Thursday, July 31, 2014

Archbishop Anthony Apuron: defends Actions, Parishioners petition the Vatican

The previous management of Guam's Catholic cemeteries overstated its assets and used land that wasn't under its name to secure a loan, Archbishop Anthony Apuron announced yesterday.

The archbishop issued a public statement to further explain his reason for firing Monsignor James Benavente, who was the director of Catholic Cemeteries of Guam Inc.

Apuron also removed Benavente as rector of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica -- a post he held for nearly 20 years.

Benavente this week declined to comment on the issue, but he participated in a Tuesday prayer, organized by those who do not support the archbishop's actions.

Richard Untalan, a former finance official for the island's Catholic Church, this week questioned the decision to blame Benavente, saying Apuron also played a role in the financial decisions.

Untalan, former president of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, said a $7 million debt cited by Apuron is related to money that was borrowed by the church for renovation and construction.

The archbishop approves every loan that the archdiocese undertakes, Untalan said.

If Apuron were to follow the "buck-stops-here" rule, then he himself should be fired, Untalan said.

"As far as I know, I do not believe it's a financial issue," Untalan said of Apuron's decision to remove Benavente.

A Vatican representative must approve and sign a church loan worth more than $1 million, Untalan said. That's in addition to several layers of local review, including the archbishop, Untalan said.

"Singling out Monsignor Benavente is difficult to accept when the archbishop himself approved such loan," Untalan said.

Untalan said the borrowed $7 million was used for: the extensive renovation of the Cathedral-Basilica, including a new museum; the construction of the St. Therese chapel; and extensive renovations to the Pigo Cemetery.

"Moreover, what is the problem?" Untalan said. "The loans are current and are not in default ... None of our Catholic schools and churches would have been built without debt."

In his statement yesterday, the archbishop released part of a financial review report by Deloitte & Touche LLP from early this year, related to the finances of the cemeteries.

Apuron also said the archdiocese "will release shortly" the full financial reports and financial reviews for all diocesan entities.

A group of concerned Catholics has asked the archdiocese to release audited financial statements each year, as other Catholic churches in the nation have done.

Catholic cemeteries' construction costs were duplicated, cemetery assets were overstated by $3.8 million, and construction contracts were missing, Apuron stated yesterday.

"Given the gravity of the situation, I was compelled to take urgent measures changing administration in order to end this state of affairs which is detrimental to the archdiocese canonically and financially in the entities involved," Apuron stated. "This decision, contrary to speculations, deals only with the matter of good administration and my canonical responsibility with the management of archdiocesan temporal goods."

Apuron said accounting practices under Benavente were "not in conformance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America because there is no way to distinguish between what has been paid and what is due, and between principal and interest."

Untalan said he and other members of the Archdiocesan Council -- Sister Mary Stephen Torres, Joseph Rivera and Monsignor James Benavente -- were fired "en masse" about two years ago after they voted against the proposed transfer of the title to one of the Guam Catholic Church's largest real estate assets -- the former Accion Hotel. The former hotel is estimated to be worth about $35 million.

The oceanfront property hosts the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, and the finance council officials who opposed transferring the property's title from the archdiocese to the seminary were fired, Untalan said.

Initially, the archbishop also opposed the transfer of the property, Untalan said.

"What made him change his mind? God only knows," Untalan said.
Letters to the Vatican

Some of the island's Catholics who support Benavente have started a letter-writing campaign to call on the Vatican to investigate Benavente's removal and other controversies involving the local Catholic Church leadership.

Island Catholics are urged to write to the Vatican's delegate for Guam and the Oceania, Archbishop Martin Krebs,; and Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregration for the Evangelization of Peoples in the Vatican,, organizers stated.

Untalan said he still hopes and prays "that the Church of Guam would have the courage, fortitude, and prayerful frame of mind to fix its own problems, and not have to rely on Rome to intervene."

"It takes a top-down dialogue to build bridges, an open heart and mind to resolve issues and problems, with the intent that we should all live in harmony and unity as Jesus would want us to do," Untalan said.

Written by
Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News

Aug. 1, 2014 1:28 AM

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