A signed and stamped pdf copy can be accessed here.
December 17, 2014
Dear Archbishop Apuron,
These are undoubtedly trying times for the Catholic Church here in our island. I am writing to you because I continue to be saddened by the problems facing our beloved Church in Guam. It is undeniable that our Archdiocese is clearly divided, and that many of our people are angry, distraught, and confused by all the discord within our Church and among our leaders. The people of the Archdiocese – and even the many in our island community who are not Catholic but who are nonetheless concerned for our island – are all looking to you to provide resolution, healing, and closure. Unfortunately, rather than bringing about resolution, healing, and closure, it is clear that information released by the Chancery has only served to further inflame the situation rather than quell it.
With that said, I pray that you take what I am about to say positively, for my sole intention is to offer my thoughts in an effort to foster understanding, reconciliation, and ultimately the restoration of peace and unity within our fractured Church. I understand that there are numerous issues that need to be addressed, but I wanted to specifically focus on the one area that I believe can be immediately improved: the area of finances.
On this subject, I believe I am more than qualified to speak, as it has been my profession for well over 35 years. As you know, for the last thirteen years, I have been entrusted as the Chief Financial Officer of Calvo Enterprises, the largest locally owned company in Guam. Prior to that, I worked in the public sector as Director of the Bureau of Budget Management and Research for the Government of Guam, serving as the Chief Financial Advisor for three governors of Guam. In all of my previous positions, I have enjoyed the complete trust of my employers, who knew that I would always give my best professional advice.
Archbishop, I believe you asked me to be a member of the Archdiocesan Finance Council for this very reason. It was an office I served faithfully for eight years. I always felt that you trusted that my advice was based on what I believed to be in the best interest of our Church. If I were still serving in this capacity, I would have advised you and the Archdiocese to be extremely careful about appropriately dealing with financial matters. I assure you that I mean this with no condescension, but finances can be very complicated and difficult to understand, and when someone other than trained professionals are allowed to make financial interpretations and pronouncements without proper guidance, errors are bound to be made. Unfortunately, some of these errors can cause great harm to individuals, especially if a rush to judgment is made without properly uncovering and understanding all the pertinent facts. This is precisely what I believe has happened to Msgr. James Benavente and all the good people who worked alongside him at the Cathedral-Basilica and the Catholic Cemeteries.
As an example, many negative things have been said about the loans made for the unquestionably beautiful renovation of the Cathedral-Basilica overseen by Msgr. James, implying that the Archdiocese is left saddled with a huge and unreasonable debt. But once again, this is just the opposite of what the facts clearly reflect.
It is an irrefutable fact that even before securing financing for the Cathedral-Basilica renovation project, Msgr. James did his homework and first sought out and secured as much alternative funding for the project as he could. He knew that the cost was going to be enormous – in excess of $6.8 million – and he knew that he had to reduce that burden to the greatest extent possible. He was creative and resourceful, and in the end, more successful that we could have ever imagined. Msgr. James secured over $3.555 million in cash contributions, which funded an astounding 52% of the project.
Here are the facts extracted from past correspondence of the Archdiocesan Finance Officer to the Cathedral Basilica Parish Council:
- The total cost of the renovation was in excess of $6.8 million;
- Msgr. James secured Federal Funding for the project, totaling $2.14 million;
- Msgr. James secured Public Donations totaling $1.27 million;
- Msgr. James secured Contractor/Supplier Donations totaling $145,000.00
- Msgr. James had the Basilica Approved as a Federal Historic Preservation Site, which entitled it to certain grants and funding;
- Through consolidation with other loans, the interest rate was reduced to 4.125%;
- Project balance as of June 30, 2014 was only $1.73 million
Contributions & Donations - General
Contributions & Donations - Contractors & Suppliers
Principal Paid through 06/30/2014
Principal Balance 06/30/2014
As your Finance Officer, Mr. Dominic Kim, has indicated in his correspondence, the loan balance for this particular project is down from $6.8 million to $1.7 million. This was possible only because Msgr. James was able to fund so much of the project through his tireless efforts at securing donations and alternate funding sources. Had this not been the case, the loan balance would have been much, much larger, and the monthly debt service requirement that much greater. For illustration purposes, a $6.8 million loan amortized for thirty years at an interest rate of 4.125% would still have had a balance of over $4.2 million, as compared to the actual balance of $1.7 million as stated above.
Msgr. James has proven time and time again that the people respond to his call when he appeals to them for help in funding a particular need of the Church. In addition to what I have mentioned above, I am also aware of several other large donations secured by Msgr. James. For one, the Chapel of St. Therese and the Museum at the Cathedral-Basilica were built entirely through a donation secured by Msgr. James from two prominent local families. Each donor contributed $1 million to the Cathedral-Basilica for the Chapel of St. Therese and the Museum. I know of no other person, religious or otherwise, who has been able to successfully obtain in excess of $6 million in donations and contributions for the Archdiocese in such a short period of time – and all for the benefit of, and love for, our Church and her people.
Archbishop, there is a basic business principle that “you have to spend money to make money.” Some of the information released from the Chancery, both verbal and written, have accused Msgr. James of being too excessive in his expenditures while he was in charge of the Cathedral-Basilica and the Catholic Cemeteries. My response to this, as a finance professional and a devout Catholic of our island, is twofold. First, in order to be completely fair and transparent about this issue, and before any conclusions are drawn, Msgr. James is owed an opportunity to address and respond to any findings before they are publicly released. Second, I urge you to look at all the pertinent facts, in their entirety, and take into consideration the millions of dollars that Msgr. James has been able to secure on behalf of the Archdiocese during this same period. This brings to mind an old business caveat: We must constantly guard against being “pennywise and pound foolish.” Msgr. James spent a few thousand dollars and, as a result, successfully brought in several million dollars. That is an awesome return on the investment by any standard.
The point I am trying to make is this: It is critical to interpret all the information correctly before any actions are considered. Prior to the release of any financial information, great care is required to ensure that the information is factual, accurate, and documented, and that the decisions made and conclusions reached are reasoned, sound, and supported by the information. This has not been happening with the reports that have come out from the Archdiocese thus far. It is for this reason that I am once again coming forward to express my concerns regarding the misinformation that has been released by your financial advisors. In particular, I believe that the release of financial allegations regarding the Cathedral-Basilica and the Catholic Cemeteries was, at best, poorly handled. I pray that you fully consider the great harm that this misinformation continues to inflict – not just upon Msgr. James and all those who worked closely with him at both of these entities, but upon our beloved Church and the thousands of faithful who are confused, disillusioned, and in many cases, outraged, by the Chancery’s handling of this matter.
This “mishandling” of the situation has been demonstrated many times over. As one example, the memos released by the Archdiocese contained information on items that had already been resolved, yet the memos were written as though the problems persist. Even worse was the inclusion of a false statement about securing Archdiocesan property as collateral for the Catholic Cemeteries loan. This same position was also incorrectly interpreted by the Archdiocesan Finance Officer, Mr. Dominic Kim, well over two years ago in 2012, and was previously corrected back then as well. Despite knowing the truth, you and your advisors continue to erroneously cite this as a major offense committed by Msgr. James. These items taken together painted a distorted and inaccurate financial picture that disregarded all the documented and monumental progress that had already been accomplished.
When Msgr. James was first removed, your memos and public releases selectively picked little snippets of information from the auditor’s report and paraphrased them out of context, so that only the problems were publicized while the fact that they were already resolved was conveniently omitted. Is this not the same as lying? Most people reading the auditor’s report will quickly recognize that the document was intended as a sort of progress report that lists some of the issues that were found, addresses how these issues were remedied, and also recommends how to further improve the financial operations.
These unsubstantiated accusations are a direct attack on the many, many individuals who had been working diligently to shore up the financial footing of both the Cathedral-Basilica and the Catholic Cemeteries. These people worked hard because they all wanted to help. No one was seeking to be publicly acknowledged or thanked, but when those releases from the Chancery were published, you and your advisors effectively and unfairly called into question the integrity of all these individuals. To this day, no one has ever been given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
I cannot express more strenuously and emphatically that whenever one deals with financial reviews of an entity, it is critically important to conduct an interview process. The interviews are conducted to allow the entity under review an opportunity to clarify the auditor’s understanding of the facts and circumstances surrounding the findings and to correct any misunderstandings and inaccuracies. The process of obtaining the input and comments of the entity is a crucial step to ensuring the accuracy and objectivity of the audit. Unfortunately, in this situation, this step was skipped. It is my understanding that additional information and allegations have continued to be released selectively, once again without allowing the appropriate individuals an opportunity to respond. I hope and pray that this is not true, because not only is this dishonest, but it also goes contrary to the gospel that you as Archbishop have been ordained to uphold. I hesitate to use this word, but it somehow feels appropriate in this circumstance: Archbishop, this feels evil.
On a separate note, I want to state that I have had to bury two dear family members this past year, so I have had direct and first-hand experience dealing with both the previous Catholic Cemeteries personnel under Msgr. James and the current Cemeteries staff and personnel. We buried my mom in January of this year, and the staff and management of the Catholic Cemeteries treated us with complete dignity, compassion, and care. They performed their duties with the utmost professionalism. My brother passed away this past September, and we thus had an opportunity to work with the new Catholic Cemeteries staff and management for his burial. While I acknowledge that the current staff is trying, I must express that the work and the services they are performing falls dramatically short of the standards established by their predecessors under Msgr. James. I have a lot to say in this area, including how my family and I were treated. But for now, I will summarize my recent experiences by saying that there is an obvious and striking decline in the level of service that is currently being provided at the Catholic Cemeteries.
In closing, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy letter, and I trust that you will appreciate that its length is a direct indication of how much consternation these recent events have caused me, and how troubled I am about the fate of our island Church. Allow me to conclude by reiterating that the manner with which Msgr. James Benavente, his staff, and financial advisors were treated goes contrary how Jesus instructs us to treat one another: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” Archbishop, please correct me if I am wrong, but from a layman’s point of view, I expected you to practice as well as preach Matthew’s gospel. Instead, with the public releases from your office, it appears that you did the complete opposite of the gospel mandate.
I am very troubled and confused that you falsely reported undocumented mismanagement of the Cathedral-Basilica and Catholic Cemeteries to various Archdiocesan bodies, and then – and only then – did you call Msgr. James into your office to discuss these issues with him. You never gave him the opportunity to defend himself, his reputation, or the people who worked with him all these years. Archbishop, all those people who worked with Msgr. James were working as much for you as for him. They, and Msgr. James, were all your soldiers in Christ, and they were loyal to you. They are all good, intelligent people who believed that they were doing something valuable and worthwhile for our Church. Those infamous releases alleging financial mismanagement turned out to be a shocking and painful awakening to all, and unfortunately, a call to action by many. Please, Archbishop, this has to stop now.
As you may be inclined to agree, I know of nothing good that can come out of impugning a person’s good name. Archbishop, I am pleading with you to begin the healing, and I pray that you can restore the close relationship you once enjoyed with Msgr. James. In the spirit of the Advent Season now upon us – as we prepare to receive the Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace – I pray that you will be for your people the agent of peace and goodwill that our island faithful desperately need.
Joseph E. Rivera