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 US government's pandemic relief efforts, an Associated Press analysis of federal data released this week found. [...]
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 -- they exceed the 500-person cap.
"That favoritism was worth billions of dollars," said Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in constitutional issues and religion who has studied the Paycheck Protection Program.
The US 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.