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Baltimore archdiocese received at least $25 million in federal loans among Catholic churches, schools

The pews in the main sanctuary are empty as Archbishop William E. Lori conducts the 11 a.m. Mass in the small Lady Chapel at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on March 15th. Baltimore Catholic churches and schools, including the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, received at least $25 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
The pews in the main sanctuary are empty as Archbishop William E. Lori conducts the 11 a.m. Mass in the small Lady Chapel at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on March 15th. Baltimore Catholic churches and schools, including the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, received at least $25 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans. (Amy Davis)

The Archdiocese of Baltimore received at least $25 million in taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program loans spread among its churches, schools and central office, taking advantage of a special exemption to federal rules that typically bar religious groups from receiving money.

The money, which was awarded to more than 60 different entities under the archdiocese umbrella, came from a more than $600 billion federal pot designed to aid businesses and nonprofit organizations that have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic that all but shut down the nation’s economy for several months.

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In Maryland and elsewhere, parochial schools were forced to close in March to help contain the spread of the virus. Churches, Catholic and otherwise, also closed their doors to worshipers for several months as limitations went into place on public gatherings of more than 10 people.

Many churches have continued to hold virtual services during the pandemic. Even now, months later, restrictions remain in place. In Baltimore, houses of worship are still limited to 50% capacity.

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Locally, Catholic schools received the biggest portion of the loans allocated to groups under the diocese umbrella. At least $12.8 million was awarded to 35 schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore — $2 million to $5 million of which went to Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, according to federal records. A representative for the high school could not be reached for comment.

Another $1 million to $2 million each was awarded to Calvert Hall College High School, a boys preparatory academy in Towson, and Maryvale Preparatory School, an independent girls institution in Lutherville.

Twenty more Catholic schools received awards in the $350,000 to $1 million range, including the Institute of Notre Dame, Maryland’s oldest girls preparatory school, which permanently closed in June. Several messages left for school administrators seeking comment about whether the school accepted the loan money were not returned.

Twelve schools received loans of $150,000 to $350,000. Recipients of $150,000 or less were not disclosed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which ran the program.

Like parochial schools, private schools also have been major recipients of Paycheck Protection Program funds, a revelation that has led to some public criticism. Many of Central Maryland’s most elite private schools received millions of dollars despite having substantial endowments, including McDonogh School, Gilman School and Roland Park Country School.

Private school advocates defend the awards, saying they are not only legal but necessary to support staff during the pandemic, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — whose children attend private school — tweeted in May that some private schools should return PPP loans.

The exact total of the loans made to Baltimore archdiocese parishes and schools is unknown. Federal officials released data on recipients in ranges. Institutions under the archdiocese umbrella may have collectively received as much as $56 million.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ellen Russell confirmed the archdiocese itself received $3.7 million used to fund payroll for its central staff. The money covered 211 positions for an eight-week period, she said, including departments that provide direct staff support to parishes and schools.

The Paycheck Protection Program loans are designed to prevent layoffs, allowing businesses to pay staff despite drastically decreased revenue. The loans are forgivable if recipients spend 60% of the funding on payroll and follow other guidelines.

Awards for the program were based on payroll size. Recipients also had to demonstrate that they suffered a financial loss during the pandemic.

At least $8.5 million was distributed among parishes in the archdiocese. Annapolis-based St. Mary’s congregation, which operates a parish and a K-12 school on Duke of Gloucester Street, received the top award, securing $2 million to $5 million, according to federal records. A communications official with St. Mary’s did not respond to a request for comment.

The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, the North Baltimore congregation that is the seat of the archdiocese, received a loan between $350,000 and $1 million, as did St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cockeysville and St. Margaret Roman Catholic Congregation in Bel Air.

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Nationwide, the Catholic church was awarded at least $1.4 billion, and potentially as much as $3.5 billion, The Associated Press reported. The funding comes as dioceses across the country struggle to pay massive settlements related to widespread allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. Almost two dozen dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection as legal bills have continued to mount.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans, which in May joined the growing list of dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy, was awarded $350,000 to $1 million, according to federal records. Another $2 million to $5 million went to the archdiocese’s charitable arm. In a statement issued last week, diocesan officials denied applying for or receiving funding, but noted that no money awarded to parishes or schools within the diocese would be used to pay for victim settlements or bankruptcy proceedings.

According to the AP, religious groups persuaded the federal government to exempt them from a rule disqualifying an applicant with more than 500 employees. Some Catholic dioceses could have been ineligible for the loans without the exemption if employees were counted among their offices, parishes and schools.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement last week arguing the coronavirus outbreak had intensified the needs of the people the church serves.

“These loans have been an essential lifeline to keep hundreds of thousands of employees on payroll, ensure families maintain their health insurance, and enable lay workers to continue serving their brothers and sisters during this crisis,” Coakley said.

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