CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte received more than a million dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government to help during the pandemic.
The question is, do tax-exempt churches with tens of millions in cash on hand need taxpayer assistance?
An investigation by the Associated Press found more than 112 Catholic Dioceses across the country collected at least $1.5 billion in taxpayer-funded relief money. This, despite the fact that a majority had enough cash on hand to cover at least six months of operating expenses, the AP found.
The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte took in at least $2.2 million in PPP loans, FOX 46 confirmed. The AP puts the amount at $8 million and reports the Diocese of Raleigh collected at least $11 million in federal aid – more money than Shake Shack received and returned after facing public backlash.
The Diocese of Charlotte’s financial records show it had tens of millions of cash on hand.
Collectively, the dioceses that received PPP loans had “well over $10 billion in cash, short-term investments or other available funds,” the AP investigation found. Indeed, the Most Reverend Peter Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte, touted the “good financial health” of the dioceses.
“I am gratified to report the overall good financial health of the diocese despite the man difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bishop Jugis wrote in a year-end 2020 financial statement, “and I remain especially grateful for your sustained support through prayer, service and financial contributions.”
The PPP loans, administered by the Small Business Administration, were meant to help small businesses shuttered and struggling during the pandemic. Many businesses owners say the money the ydid receive didn’t cut it. Last August, Bobby Klein told FOX 46 how “frustrated” he was after being forced to close. He says he received a PPP loan but was still forced to lay off employees from his Matthews cocktail bar, Stumptown Station.
“We were able to stretch it out and keep everybody on board for about four months, three-and-a-half months,” said Klein. “And then we ran out of all the money.”
The SBA can’t comment on specific cases. A spokesperson says faith-based organizations are entitled to PPP loans as long as 60 percent of the money goes towards payroll. The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte did not report any jobs being saved with the money.
“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans,” said SBA North Carolina office acting district director Michael Arriola. “Regardless of whether provide secular social services.”
FOX 46 called and emailed the diocese for comment but did not hear back. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops defended the loans, saying the church is the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the country.
Like businesses, religious organizations have seen a drop in attendance and revenue.
“The USCCB does not have governance over bishops, dioceses, parishes, schools, or ministries, and each borrower made their own decision on whether to apply for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, said US Conference of Catholic Bishops director of public affairs Chieko Noguchi. “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.”
The findings are a concern to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. In a statement, the organization said the church “raided” loans “unnecessarily at the expense of small businesses.”
“It’s disappointing,” said SNAP leader Carol Yeager, who lives in Fayetteville. “I mean it’s upside down. It doesn’t make sense that they should be given that kind of benefit. I know that they outreach to the community but this is an outreach of financial means from the government to the community as well. And it shouldn’t have to go through the Catholic church to get to the people that need it.”
In 2019, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte published a list of 14 clergy members who had been credibly accused of child sexual abuse in Charlotte since the diocese was established in 1972.
“I hope that maybe it will bring some more transparency to the diocese,” said Yeager.