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February 10, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Some high-profile Catholics are raising concerns that the U.S. Catholic Church’s acceptance of COVID aid money from the federal government may result in the Church not only losing her freedom but having her unique moral voice silenced.

The concern comes in the wake of a recent hit piece by the Associated Press (AP) that accused the Catholic Church in the U.S. of “sitting on billions” in assets while collecting over $3 billion from the federal government’s COIVD relief program. Catholic investigative reporters along with U.S. dioceses are crying foul over the piece.

In a Feb. 4 investigative report, the AP accused “the Roman Catholic Church” in the U.S. of amassing “taxpayer aid” through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program — brought in by the Trump administration as part of the CARES Act in March of 2020 — despite, according to the AP, having “billions” in assets. “That makes the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the paycheck program,” the report stated.

Numerous Catholic commentators immediately pointed out major fallacies in AP’s Feb. 4 report and in a similar July 10 report.

  • Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York: “First, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was designed to help employers continue to pay its [sic] employees when the economy went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus. The purpose was to keep employees employed during these difficult times.  Religious institutions were invited and permitted to participate, as they employ large numbers of people across the country.”
    • “Here in the Archdiocese of New York, if you combine the number of fulltime employees in our parishes, schools, agencies, and central administration, there would be 6000 fulltime and 4000 part-time employees. Without assistance from the PPP, many of our employers would have had no choice but to lay-off their employees, reducing the church’s ability to assist people in need, and forcing our people to seek unemployment.”
  • Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development: “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 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.”
  • Catholic News Agency’s Jonah McKeown: “In reality, ‘the Roman Catholic Church’ in the US is made up of tens of thousands of separate nonprofits, most of which did not have legal access to liquid cash necessary to pay their employees when the pandemic took hold last year.”
  • Catholic News Service’s Tom Tracy: “U.S. dioceses are crying foul over an investigative report on coronavirus relief funding they say grossly mischaracterized the Catholic Church’s finances and unrestricted cash flows, leaving the crass impression the church used the 2020 CARES Act to hoard cash.”
    • “‘Since offertory is by far the largest part of the revenue stream for any parish, the PPP loans clearly saved jobs and kept people employed, which is what they were designed to do.’ The PPP was therefore an appropriate and necessary lifeline to preserve the nearly 3,000 jobs in our parishes, missions and schools to continue to provide ministry and services.”
  • The Pillar’s Ed Condon and JD Flynn: The AP article mistakingly “takes as a whole the assets and investments of the Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other charitable institutions affiliated with the Church in the United States and treats them as a parts of a singular whole.”
    • “The Catholic Church is a society, not a monolith. The Catholic Church understands itself to be a communion of people and institutions, not a singular organization. Its legal structures are designed to reflect that theology.”
    • “Many news reports fail to understand the legal and theological distinctions between a diocese, a parish, a Catholic school, and other Catholic institutions like a cemetery. Those organizations are canonically distinct, and almost always distinct in civil law as well. Bishops don’t control the cash of most organizations within their jurisdiction — and for theological reasons connected to the Church’s basic self-understanding.”

But some Catholics are warning that taking government money will, in the end, “compromise” the Church from fulfilling her divine mission of saving souls.

Father Michael Orsi, an outspoken pro-life priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, who currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida, told LifeSiteNews that he is worried that the “free aid money” will prove to come with “quid pro quo” (something for something) strings attached.

“My contention is that some parishes may have taken the money justly, but some did not need it. This could cause audits and fines. I wouldn’t put it past the Biden administration to threaten a quid pro quo for Church silence on moral issues,” he said. “I fear the administration will use this to bully the Church to silence on moral issues.”

Orsi is worried that the aid money may even be used by the Biden administration as a reason to begin to “persecute the Church.”

“We gave them a sword in taking the money and I don’t see why they will not use it,” he said.  “Accepting the money has put us in a moral and legal quandary.”

Dr. Tracey Rowland, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Australia, would agree with the thrust of Fr. Orsi’s concerns. In a piece published in the Catholic World Report three days prior to the AP report, Rowland warned that accepting government money historically results in the Church coming under the sway of state power.

“The general conclusion of history is that whenever the Church becomes reliant upon governments for money she loses a certain amount of her freedom. It’s difficult to speak truth to power at the best of times, but even harder when the civil power is also the Church’s banker. It was precisely for this reason that Mother Teresa never accepted money from governments,” she wrote in her Feb. 1 piece titled Febronianism revisited: A brief and cautionary history.

Rowland noted that it is by means of the German government’s “Kirchensteuer” or Church tax that it is able to wield power over the Catholic Church in Germany.

“In 2019 the figure was 6.76 billion Euros. Such sums come into the Church in Germany on an annual basis. The threat of removing the Kirchensteuer is a weapon the Germany government can point in the direction of the German bishops if they step out of line. Those who do dare to step out of line often find themselves branded a ‘fundamentalist’, ‘ultra-conservative’, ‘ultra-montanist’ and a variety of other unfair labels,” Rowland wrote.

Catholic commentator Dr. Taylor Marshall warned in a Feb. 5 video that the Catholic Church in the U.S. has set a “dangerous precedent” by agreeing to receive the aid money.

“My concern with a ‘Catholic’ president, such as Joe Biden, he wants the bishops under his observation, under his thumb, under his policies. He doesn’t want the bishops calling him out on abortion or any of these issues. So, if he can purchase the episcopate for three billion every year, or every few years — kind of keep [the bishops] along, hold the carrot out in front of them — this is a dangerous precedent for Catholicism in the United States,” Marshall said.

“This sets the precedent, and we have a Catholic President who can use this precedent to silence the bishops, to bribe the bishops, to keep the bishops quiet,” he added.