Because of the Coronavirus epidemic, the federal government passed legislation this Spring that allows businesses to apply for government dollars under the newly established Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This program was established to offer businesses some relief for lost revenue due to the epidemic. Paycheck Protection Program dollars are meant to cover employee payroll and other qualified expenses.
A July 24, 2020 memo from Bishop Hurley revealed that 29 parishes and schools in the Diocese received over $4 million dollars in PPP money. According to the Bishop, “the largest loan was given to Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools ($1,418,200). We were pleased to learn that Catholic Human Services also received a loan of $522,535.” The memo also states the following:
“The Diocese of Gaylord did not apply for a PPP loan in the initial phases of the program, but has since done so in the current phase, seeking a loan for $414,000.
I was surprised, quite frankly, that more of our parishes did not apply, but with the most recent extension of the program there is still time to do so. Parishes that have not applied for these loans can do so…”
The Bishop then encourages those who have received loans to apply so that the loans could be forgiven (not paid back). There is a mechanism in place for loan forgiveness if certain conditions are meant. Regarding the loan application and loan forgiveness application, Bishop Hurley stated the following in the memo:
“Kim Smith in our Finance Office can can also assist in providing you information on these loans. Under a separate cover, Ms. Smith will send you general information regarding PPP loans, a link to the loan application, and a link to the loan forgiveness application. I would certainly ask those who did not apply to consider doing so.”
With regard to PPP dollars, it is understandable that employees of the Diocese were helped by this money. However, as non-profits, some have raised alarm that a tax exempt organization such as a church or church-related institution such as a school should receive these dollars. Would it not be more beneficial for the Church to ask for donations to cover the costs of the institution? Also, with the CSA (Catholic Services Appeal) being held yearly, why the need for all of this extra government money?
Concerns have been raised that the Diocese of Gaylord is becoming, like many Catholic entities in the United States, dependent on government dollars in order to exist. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) receives a whopping 40% of its operating budget from the federal government. Not only does this create a huge risk that the government will drive policies of the USCCB, this potentially huge conflict of interest also relieves the USCCB of its need for fiscal transparency with Catholic laity. This can lead to a lack of accountability to individual donors, i.e., the faithful in the pews, who have been the principal sources of revenue to the Church in North America. Sometimes, the flow or lack of flow of money is the only way that parishioners can voice their approval or disapproval of Church policies and activities. We will continue to monitor this situation closely.