The Archdiocese of SF’s nearly $2 million PPP loan is just one of many that have gone to churches across the state who have openly defied restrictions and hosted superspreader events.
Our sincere condolences do go to the clergy at Saints Peter and Paul Church, where three of the priests contracted COVID-19, and one of them, Father Bob Stein, died Tuesday morning. But we cannot constrain our “Well, what did you expect?” reflex, considering this church hosted a big ol’ superspreader wedding over the summer, and is part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco that has been extremely vocal about feeling they have the right to ignore government public health restrictions on large gatherings.
A curious contradiction? #weinvestigate Churches that defy local government COVID health orders also getting millions in Federal government taxpayer PPP money. @TheUnitNBC @nbcbayarea FULL STORY HERE: https://t.co/GUVi7LLSP3— Stephen Stock (@StephenStockTV) February 18, 2021
It is in that context that we must analyze the news that while the archdiocese has been blowing off government guidance, they’ve also been raking in government money — and millions of dollars of it at that. NBC Bay Area has a great investigative report on how California churches have been taking giant government PPP loans while ignoring government health orders.
Their report analyzes churches all over the state. From a purely San Francisco perspective, Saints Peter and Paul church, the one with the outbreak and the superspreader wedding does not show any PPP loans in NBC Bay Area’s data. But their parent organization does. The Archdiocese of San Francisco took a $1.8 million dollar PPP loan, and this is the same archdiocese that held multiple rulebreaking masses across the city according to a June cease-and-desist order from city attorney Dennis Herrera. Another notoriously noncompliant SF Catholic church, St. Mary’s Cathedral (or Our Lady of Maytag, as some call it) took a $320,000 PPP loan while doing everything it could to undermine government public health guidance
The graphic above was generated from NBC Bay Area’s report, which has a built-in searchable widget to help you find churches and the loan amounts they received. SFist performed a San Francisco search on the widget, and as you can see above, PPP loans went to faith denominations other than Catholics (Jews for Jesus got a $2.2 million loan). The largest of these went to Catholic Charities of San Francisco, which is a social services arm of the SF Archdiocese and does some notable work for the undocumented, hungry, and homeless. Most of these faith organizations are never in the headlines for actively undermining public health, so many of these loans seem fair.
The most notorious offender is in the Bay Area is down in San Jose, where Calvary Chapel pastor Mike McClure has been holding 600-person services despite a restraining order demanding he knock it off. Calvary Chapel took $340,000 in loans, perhaps to offset the $2 million in fines the chapel has been issued.
When asked by NBC Bay Area whether it seemed hypocritical to take government money while ignoring government orders, McClure responded, puzzlingly, “You said I’m fighting against the government. I’m not fighting against anybody. I want to help the government. I'm a chaplain. I'm not fighting against anybody. You're making me out to look like I'm crazy."
The whole investigation sprang from a lawsuit by many news organizations to find out how much PPP money was going to tax-exempt churches. Journalists and scholars alike have been suspicious of religious organizations that are taking government funding to survive, while ignoring the laws of the government at whose trough they are feeding.
“On the one hand, churches argue that the free exercise clause of the First Amendment entitles them to special exemptions from stay-at-home orders,” three constitutional professors wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in May. “On the other hand, they also assert that churches can and must be treated just like nonreligious organizations when it comes to taxpayer funding.”
All told, nearly 500 religious organizations in California got PPP loans, NBC Bay Area found. But again, the vast majority have not been encouraging people to completely flout the law.
For those few that have, these substantial loans are sort of like Gavin Newsom’s companies getting $3 million in PPP loans. It’s perfectly legal, and there are real janitorial and administrative type jobs being saved here. But to a lay person, the hypocrisy is obvious, and these loans stink to high heaven.
Related: SF Catholic Priest Implores Congregants to Come to Mass, Says COVID News Reports Are 'Largely Unreal' [SFist]
Image: Sieta M. via Yelp