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Catholic Church’s ‘immoral’ JobKeeper request

Catholic Church's 'immoral' JobKeeper request. Source: Getty

This article was updated at midday AEST.

The Catholic Church has reportedly asked some priests receiving the $1,500 fortnightly JobKeeper subsidy to donate half of their payment back to the organisation.

Some clergy members of the Diocese of Parramatta in Western Sydney have reportedly obtained letters, which asked them to donate a “recommended” amount of “between $500 and $700 per fortnight” back to the Church, to assist with “future payments and the balance sheet”, according to ABC Investigations.

"The closure of churches and the stopping of public masses has had a drastic effect on not only our parish communities, but also the pastoral revenue collection," another letter stated.

An employee of the Church told ABC it was “immoral”.

"One of the fundamental principles of the church, and the priests who commit to joining it, is to help the poor," the employee said.

"For the church to use these funds in this way, while so many others in their community are excluded from JobKeeper or are seriously struggling financially at the moment, is simply shocking."

The Catholic Church’s national wealth was estimated to be at around $30 billion in 2018.

The Diocese of Parramatta earlier declined to comment to Yahoo Finance, but has since issued a response.

“As parishes were forced to shut down for months due to COVID-19, collection plate donations which go towards the clergy stipend came to an abrupt halt. In some instances, this meant a 100% drop in donations to some parishes,” the Diocese stated.

“Some priests were eligible for JobKeeper and it was used to help offset the loss of those donations.

“Given the extremely rapid nature and changing legislation around Covid-19, the Diocese of Parramatta sought independent advice on this issue to ensure we were adhering to the requirements.

“Based on this independent advice, and to ensure we kept within the spirit and intention of JobKeeper, it was decided the best use of the funds was to direct clergy to keep the payment.

“Clergy were free to make a voluntary contribution to the clergy support fund, if they chose to do so.

“As with other recipients of JobKeeper, it was left to clergy to determine how to use the funds.”

Is it illegal?

Bosses asking employees to share their JobKeeper payment is fraud, Federal Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, said.

"This is unacceptable behaviour. During this time of crisis when the power imbalance between employee and employer is more marked than ever, vulnerable employees need a dedicated hotline to seek advice about their rights and their responsibilities.”

“We need a hotline for employees pressured to commit such fraud,” she further tweeted.

Bosses asking to take a cut of your payment is also “not legal”, ACTU secretary Sally McManus added.

However, the Church’s request doesn’t technically force employees to make the payment back to the organisation, it simply asks for a donation. Therefore, the Church isn’t acting illegally.

What can I do if my boss is asking to share my JobKeeper payment?

If your boss has asked to take a cut of your payment, or another illegal question related to the subsidy, you can call the JobKeeper tip-off line at 1800 060 062.

Additionally, you can contact your union and the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Australian Tax Office. Here’s where you can make a tip-off claim to the ATO, and here’s what you need to know about making a claim with the Fair Work Ombudsman. 

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