The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston received nearly $2 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to help pay its administrative staff and every active priest working in West Virginia during the coronavirus pandemic.
The request was not unusual, as numerous dioceses across the country, including those in Youngstown, Columbus and Pittsburgh, each received PPP loans between $2 million and $5 million when the program was rolled out in April, according to public records.
In all, Roman Catholic dioceses across the United States received an estimated $1.4 billion in loans designed to keep small businesses and organizations afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wheeling-Charleston spokesman Tim Bishop said the diocese received $1.996 million in loans “after adjusting its original application” that had initially requested more. The loan will be used over the 24-week period, as laid out in the federal program to pay staff and priests.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the diocese, which has responsibility for 112 parishes and 24 schools across West Virginia,” Bishop said. “Religious services in our parishes and mission churches were suspended for months, substantially limiting offertory and other donations. Catholic school contributions and operating revenue have also been greatly impacted during the pandemic.”
Numerous Catholic schools, parishes and charitable organizations in the Northern Panhandle also received individual loans.
Across the state line, the Diocese of Pittsburgh received $2 million to $5 million, according to public records, while the Diocese of Greensburg got $1 million to $2 million.
A half-dozen religious entities in Southwestern Pennsylvania also received individual loans:
- Immaculate Conception Parish, Washington – $150,000 to $350,000.
- Church of the Covenant, Washington – $150,000 to $350,000.
- Canonsburg United Presbyterian Church – $150,000 to $350,000.
- South Hills Bible Chapel Inc. – $350,000 to $1 million.
- Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh – $350,000 to $1 million.
Bishop said the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and its entities are following the federal guidelines with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act program and repayment of the loans, some of which may be forgiven under various circumstances.
“In compliance with the regulations outlined in the CARES Act, the diocese is on pace to spend all of the funding within the expanded 24-week report period,” Bishop said. “The diocese is committed to complying with the rules of the CARES Act specifically as it pertains to loan repayment and loan forgiveness.”
The diocese has been beset by issues in the wake of a scandal involving former bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned from his leadership position in September 2018 after he was accused of misappropriating funds and sexually harassing priests.
Bishop Mark Brennan, who has led the diocese since his installment to the post last August, laid out a series of “amends” for Bransfield to perform for him to leave the Roman Catholic church in good standing. The amends, which included a plan to seek $792,638 in restitution from the former bishop, were announced Nov. 26, but there has been no movement on the issue.
Bishop, the diocese’s spokesman, said Friday that they are still waiting for The Vatican to approve Bransfield’s amends, which has been delayed in part because of the coronavirus pandemic that crippled Italy this spring. Bransfield has the ability to request changes to the amends, a decision that would ultimately be made by Pope Francis.
“The matter now lies in the hands of the Holy See,” Bishop said of the pope. “We, along with the faithful, await word from the Holy See to help all of us proceed on the path of healing for our Diocese and its people. Updates will be communicated through proper channels.”
Observer-Reporter staff writer Rick Shrum contributed to this story.