AP investigative journalists out-thought and out-hustled everyone to reveal the US Roman Catholic Church was among the biggest winners under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Based on a tip following AP’s spring work on publicly traded companies receiving money from the program, investigative reporter Reese Dunklin and editors Justin Pritchard and Ron Nixon wondered whether the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the largest recipients. Investigative reporter Michael Rezendes joined Dunklin and, with help from data journalist Justin Myers, the two began digging.

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A statue of Pope John Paul II stands outside Guam’s main cathedral, Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna, Guam, May 7, 2019. Despite seeking bankruptcy protection with more than 200 clergy abuse lawsuits and an estimated $45 million or more in liabilities, the archdiocese received at least $1.7 million in federal funds under the Paycheck Protection Program, even as it sues the Small Business Administration for approval to get a loan for its headquarters.

AP Photo / David Goldman

Their initial reporting showed how the church had successfully lobbied for faith groups to get special treatment under the program. But it wasn’t until the data dropped Monday that the full extent of the windfall became clear. In a marathon sprint on deadline, Dunklin hand checked thousands of data points to conclude that the church had received at least between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion in forgivable loans. 

The story was widely read on AP News and in other media. Several newspapers did their own stories based on AP’s reporting, as did local TV stations. 

 In his Fox “Bill Hemmer Reports,” Hemmer cited the reporting by Dunklin and Rezendes during an interview with White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its own statements defending the loans but did not address the specific findings. Rezendes, meanwhile, discussed the work on NPR.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share this week’s Best of the States award.

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