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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Volunteers organize bags with food during a food distribution at St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church at the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens on May 15, 2020 in New York City. Thousands of people waited for hours to get food donated in one of the most hit zones by COVID-19 pandemic in the country. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid. In totaling the church’s haul, The Associated Press also found tens of millions of dollars went to dioceses whose financial stress was due not simply to the pandemic but also to recent payouts to victims of clergy sex abuse. The Paycheck Protection Program the church tapped was intended to help small businesses and nonprofits pay workers amid a cratering economy. The church maximized its take after lobbying for an exemption that gave all religious groups preferential treatment. That helped make the Catholic Church among the biggest winners in the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts.