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Catholic Church Received Federal Covid-19 Funding

The federal small business loan program created in response to the coronavirus pandemic has funded 20 percent of the Catholic entities that applied under the original $349 billion program.

“Statistics compiled by the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference show that 8,000 parishes, 1,400 elementary schools, 700 high schools, 104 diocesan headquarters, 185 Catholic Charities agencies and 200 other diocesan organizations in 160 dioceses had applied for assistance.”

The Catholic vote  is so important to Trump, that he told the participants of an April 25 conference call with Church officials – including top cardinals and bishops – that he insisted Catholic institutions be included in the program or “I wouldn’t do the deal.”

“At the end of the call Trump cited the election date and warned that conditions could worsen for Catholics and Catholic schools if a Democratic administration were to take office.”

Intended by Congress “to keep small businesses and their workers afloat during the pandemic,” the loans were meant to be used “by small businesses with 500 or fewer employees to pay workers’ salaries, rent and utility costs.”

There was a public outcry when it became known that corporate giants like Potbelly and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, two publicly-traded chain restaurants with locations across the country, received $30 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program “after funds ran out in about two weeks, leaving several small businesses struggling to find help.” Both have since agreed to return the funds to the Treasury Department.

Catholic Church Wealth

“The Catholic Church is as big as any company in America” noted The Economist in a 2012 study, still the most thorough report of its kind. “We added together the annual budgets of national [not including regional or local] religious organizations that are under the direction of the Catholic Church” and reached a total of $170 billion.

The Economist also stated that Catholic officials embrace the principle of separation between church and state in America when it is to their advantage. Religious groups and affiliated entities “are not required to file tax returns, list their assets or disclose basic facts about their finances.” Because any financial disclosure is strictly voluntary, “some dioceses do publish accounts, but these tend to provide an incomplete picture.”

With that caveat, the following are some things we do know thanks to excellent investigative reporting.

“The U.S. Catholic Church has shielded more than $2 billion in assets from clerical sex abuse victims in bankruptcies in the past 15 years” according to a review of court filings by Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Jan. 8, 2020.

“Over the past eight years, the Catholic Church has spent $10.6 million in the northeastern United States to fight legislation that would help victims of clergy sexual abuse seek justice,” according to a report issued in June 2019.

One “main revenue stream for many Catholic organizations is their investments” said Margaret Matijasevic, executive director of the National Conference on Catechetical Leadership

“The Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative groups 30 American Catholic institutions with $50 billion in assets under management,” reported The Economist in 2017.

“U.S. Catholic foundations, set up by archdioceses and dioceses across the country, managed $9.5 billion as of the end of 2018, up 106 percent from $4.6 billion in 2016 when Wilmington Trust released its first report on the sector … The growth rate was not just on the investment side, but the fundraising was also significant,” said the author of the study.

In 2015, Reuters reported “Some of the largest American Catholic dioceses hold millions of dollars invested in energy companies, from hydraulic fracturing firms to oil sands producers” according to “a selection from dioceses that make disclosures.”

Archdiocese of Boston: Held $4.6 million in energy stocks in 2014, equal to 5.9 percent of its equities holdings. In total, the archdiocese had $190.9 million in investments, 60 percent of which was in equities, with much of the rest in fixed income.

Archdiocese of Chicago: Under 8 percent of the archdiocese’s $1.65 billion portfolio was invested in fossil fuels in 2014, according to a spokeswoman. That included some $18.7 million in energy and commodities alternative investments held through hedge funds and limited partnerships. The archdiocese did not provide a breakdown of its equities holdings.

Diocese of Rockville Centre (Long Island): Held $6.3 million in energy company shares, representing 8 percent of its equities holdings in 2013. The diocese had a total $220 million invested, of which $80 million was in equities.

Archdiocese of Baltimore: Held $6.9 million invested in ‘commodities and natural resources’ in 2014, representing 6.3 percent of its overall $110 million portfolio.

Diocese of Toledo: Held $52.2 million in mutual fund investments in 2014. According to an asset allocation summary issued by the diocese in January 2015, the holdings include S&P500 energy companies through mutual fund World Asset Management and companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Suncor, Exxon, Chevron, and CNOOC through funds offered by DFA.

Minnesota: The Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota, which invests for Catholic dioceses in Minnesota, reported investments totaling $260.2 million in 2014, $18.6 million of which was in the energy-heavy Prudential Jennison Natural Resources Fund. That’s about 7 percent of its portfolio.

A different 2015  Reuters review “of county documents found 235 oil and gas leasing deals signed by Catholic Church authorities in Texas and Oklahoma with energy and land firms since 2010, covering 56 counties across the two states. The Church authorities receive a royalty ranging from 15 to 25 percent of the value of what is taken out of the ground, according to the leases, which are public documents filed with county clerk offices. Reuters’ search method did not capture leases signed before 2010 but which may still be in force.”

Per a Washington Post (premium content) report in February 2016, the diocese of West Virginia obtained “millions of dollars in annual revenue from oil wells in West Texas, on land that was donated to the diocese a century ago. The wells have yielded an average of about $15 million annually in recent years.”

Some property assets that are known

The Archdiocese of New York City is believed to be “Manhattan’s largest landowner” reported The Economist.

The Church of the Nativity, on Second Avenue in the East Village that had closed in 2015, “was estimated as being worth as much as $50 million” in 2018.

The Archdiocese of New York was able to obtain a $100 million short-term loan in 2017 by mortgaging the land under just two of its thousands of properties – the land under the Lotte Palace Hotel and the Villard Mansion, near the landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“Located in the heart of Embassy Row, one of D.C’s most elite neighborhoods, the archbishop’s third-floor apartment sits atop Our Lady Queen of the Americas parish … Public tax records reveal the 2016 proposed value of the property is $42,917,680.” The property owner is listed as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington which “research revealed owns massive amounts of property throughout D.C. and the surrounding areas.”

Even a relatively small diocese such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, has tremendous assets. When they filed for bankruptcy in December 2018, the archdiocese reported owning $49 million in real estate, cash, and investments. However, to shield their assets before declaring bankruptcy, “Church officials put close to $37 million in cash and investments into a Wells Fargo account that it says it controls but doesn’t own. Yet another pot of funds sits in the Catholic Foundation which accepts donations to the archdiocese. The foundation has almost $50 million and dispersed about $1.8 million in 2019 to Catholic organizations. Church lawyers say the foundation is not part of the bankruptcy estate,” reported Bloomberg Businessweek.

Even more funding available

 “The Knights of Columbus offered a $1 million line of credit to Catholic dioceses to help dioceses and parishes suffering from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The $100 million fund allows up to $1 million line of credit per Catholic diocese.”

“The Knights of Columbus has been a key lender to parishes and dioceses for more than a century, and the ChurchLoan program remains a key source of financing for Catholic parishes and institutions,” the knights said. “Its life insurance branch claims about $109 billion life insurance in force. The insurance program helps fund the knights’ charitable work and other efforts to support the Catholic Church.”

“Another potential source of assistance for parishes is the Catholic Community Foundation’s Minnesota Catholic Relief Fund, which is seeking donations to help parishes hard-hit by the pandemic.  Thus far, more than $990,000 has been raised and 17 parishes have been invited to apply for the first round of grants, said Anne Cullen Miller, foundation president.”

Regardless of the Catholic Church’s wealth and multiple sources of income, entities that were not funded in the first round of federal relief intended for small businesses “have already applied or will file applications as new monies flow into the program …. ‘Catholic institutions are a major part of coming out of this crisis and the economic crisis to follow,’ stated Patrick Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference.”

 

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.

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