DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Thousands of Catholic parishes have tapped the federal government and received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) intended for small businesses struggling to stay afloat as a result of the Wuhan pandemic.
Pat Markey, the executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference (DFMC), "the extension of the diocesan bishop in fiscal matters," estimates that around 9,000 Catholic parish applications have been approved — so far, according to a CBS report.
PPP, part of the Cares Act passed by Congress in late March, was specifically designed to help small businesses "survive and recover," by keeping their workers on payroll. A first allotment of $2.2 trillion earmarked in the recovery plan was exhausted almost immediately, prompting Congress to allocate another trillion-dollar package after partisan gridlock.
Many small business owners passed over by the PPP are angry that much bigger companies, with built-in financial and legal systems to handle such matters, qualified for loans.
This is also true with regard to the diocese of Dallas, which according to reports from insiders, applied for and received $20 million from the PPP. Church Militant has been unable to verify the insider reports with the diocese, but it is what could be regarded as a "poorly kept secret."
The owner a smaller Bangladeshi and Indian food restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota applied for a six-figure loan through the program and got nothing.
"I believe bigger restaurants had better systems for dealing with this while we were just working hard to keep our doors open. They have people to navigate this for them, while we had to do it ourselves, and I think that's why they were ahead of us in terms of applying for loans," the restaurateur told CBS MoneyWatch.
The owner of a Caldwell, New Jersey jewelry company Little Words Project slammed the larger restaurant chains that qualified for the loans: "For them to get funds feels like a slap in the face."
"It feels very grimy and not what true small businesses are about, which is helping each other, not digging our hands into the pot when they don't belong in there," the jewelry storeowner said.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, "Churches (including temples, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship), integrated auxiliaries of churches, and conventions or associations of churches qualify for PPP and EIDL loans as long as they meet the requirements of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and all other PPP and EIDL requirements."
But some Christian leaders are urging caution despite the temptation to apply.
Pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana Jon Costas and former Republican mayor advises discernment before churches apply for the CARES Act. "What may be an easy call for a small business could be the wrong decision for a church," Costas says.
The pastor concedes that going after "free money" may seem like a "no-brainer," but churches must consider "their unique mission and countercultural leader."
He provides a list of questions to help churches make a decision "in a posture of godly discernment":
DFMC executive director Markey has justified the Catholic Churches' taking federal funds by saying: "We're not here to take anybody's money. We just want to keep our people employed and our houses of worship going."
For many critics, the matter is not so simple. They see Catholic Churches taking federal funds in light of millions of dollars paid to untold numbers of victims of clerical sexual abuse, which has resulted in closing of churches, shrinking numbers of Catholics and scores of declarations of bankruptcy.
To stay afloat, they have set themselves up to compete with small business owners struggling to keep from sinking as they navigate a world turned upside down by the pandemic, an act many critics call shameful.