to make waves or make enemies is a thing of the past — or just of the South — will swiftly be corrected by Archibald: “You can see it today, as then, when protesters demonstrate against police shootings or economic injustice or governmental neglect,” he comments. “The well-heeled moderate calls for order, and peace, and caution . . . the silence persists.”

The Rev. Archibald kept John in Decatur public schools after their court-ordered integration in 1970 and signed up his son for an integrated Cub Scout pack. “Your dad was on the right side,” a Black minister from Decatur tells Archibald, arguing that educating Southern whites was as important as activism on the front lines. Archibald isn’t necessarily convinced. “My parents hammered into their children that all people — all people — were entitled to the love and respect and the justice we took for granted,” he writes. “They were people of goodwill. . . . What if that’s not enough?” His book is an attempt to answer that question.

At first it seems odd that Archibald’s musings about his father’s silence should be intertwined with a loving, often very funny memoir of growing up as the youngest of four in a clan that prized adventurousness and outdoor activity — so much so that “somebody almost died on every one of our camping trips.” But these stories spotlight the contradiction between the Rev. Archibald’s caution about publicly supporting civil rights and the lesson he privately imparted to his children: “Life’s great memories were the ones with the greatest risk.” Archibald’s personal recollections vividly demonstrate the conflicts experienced by people rooted in traditional values during a period of rapid social change, when a liberal interpretation of those values offends their conservative community

This was particularly evident after Archibald’s eldest brother Murray came out in the 1970s. (The man he brought home, who became his husband in 2013, was an Eagle Scout and a fraternity member who played college football.) His parents embraced Murray without reservations, but his father’s sermons were confined to parables about the prodigal son and unconditional love. Archibald admits that he was no more forthcoming about his gay brother when he went to college: “I just never found reason to talk about it . . . that’s the way silence works, I guess. You find good reasons, fine reasons, perfectly reasonable reasons to say nothing at all, to stand for the way things are.”

Archibald’s point is not to beat up ourselves or the people we love over the failures of the past, but to learn from them and do better. Not long before he died, the Rev. Archibald told his youngest son he was proud that he had written about racial injustice in his newspaper columns. “I tell myself it is his blessing to say the things he was never quite comfortable enough to say,” Archibald writes. “I am forgiving of my father. At least he saw all as his neighbors, and helped them as he could. I am less forgiving of the church.”

Archibald left the Methodist Church in 2019 after it strengthened its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy, bitterly comparing the language used by “traditionalists” with that used in the 1950s to justify keeping the church segregated. Murray remained, choosing their father’s path of working for change from within. Neither decision was easy. Archibald’s honest account of one family’s uneasy journey through the civil rights and gay rights revolutions makes it clear that there are no easy decisions — or answers — when grappling with issues of faith and social justice.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic group opposes Colorado bill that would give child sex abuse survivors the ability to sue their abuser at any time

Lawmakers looking at two bills on topic, one dealing with statute of limitations and another to hold organizations more accountable

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For decades, survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their advocates have urged states to let them hold abusers accountable in civil court, no matter how long it’s been since the abuse. A bipartisan bill in the Colorado Legislature to do just that so far appears to have widespread approval, but it’s not without opposition from the Colorado Catholic Conference — a church embroiled in a sex abuse scandal in Colorado, the U.S. and around the world.

There is no expiration date in Colorado to bring criminal charges against a person accused of child sex abuse, but the statute of limitations to sue an individual is only six years after a victim turns 18. Last year’s effort to change the latter failed.

The renewed push to eliminate the statute of limitations for lawsuits against alleged child sex abusers saw an unanimous Senate vote this week — a vote Wheat Ridge Democratic Sen. Jessie Danielson called “historic.” But the bipartisan bill, which now heads to a House committee, doesn’t apply to civil claims that will have already expired by the time it takes effect, which was a sticking point over constitutionality concerns last year.

That’s why lawmakers have introduced a second (also bipartisan) bill to create a new cause of action to allow people abused as children to sue public and private institutions like churches, schools and the Boy Scouts for past abuse that occurred under their watch. Both the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Boy Scouts, which is also facing abuse allegations in the state, are opposed.

Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta is one of the sponsors on both bills, partly because one statistic about childhood sexual abuse sticks with him: Victims often don’t disclose the abuse until their 50s.

“And usually, it’s not a one-off instance. It’s usually over and over again by a family member, a close family friend, someone who’s in a position of trust like a teacher or a priest or a club leader, or a trainer,” Soper said. “And it takes years and years for that individual to be able just to share their story.”

That was James “Jeb” Barrett’s experience. The child sexual abuse survivor and leader of the Denver Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (or SNAP) chapter grew up in Montana, and said he was sexually abused as a child by multiple adults he trusted — a teacher, an uncle, a priest and Scout leader. His partner, who had also been abused as a child, died by suicide.

It took him until he was 63 to talk about his abuse, he said. He’s now 81, and understands firsthand the effects of childhood trauma, including dealing with addiction.

Other times, the adults in a child’s life don’t believe them, furthering that trauma. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Brittany Pettersen shared the story of her own mother, who was sexually abused at a young age for years by Pettersen’s grandfather. Pettersen’s mom eventually told her mother, who didn’t believe her daughter.

“This bill is about slightly giving back to ensure (adults abused as children) actually feel for the first time in their life they have the justice they’ve been seeking, the acknowledgement they’ve been seeking for their entire life,” the Lakewood Democrat said.

After years of advocating for policies like the two in front of lawmakers, Barrett said he’s hopeful this time.

“It’s incrementally moving toward the openness, accountability and transparency that we need across the board,” and “justice,” he said.

Support and constitutionality concerns

At least one of the new bills has the support of the Victim Policy Institute, which lobbied heavily against it last year. And, as expected, survivors who’ve advocated for legislation in prior years are back this year, “so their story shapes public policy, so what happened to them doesn’t happen to any other child victim in the future,” said Raana Simmons, director of policy for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

If Colorado approves an elimination of the statute of limitations for civil claims, it will join 12 other states and the U.S. territory of Guam, according to Philadelphia-based Child USAdvocacy.

Kathryn Robb, executive director of the agency and a survivor herself, testifies in statehouses across the country. She said the country is starting to understand how long it takes to disclose abuse and the effects of this trauma on children’s brains and behavior.

“This is happening all over the country right now … because as a society, we are recognizing the enormous problem we have with child sexual abuse,” she said.

A prime example of the widespread nature of child sex abuse is the allegations against Catholic priests. A recent Colorado investigation revealed accusations against dozens of priests for allegedly sexually abusing at least 212 children over the past 70 years, and the church paid nearly $7 million to victims.

The Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s three dioceses — Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — said it has supported unlimited time to seek criminal charges but not, as proposed in the bill, for civil statutes.

In a statement, the group said it supports “reasonable and fair extension of the civil statute of limitations; however, statutes of limitations must have a sensible time limit to ensure due process for all parties involved.”

The Boy Scouts of America also has been dealing with allegations of childhood sexual abuse across the country, with at least 16 Colorado men joining nearly 800 who signed onto a lawsuit in 2019, saying it happened to them when they were scouts. (A Boy Scouts internal investigation found abuse stretching from the 1940s to 2016.)

The Denver Area Council of Boy Scouts of America supports the bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil claims, Scout Executive and CEO Chuck Brasfeild wrote in a statement. But the group is concerned about the other bill — creating a new cause of action against an organization that either knew or should have known about the risks and concealed abuse — which, Brasfeild said, appears to be an unconstitutional overreach.

The Colorado Catholic Conference also opposes that measure, saying: “Passing a bill with constitutional and due process problems does not put victims first. It will only delay opportunities for survivors to receive compensation and not promote true restorative justice. The Catholic Church in Colorado is eager to ensure survivors of abuse receive the support they need for true healing.”

But the bill sponsors say that’s the reason they created the measure — expected to have its first Senate committee hearing next week — so victims can sue abusers and the organizations that protected them regardless of when the abuse happened instead of using what’s referred to as a “lookback window” to revive old claims.

Legislative lawyers said a “lookback window” violates the state’s constitution, according to bill sponsors Commerce City Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Soper.

“We really wanted to respect our state’s constitution,” Soper said. “Otherwise, why are we here?”

Ted Trimpa, a Colorado lobbyist for the Victim Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C., had argued against the bill last year, saying it didn’t go far enough without the “lookback window.” He believed Colorado lawmakers should have taken the issue to court because other states have successfully won such challenges.

This year, his organization is reviewing whether it will support the civil cause of action bill and is supporting the statute of limitations bill, Trimpa said.

Danielsen said she is urging lawmakers to “think about the adults who endured this kind of abuse in their past because it was traumatic and caused lifelong damage and pain and suffering” — people who have had to seek treatment for years. It will shift the cost from the victims to the abusers as well as prevent young kids from having to face abusers in criminal court, she said. Instead, parents will be able to pursue civil action on their children’s behalf.

Approving this bill, she added, gives lawmakers the opportunity to “stand on the side of survivors and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Complete Article HERE!

USCCB President’s Statement on the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as 46th President of the United States of America

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Statement on the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as 46th President of the United States of America from Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

My prayers are with our new President and his family today.

I am praying that God grant him wisdom and courage to lead this great nation and that God help him to meet the tests of these times, to heal the wounds caused by this pandemic, to ease our intense political and cultural divisions, and to bring people together with renewed dedication to America’s founding purposes, to be one nation under God committed to liberty and equality for all.

Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics. We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors. In every community across the country, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and ministries form an essential culture of compassion and care, serving women, children, and the elderly, the poor and sick, the imprisoned, the migrant, and the marginalized, no matter what their race or religion.

When we speak on issues in American public life, we try to guide consciences, and we offer principles.  These principles are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of his Church. Jesus Christ revealed God’s plan of love for creation and revealed the truth about the human person, who is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.

Based on these truths, which are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the bishops and Catholic faithful carry out Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbors by working for an America that protects human dignity, expands equality and opportunities for every person, and is open-hearted towards the suffering and weak.

For many years now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has tried to help Catholics and others of good will in their reflections on political issues through a publication we call Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The most recent edition addresses a wide range of concerns. Among them: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, immigration, racism, poverty, care for the environment, criminal justice reform, economic development, and international peace.

On these and other issues, our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties. We work with every President and every Congress. On some issues we find ourselves more on the side of Democrats, while on others we find ourselves standing with Republicans. Our priorities are never partisan. We are Catholics first, seeking only to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and to advance his vision for human fraternity and community.

I look forward to working with President Biden and his administration, and the new Congress. As with every administration, there will be areas where we agree and work closely together and areas where we will have principled disagreement and strong opposition.

Working with President Biden will be unique, however, as he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith. In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring.

At the same time, as pastors, the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, in season and out of season, even when that teaching is inconvenient or when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture. So, I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.

Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.

For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the “preeminent priority.” Preeminent does not mean “only.” We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.

Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.

Rather than impose further expansions of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families. My hope, too, is that we can work together to finally put in place a coherent family policy in this country, one that acknowledges the crucial importance of strong marriages and parenting to the well-being of children and the stability of communities. If the President, with full respect for the Church’s religious freedom, were to engage in this conversation, it would go a long way toward restoring the civil balance and healing our country’s needs.

President Biden’s call for national healing and unity is welcome on all levels. It is urgently needed as we confront the trauma in our country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that has only worsened the intense and long-simmering divisions among our fellow citizens.

As believers, we understand that healing is a gift that we can only receive from the hand of God. We know, too, that real reconciliation requires patient listening to those who disagree with us and a willingness to forgive and move beyond desires for reprisal. Christian love calls us to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves.

We are all under the watchful eye of God, who alone knows and can judge the intentions of our hearts. I pray that God will give our new President, and all of us, the grace to seek the common good with all sincerity.

I entrust all our hopes and anxieties in this new moment to the tender heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ and the patroness of this exceptional nation. May she guide us in the ways of peace and obtain for us wisdom and the grace of a true patriotism and love of country.

Trump’s DOJ Says It’s Okay For A Catholic School To Fire A Teacher For Being Gay

By Carlos Santoscoy

The Trump administration has sided with a Catholic school that fired a teacher after he entered a same-sex marriage.

Joshua Payne-Elliott lost his job as a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School, a private Catholic school, in Indianapolis in June 2019. His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. After the couple married in 2017, the Catholic Church directed the schools to fire both men.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis stripped Brebeuf of its Catholic status after it refused to fire Layton Payne-Elliott. Days later, Cathedral fired Joshua Payne-Elliott after the archdiocese threatened it with the same action.

In a statement to the parents and staff, Cathedral called the decision to terminate Joshua Payne-Elliott “agonizing” and “made after 22 months of earnest discussion.”

Joshua Payne-Elliott sued the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, claiming that it illegally interfered with his employment relationship with Cathedral.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a brief in support of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The case is currently before the Indiana Supreme Court.

In the 36-page brief, U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler for the Southern District of Indiana argues that the archdiocese is protected under the First Amendment.

“[T]he First Amendment right of expressive association protects the Archdiocese’s right not to associate with Cathedral, whose forced presence within the Archdiocese’s associational umbrella if it continued to employ Payne-Elliott as a teacher would interfere with the Archdiocese’s public expression of Church doctrine regarding marriage,” Minkler wrote.

A gay guidance counselor at a separate Catholic high school has also filed a federal lawsuit against the archdiocese. Lynn Starkey says she was fired because of her same-sex marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church, which views gay relationships as sinful, has taken a strong stand against same-sex couples who marry.

According to New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, roughly 90 church workers “have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes” since 2007.

Complete Article HERE!

After lobbying, Catholic Church won $1.4B in virus aid


By REESE DUNKLIN and MICHAEL REZENDES

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.

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, an Associated Press analysis of federal data released this week found.

Houses of worship and faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren’t usually eligible for money from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But as the economy plummeted and jobless rates soared, Congress let faith groups and other nonprofits tap into the Paycheck Protection Program, a $659 billion fund created to keep Main Street open and Americans employed.

By aggressively promoting the payroll program and marshaling resources to help affiliates navigate its shifting rules, Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have so far received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans, AP found.

The Archdiocese of New York, for example, received 15 loans worth at least $28 million just for its top executive offices. Its iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was approved for at least $1 million.

In Orange County, California, where a sparkling glass cathedral estimated to cost over $70 million recently opened, diocesan officials working at the complex received four loans worth at least $3 million.

And elsewhere, a loan of at least $2 million went to the diocese covering Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, where a church investigation revealed last year that then-Bishop Michael Bransfield embezzled funds and made sexual advances toward young priests.

Simply being eligible for low-interest loans was a new opportunity. But the church couldn’t have been approved for so many loans — which the government will forgive if they are used for wages, rent and utilities — without a second break.

Religious groups persuaded the Trump administration to free them from a rule that typically disqualifies an applicant with more than 500 workers. Without this preferential treatment, many Catholic dioceses would have been ineligible because — between their head offices, parishes and other affiliates — their employees exceed the 500-person cap.

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” said Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in constitutional issues and religion who has studied the Paycheck Protection Program. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

The amount that the church collected, between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion, is an undercount. The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, an organization of Catholic financial officers, surveyed members and reported that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans. That is nearly three times the number of Catholic recipients the AP could identify.

The AP couldn’t find more Catholic beneficiaries because the government’s data, released after pressure from Congress and a lawsuit from news outlets including the AP, didn’t name recipients of loans under $150,000 — a category in which many smaller churches would fall. And because the government released only ranges of loan amounts, it wasn’t possible to be more precise.

Even without a full accounting, AP’s analysis places the Catholic Church among the major beneficiaries in the Paycheck Protection Program, which also has helped companies backed by celebrities, billionaires, state governors and members of Congress.

The program was open to all religious groups, and many took advantage. Evangelical advisers to President Donald Trump, including his White House spiritual czar, Paula White-Cain, also received loans.

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‘TRULY IN NEED’

There is no doubt that state shelter-in-place orders disrupted houses of worship and businesses alike.

Masses were canceled, even during the Holy Week and Easter holidays, depriving parishes of expected revenue and contributing to layoffs in some dioceses. Some families of Catholic school students are struggling to make tuition payments. And the expense of disinfecting classrooms once classes resume will put additional pressure on budgets.

But other problems were self-inflicted. Long before the pandemic, scores of dioceses faced increasing financial pressure because of a dramatic rise in recent clergy sex abuse claims.

The scandals that erupted in 2018 reverberated throughout the world. Pope Francis ordered the former archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to a life of “prayer and penance” following allegations he abused minors and adult seminarians. And a damning grand jury report about abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses revealed bishops had long covered for predator priests, spurring investigations in more than 20 other states.

As the church again reckoned with its longtime crisis, abuse reports tripled during the year ending June 2019 to a total of nearly 4,500 nationally. Meanwhile, dioceses and religious orders shelled out $282 million that year — up from $106 million just five years earlier. Most of that went to settlements, in addition to legal fees and support for offending clergy.

Loan recipients included about 40 dioceses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years paying victims through compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings. AP’s review found that these dioceses were approved for about $200 million, though the value is likely much higher.

One was the New York Archdiocese. As a successful battle to lift the statute of limitations on the filing of child sexual abuse lawsuits gathered steam, Cardinal Timothy Dolan established a victim compensation fund in 2016. Since then, other dioceses have established similar funds, which offer victims relatively quick settlements while dissuading them from filing lawsuits.

Spokesperson Joseph Zwilling said the archdiocese simply wanted to be “treated equally and fairly under the law.” When asked about the waiver from the 500-employee cap that religious organizations received, Zwilling deferred to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A spokesperson for the bishops’ conference acknowledged its officials lobbied for the paycheck program, but said the organization wasn’t tracking what dioceses and Catholic agencies received.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi said in a written statement. According to AP’s data analysis, the church and all its organizations reported retaining at least 407,900 jobs with the money they were awarded.

Noguchi also wrote the conference felt strongly that “the administration write and implement this emergency relief fairly for all applicants.”

Not every Catholic institution sought government loans. The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy based in Stamford, Connecticut, told AP that even though its parishes experienced a decline in donations, none of the organizations in its five-state territory submitted applications.

Deacon Steve Wisnowski, a financial officer for the eparchy, said pastors and church managers used their rainy-day savings and that parishioners responded generously with donations. As a result, parishes “did not experience a severe financial crisis.”

Wisnowski said his superiors understood the program was for “organizations and businesses truly in need of assistance.”

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LOBBYING FOR A BREAK

The law that created the Paycheck Protection Program let nonprofits participate, as long as they abided by SBA’s “affiliation rule.” The rule typically says that only businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including at all subsidiaries, are eligible.

Lobbying by the church helped religious organizations get an exception.

The Catholic News Service reported that the bishops’ conference and several major Catholic nonprofit agencies worked throughout the week of March 30 to ensure that the “unique nature of the entities would not make them ineligible for the program” because of how SBA defines a “small” business. Those conversations came just days after President Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which included the Paycheck Protection Program.

In addition, federal records show the Los Angeles archdiocese, whose leader heads the bishops’ conference, paid $20,000 to lobby the U.S. Senate and House on “eligibility for non-profits” under the CARES Act. The records also show that Catholic Charities USA, a social service arm of the church with member agencies in dioceses across the country, paid another $30,000 to lobby on the act and other issues.

In late April, after thousands of Catholic institutions had secured loans, several hundred Catholic leaders pressed for additional help on a call with President Trump. During the call, Trump underscored the coming presidential election and touted himself as the candidate best aligned with religious conservatives, boasting he was the “best (president) the Catholic church has ever seen,” according to Crux, an online publication that covers church-related news.

The lobbying paid off.

Catholic Charities USA and its member agencies were approved for about 110 loans worth between $90 million and $220 million at least, according to the data.

In a statement, Catholic Charities said: “Each organization is a separate legal entity under the auspices of the bishop in the diocese in which the agency is located. CCUSA supports agencies that choose to become members, but does not have any role in their daily operations or governance.”

The Los Angeles archdiocese told AP in a survey that reporters sent before the release of federal data that 247 of its 288 parishes — and all but one of its 232 schools — received loans. The survey covered more than 180 dioceses and eparchies.

Like most dioceses, Los Angeles wouldn’t disclose its total dollar amount. While the federal data doesn’t link Catholic recipients to their home dioceses, AP found 37 loans to the archdiocese and its affiliates worth between $9 million and $23 million, including one for its downtown cathedral.

In 2014, the archdiocese paid a record $660 million to settle sex abuse claims from more than 500 victims. Spokespeople for Los Angeles Archbishop Jose M. Gomez did not respond to additional questions about the archdiocese’s finances and lobbying.

In program materials, SBA officials said they provided the affiliation waiver to religious groups in deference to their unique organizational structure, and because the public health response to slow the coronavirus’ spread disrupted churches just as it did businesses.

A senior official in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which oversees the SBA, acknowledged in a statement the wider availability of SBA loans to religious organizations. “The CARES Act expanded eligibility to include nonprofits in the PPP, and SBA’s regulations ensured that no eligible religious nonprofit was excluded from participation due to its beliefs or denomination,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, some legal experts say that the special consideration the government gave faith groups in the loan program has further eroded the wall between church and state provided in the First Amendment. With that erosion, religious groups that don’t pay taxes have gained more access to public money, said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and attorney who has represented clergy abuse victims on constitutional issues during bankruptcy proceedings.

“At this point, the argument is you’re anti-religious if in fact you would say the Catholic Church shouldn’t be getting government funding,” Hamilton said.

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CASHING IN FAST

After its lobbying blitz, the Catholic Church worked with parishes and schools to access the money.

Many dioceses — from large ones such as the Archdiocese of Boston to smaller ones such as the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin — assembled how-to guides to help their affiliates apply. The national Catholic fiscal conference also hosted multiple webinars with legal and financial experts to help coach along local leaders.

Federal data show that the bulk of the church’s money was approved during the loan program’s first two weeks. That’s when demand for the first-come, first-served assistance was so high that the initial $349 billion was quickly exhausted, shutting out many local businesses.

Overall, nearly 500 loans approved to Catholic entities exceeded $1 million each. The AP found that at least eight hit the maximum range of $5 million to $10 million. Many of the listed recipients were the offices of bishops, headquarters of leading religious orders, major churches, schools and chapters of Catholic Charities.

Also among recipients was the Saint Luke Institute. The Catholic treatment center for priests accused of sexual abuse and those suffering from other disorders received a loan ranging from $350,000 to $1 million. Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, the institute has at times been a way station for priests accused of sexual abuse who returned to active ministry only to abuse again.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the church’s aggressive pursuit of funds better than four dioceses that sued the federal government to receive loans, even though they entered bankruptcy proceedings due to mounting clergy sex-abuse claims. Small Business Administration rules prohibit loans to applicants in bankruptcy.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico — once home to a now-closed and notorious treatment center for predator priests — prevailed in court, clearing the way for its administrative offices to receive nearly $1 million. It accused the SBA of overreaching by blocking bankruptcy applications when Congress didn’t spell that out.

Yet even when a diocese has lost in bankruptcy court, or its case is pending, its affiliated parishes, schools and other organizations remain eligible for loans.

On the U.S. territory of Guam, well over 200 clergy abuse lawsuits led church leaders in the tiny Archdiocese of Agana to seek bankruptcy protection, as they estimated at least $45 million in liabilities. Even so, the archdiocese’s parishes, schools and other organizations have received at least $1.7 million as it sues the SBA for approval to get a loan for its headquarters, according to bankruptcy filings.

The U.S. church may have a troubling record on sex abuse, but Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, pushed back on the idea that dioceses should be excluded from the government’s rescue package. Approximately 80 organizations within his diocese received loans worth $10.3 million, the diocese said, with most of the money going to parishes and schools.

Persico pointed out that church entities help feed, clothe and shelter the poor — and in doing so keep people employed.

“I know some people may react with surprise that government funding helped support faith-based schools, parishes and dioceses,” he said. “The separation of church and state does not mean that those motivated by their faith have no place in the public square.”