Catholic diocese paid paltry sums to two poor, black abuse victims

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, and now the Mississippi coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has blasted the Jackson Diocese and a Franciscan order over paltry compensation payments made to two black men who were abused by a friar in the 1990s.

Mark Belenchia

by Barry Duke

Mark Belenchia, above, was commenting on the settlements made to La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love who suffered abuse at the hands of Paul A West.

The former Franciscan friar and fourth-grade teacher has been extradited from Wisconsin to Mississippi to faces sexual battery charges.

Belenchia, whose abuse by a Catholic priest began when he was around 13 and lasted for three years, said of the settlements:

They were harmed as children and they were harmed as adults. The Diocese of Jackson and the Franciscan order ought to be ashamed of their performance.

Reporting for Religion News Service, Michael Rezendes wrote:

The men making the allegations, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love, both 37, are cousins who grew up together and encountered West in the 1990s, when he was a teacher and later the principal at the St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Three years ago, the cousins reported that West sexually assaulted them on school grounds and on road trips, including one to a New York summer camp established by the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order.

As The Associated Press first reported, nearly two years ago La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love each agreed to settle their claims for $15,000 – far less than most clergy abuse victims receive.

A third man, Joshua’s younger brother, Raphael, also alleged West sexually abused him and reported the abuse to church authorities in 1998, after which West returned to Wisconsin. Raphael Love rejected a settlement similar to those signed by his brother and cousin.

In November, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York, claiming the Franciscans pressured them into signing low-ball settlements that required their silence about their allegations. At the time they signed the settlements, they were not represented by an attorney.

“They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re Black,” Joshua Love told the AP.

Father James Gannon, the leader of a Wisconsin-based group of Franciscan Friars, negotiated the settlements. Last summer, he denied that racism or the Loves’ poverty were factors in the amount of money offered . “Absolutely not,” he told the AP.

In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Greenwood, settled lawsuits covering 19 victims — 17 of whom were white – for $5 million. That average payout of $263,000 for each survivor is 17 times that offered to each of the Loves. Payments in more recent settlements nationally have ranged far higher.

Gannon also attempted to negotiate a similar agreement with Raphael Love, Joshua Love’s younger brother, who is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile. Raphael Love refused Gannon’s offer because, he said, the amount was not enough to hire a criminal attorney willing to argue that he deserves a new trial.

West, 60, did not contest his extradition at a hearing in Outagamie Country, Wisconsin on August 17. He arrived at the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood, Mississippi, earlier this week following an investigation by the Mississippi Attorney General’s public integrity division.

West also has been charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child in Wisconsin.

Complete Article HERE!

Disgraced West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield was told a year ago to make restitution.

His successor says Bransfield has gone incommunicado.

Michael J. Bransfield, then-bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., in 2015.

By Michelle Boorstein

More than a year after Pope Francis ordered ousted West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield to make personal amends for alleged sexual and financial misconduct, his successor bishop says he has yet to hear from Bransfield about a restitution proposal.

Last Tuesday, MetroNews, a West Virginia news site, quoted Bishop Mark Brennan as saying that he had not heard from Bransfield in “many months, and I would not expect to. … Whatever he is doing, he is doing and is in a dark hole. We do not know exactly what he is up to; we have not been in communication.”

In July 2019, Francis forbade Bransfield, a well-connected Philadelphian who had held prominent national spots in the Catholic Church, from celebrating Mass and from living in West Virginia. Bransfield had led the church there for 13 years. In November, Brennan had proposed, per Francis’s demand, a specific proposal for Bransfield’s restitution.

Some experts say the restitution package was a first for a bishop. Brennan called for his predecessor, now 76, to pay the diocese nearly $800,000, to apologize to victims, to lose his place in the diocesan cemetery, and to lose the normal bishop retirement package and instead receive a lower stipend equal to that of someone who had been a priest for 13 years.

Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop on Monday referred The Washington Post to a July 28 letter Brennan wrote to the diocese. The letter only briefly mentioned Bransfield, saying that neither Brennan nor the papal nuncio — the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States — had heard back from Rome since November “on the plan of amends I submitted.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brennan in the MetroNews report is saying Rome needs to approve of Brennan’s plan, Bransfield’s response or both.

Bransfield declined to comment Monday, and his lawyers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post in 2019 obtained an internal church investigation that found Bransfield, as bishop in one of the country’s poorest states, spent millions of dollars of diocesan money on chartered jets, lavish furnishings at his official residence and nearly 600 cash gifts to fellow clergymen. The Post also found that $21 million was moved from a church-owned hospital in Wheeling, W.Va., to be used at Bransfield’s discretion. The money was moved into the Bishop’s Fund, a charity Bransfield created with the stated purpose of helping residents of West Virginia, tax filings showed.

MetroNews quoted Brennan last week as saying Bransfield “would not come up with his own plan and did not admit to his actions. Brennan previously told MetroNews that Bransfield told him he did not know who he needed to apologize to.”

Francis was the one who initially called for Bransfield to make amends, Brennan said told MetroNews.

“I wasn’t sent in to demand that. They demanded that. They asked me to work with him, and let me tell you, that was not easy to do,” Brennan said.

Bransfield has denied wrongdoing, saying that his staff in Wheeling was responsible for diocesan finances and which accounts checks came from. He has told The Post that he thinks he greatly improved the financial health of the diocese during his tenure and that gifts and lavish perks were within church culture norm. He has denied the claims of seminarians and priests who said he sexually harassed them.

Complete Article HERE!

What is a priest worth?

Latest Ted McCarrick news says it depends on the lawsuit

McCarrick was appointed cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

By

There’s a book out there asking: “What is a Girl Worth?” Written by former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, it asks who is going to tell little girls that the abuse done to them years ago was monstrously wrong and that it actually matters that their perpetrators are punished.

There also needs to be a book asking “what is a priest worth?”

For two years now, we’ve been looking at the news reporting about the sex scandal that surrounded the now-former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and how “everyone” knew he was dallying with seminarians and sharing beds with them at his New Jersey beach cottage back in the 1980s.

After the news about McCarrick broke on June 20, 2018, it took the MSM a month to get all the major details together — and still they missed a few. This New York Times piece says the sexual activity that McCarrick carried on with his protégé Robert Ciolek stayed above the waist. The paper hinted in the next paragraph that another seminarian or young priest involved with McCarrick had endured far worse sexual abuse, but unless you knew how to read between the lines, you missed it.

But the late Richard Sipe, a Benedictine priest-turned-psychotherapist, had posted on his web site 10 years beforehand accounts of very R-rated sexual activity McCarrick foisted on his underlings. Many journalists read it, but we didn’t know how to prove it. At the time, the church attitude I picked up was that nothing happened at that cottage and that the seminarians and young priests involved should get over it.

The thought that some could be scarred sexually for life never occurred to anyone. Who could they talk about this with? Who’d believe them? Because of what had been done to them, they were abandoned to mull over some very dirty thoughts while at the same time berating themselves for not fighting back.

Finally, last week, a bunch of media, including a consortium of New Jersey newspapers, reported a juicy lawsuit against McCarrick that threatens to expose some of the nastier details. Written by Newark Star-Ledger reporter Ted Sherman on the NJ.com site, the story was worth the wait.

He is known only as “Doe 14.”

Raised in a devout Catholic family, he attended St. Francis Xavier in Newark and Essex Catholic in East Orange in the Archdiocese of Newark, participating in church and youth activities.

And by the time he was a teenager, his lawyers say he was being groomed for a role in what they called a “sex ring” involving then-Bishop Theodore McCarrick, the 90-year-old now defrocked and disgraced former cardinal who was cast out of the ministry last year over decades-old sexual abuse allegations.

In a lawsuit, they charged other priests served as “procurers” to bring victims to McCarrick at his beach house on the Jersey Shore, where he “assigned sleeping arrangements, choosing his victims from the boys, seminarians and clerics present at the beach house,” and that they were paired with adult clerics.

At this point, allow me to note that I wrote something similar two years ago here at GetReligion, quoting from the Sipe website and other documents I had amassed about this scandal. I even named names of some of the priests involved, although I didn’t realize it was at the level of a “sex ring.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, attorneys for the now 53-year-old victim serving as the plaintiff in the lawsuit detailed a sordid, predatory scheme of sexual abuse involving McCarrick and other members of the clergy involving at least seven children, including Doe 14, that they said played out over dozens of years…

According to the lawsuit, much of what allegedly transpired occurred at a Sea Girt beach house that has been the focus of other complaints involving charges of abuse by McCarrick of seminarian students, who he allegedly would bring down to the Jersey Shore.

“McCarrick would creep into this kid’s bed and engage in criminal sexual behavior and whisper, ‘It’s okay,’” said Anderson.

Sherman mentioned names of other accused priests who participated in the abuse. For this story to come out in New Jersey is sweet revenge, in that I know folks at the Star-Ledger were aware of the rumors a decade ago. Like me, they were stymied by the victims’ refusals to go on the record.

Because the press conference (see the above video) was virtual, lots of media were listening.

Be sure to look at the video, as it has a photo of the beach house; the first time I’ve seen what it looks like. I actually drove to Sea Girt, the New Jersey town in which it’s located, back in 2009 in a fruitless search for the address.

The Washington Post gave us an organized list of the accused:

The accused clerics aside from McCarrick are: the Rev. Anthony Nardino, Brother Andrew Thomas Hewitt, the Rev. Gerald Ruane, the Rev. Michael Walters and the Rev. John Laferrera. They were all priests in Newark. None could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Ruane, Walters and Laferrera are on Newark’s list of credibly accused clerics. Hewitt and Ruane are deceased, the list says. Hewitt is on the list of credibly accused clerics from the Christian Brothers, the order to which he belonged, according to a ProPublica investigation of accused clerics. Hewitt was the boy’s principal at the time the abuse occurred, the suit alleges.

The New York Post was also at this July 22 confab and included a ripe quote from the attorney representing the victims.

(Jeff) Anderson said decades of alleged sexual abuse have been covered up by the Catholic Church.

“All of it cloaked in papal power,” he said.

Which takes us to the next shoe that needs to drop, which we’ve been waiting for a long time.

Tmatt reminded us earlier this month that a long-delayed Vatican report on McCarrick — and how church officials ignored the open secret of his sexual predilections for years — still has yet to come out.

Justice delayed is justice denied, right?

What is a priest worth? What is a seminarian worth? As reporters probe further, we’re learning that, for far too many officials in the Catholic Church, they weren’t worth much. Then, this National Catholic Register editorial points to one of the biggest questions that continues to loom over this scandal:

… After all this time, Catholics in the United States are still waiting for answers about which Church leaders, here and in Rome, knew about McCarrick’s scandalous situation but failed to take meaningful disciplinary and preventive actions — and possibly even facilitated and abetted his meteoric rise to prominence.

That’s far too long to wait.

The question, of course, is this: Who were the bishops and cardinals who lifted McCarrick high into church leadership? And what about the bishops and cardinals that McCarrick brought to power?

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

Former Cardinal McCarrick accused of participating in beach house ‘sex ring,’ lawyers allege

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is charged in a new lawsuit of sexually abusing teenagers in his New Jersey beach house decades ago.

By

He is known only as “Doe 14.”

Raised in a devout Catholic family, he attended St. Francis Xavier in Newark and Essex Catholic in East Orange in the Archdiocese of Newark, participating in church and youth activities.

And by the time he was a teenager, his lawyers say he was being groomed for a role in what they called a “sex ring” involving then-Bishop Theodore McCarrick, the 90-year-old now defrocked and disgraced former cardinal who was cast out of the ministry last year over decades-old sexual abuse allegations.

In a lawsuit, they charged other priests served as “procurers” to bring victims to McCarrick at his beach house on the Jersey Shore, where he “assigned sleeping arrangements, choosing his victims from the boys, seminarians and clerics present at the beach house,” and that they were paired with adult clerics.

The lawsuit does not say if McCarrick asked the other priests to bring boys to the beach house.

In a press conference on Wednesday, attorneys for the now 53-year-old victim serving as the plaintiff in the lawsuit detailed a sordid, predatory scheme of sexual abuse involving McCarrick and other members of the clergy involving at least seven children, including Doe 14, that they said played out over dozens of years.

Jeff Anderson, who represents Doe 14, said priests and others under the control of McCarrick engaged in “open and obvious criminal sexual conduct” that was kept cloaked by the church.

“That continued for 50 years until McCarrick, having been publicly exposed, was ultimately defrocked,” declared Anderson.

In their court papers filed Tuesday night in New Jersey Superior Court in Middlesex County, the unnamed victim filed suit against the Diocese of Metuchen, where McCarrick served as bishop, the Archdiocese of Newark, where he was the archbishop, and the schools, high schools and parish schools Doe 14 had attended while growing up in New Jersey.

According to the lawsuit, much of what allegedly transpired occurred at a Sea Girt beach house that has been the focus of other complaints involving charges of abuse by McCarrick of seminarian students, who he allegedly would bring down to the Jersey Shore.

“McCarrick would creep into this kid’s bed and engage in criminal sexual behavior and whisper, ‘It’s okay,’” said Anderson.

Asked about the charges, attorney Barry Coburn, who represents McCarrick, said only, “no comment at this time.”

The Newark Archdiocese also declined comment.

“It would be inappropriate to discuss or comment on matters in litigation,” said spokeswoman Maria Margiotta. “The Archdiocese of Newark remains fully committed to transparency and to our long-standing programs to protect the faithful and will continue to work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations and bring closure to victims.”

The Doe 14 complaint charged that boys were also selected and abused not only by McCarrick, but by other priests and clergy at the beach house, who were named in the court papers.

Gerald Ruane, Michael Walters and John Laferrera, allegedly abused Doe 14, the lawsuit claimed. All three were listed last year by the Newark Archdiocese as having credible accusations of sex abuse made against them. Ruane was listed as deceased, and the others had previously removed from ministry.

Brother Andrew Thomas Hewitt, the former Essex Catholic principal, was also accused of abusing the boy from 1981 to 1983, and named as well in a list of those accused of sexual abuse. He is now dead as well.

Also accused of “unpermitted sexual contact” when the plaintiff was 11 years old was a former priest named Anthony Nardino. He had not been publicly accused before, but was said to have left the ministry as well. Church officials did not respond to questions about him.

McCarrick, once the most recognized Catholic leader in New Jersey and a major voice on national issues for the church, has already been repeatedly accused of sexual abuse in earlier court filings.

Last year, James Grein stepped forward with a lawsuit under a new law that gives people more time to sue their alleged abusers and the institutions that protected them. He charged McCarrick sexually abused him for 20 years, even after he told Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Vatican about the abuse.

In a separate lawsuit, John Bellocchio, a former Catholic schoolteacher and principal, alleged in a lawsuit that McCarrick sexually assaulted him when he was the archbishop of Newark.

Even before any of those allegations came to light, church officials in New Jersey later revealed that McCarrick had previously been accused of sexual misconduct with three adults during his time in the state. Two of those cases resulted in secret legal settlements, according to the Archdiocese of Newark.

The settlements included $80,000 paid to a former priest turned lawyer from New Jersey who said McCarrick, known as “Uncle Ted,” would invite young seminarians and priests to the house in Sea Girt, where they would be expected to share a bed with McCarrick.

All that time, McCarrick continued his ascendancy in the church hierarchy, picked by Pope John Paul II as Washington’s archbishop in late 2000. A year later, he was made a cardinal.

The cardinal’s downfall began after a former altar server went to the Archdiocese of New York after hearing that a panel was considering settlements for alleged victims, to report how he had been abused as a teenager while being measured by McCarrick for a special cassock for Christmas Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

He told them that McCarrick, then a monsignor, unzipped the teenager’s pants while measuring him for the garment and was later cornered in a bathroom.

The allegation led to McCarrick being removed from public ministry and later forced to resign from the College of Cardinals. A subsequent Vatican investigation ended with his being laicized, or dismissed from the clerical state — considered one the harshest forms of punishment that can be issued by the church.

McCarrick has never admitted to any wrongdoing.

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.

___

‘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.”

___

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.

___

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.”