Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton staff and volunteers prepare to deliver food to people in need in mid-March. With an economic downturn during COVID, government funding is critical to help Catholic Church organizations carry out their mission of service.  Amalie Hindash photo
Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton staff and volunteers prepare to deliver food to people in need in mid-March. With an economic downturn during COVID, government funding is critical to help Catholic Church organizations carry out their mission of service. Amalie Hindash photo
Iearly July, the Associated Press published an article about federally issued COVID relief funding that was fairly jaw-dropping in its slant against the Catholic Church. 

The article, which came off as “uncovering” information about the awarding of COVID loans/grants, seemed to portray the Church in the United States as a massive, money-grabbing monolith, which won a soaring sum through heavy lobbying. To throw in an extra layer of aspersion, the article mentioned the lawsuits that have been paid out by the Church to victims of sexual abuse, insinuating that this was the cause of the Church’s need for relief funding.

As we might expect in today’s social media age, particularly with such an incendiary article, the subject became the source of widespread and heated debate between those who wished to criticize the Church and those who sought to defend it.

For its part, the Diocese promptly issued a statement decrying the misrepresentation that resulted from the article and affirming the legitimate need for the funding. The statement follows:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton represents a community of parishes, schools and organizations who together employ some 7,000 individuals, many of whom have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic shutdown and are struggling like everyone else to provide for themselves and their families during these difficult times.

Our communities gratefully participated in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) offered through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020. As defined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, PPP “is providing small businesses with the resources they need to maintain their payroll, hire back employees who may have been laid off, and cover applicable overhead.”

The Diocese and its local communities were deemed eligible and qualified to receive such government funding for these purposes, and we are using these funds exclusively for these purposes. The suggestion by some in the media that previous legal settlements paid by the Church have anything to do with needing this COVID relief is false and slanderous.

On behalf of the national Catholic community, a leader in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a statement citing the importance of the funding, not only for the Church but for the communities that it serves and the wider public. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, stated, “The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental supplier of social services in the United States. 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. The loans we applied for enabled our essential ministries to continue to function in a time of national emergency.

“In addition, 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. 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.

“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 non-profit employers, faith-based or secular,” Archbishop Coakley said.  

In truth, parishes and Catholic schools, among other church-run entities, are individual communities within a diocese, each with their own financial challenges and responsibilities. If these institutions had to close their doors, the impact on the public would be significant. Imagine, for a moment, the financial toll on the public school system to educate all the students who are currently enrolled in our Catholic schools. Consider the extra burden to social service agencies if their Catholic counterparts could not serve so many of those in need.

Most importantly, the people employed by the Church who will be helped through PPP funding are U.S. and N.J. taxpayers … the revenue that allowed their employers to pay them nearly dried up in an instant because of the pandemic.  They have families to feed and mortgages or rent to pay just like everyone else, and they are no less deserving of having their jobs protected as every other citizen.

The report by the Associated Press was uninformed in the structure and operations of the Church; illogical in its failure to understand the toll that hurting the Church would impose on the wider public, and unjust in refusing to acknowledge that individuals who work for the Church are just as entitled to emergency relief as everyone else. We might wonder how or why they got it so wrong. 

Anti-Catholic sentiments are nothing new – they are unfortunately part of the bedrock of this nation, infecting our shores from other societies and cultures even before our founding. The venom unleashed by the AP article should remind us that there are always those who hate people and institutions of faith. The need to know and share the truth has never been greater, and we encourage our readers to do just that when faced with such ill-conceived and baseless attacks on the Church.