More than 10,000 religious organizations, including a few televangelists, have received over $3 billion under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, a large chunk of which went to groups affiliated with the Catholic Church, according to a partial list of recipients released this week.
Televangelists Jim Bakker and Peter Popoff received between $350,000 and $1 million each in COVID-19 financial aid, according to The Guardian.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Jim and his former wife, Tammy Faye Bakker, were among America’s most famous televangelists and known for their luxurious living and expensive cars until their “Praise the Lord,” or PTL, empire crashed down amid sex and financial fraud scandals for which served five years in prison.
Popoff, who leads People United for Christ in California, previously amassed millions from a “prophetic anointing” that was later revealed to have come, at least in part, from information fed to him over radio by his wife, Elizabeth. In 2019, the U.K.'s Office of Communications, also known as Ofcom, slapped a satellite television service provider with a fine of over $32,000 for airing a religious program featuring Popoff hawking miracle spring water that promises to cure cancer and other diseases.
Jimmy Swaggart, who leads the Family Worship Center in Louisiana and was earlier defrocked by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in the early 1990s over sex scandals, got even a bigger amount — between $2 million and $5 million.
Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries received between $5 million and $10 million.
Paula White’s City of Destiny received a much smaller aid — between $150,000 and $350,000. White is the chair of President Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
According to an analysis of the list of beneficiaries by The Guardian, nine organizations received between $5 million and $10 million, the highest loan amount available under PPP. Seven of these 19 groups are affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans, according to The Associated Press.
According to an AP analysis of the loan data released by the Treasury Department, Catholic churches might have received as much as $3.5 billion in relief loans.
These include the archdiocese of New York, which received 15 loans worth at least $28 million just for its top executive offices, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was approved for at least $1 million, according to the British daily.
The diocese covering Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, received a loan of at least $2 million, the newspaper said, adding that a church investigation revealed last year that then-Bishop Michael Bransfield of the diocese “embezzled funds and made sexual advances toward young priests.”
The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program is intended to help small businesses and nonprofits weather coronavirus-related shutdowns, through Aug. 8. According to the program’s provisions, a loan can be forgiven only if at least 60% of the amount received goes to salaries.
Some atheist groups have alleged that giving taxpayers’ money to religious organizations is unconstitutional.
However, Michael McConnell, a constitutional law professor at Stanford University and a former judge, told the Guardian that churches taking aid is legitimate.
“The purpose of the program was to subsidize employers so that laid-off workers would not lose their jobs, and that purpose is as important when it comes to a church secretary as it is when it is a receptionist in an office,” he was quoted as saying.