In defense of Father Anthony and St. Catherine’s

| November 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

More letters to the editor:

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Dear Martinez Gazette Editor, former and current Parishioners of St. Catherine’s and Mr. Fuller,

I write this in response to the recent letter to the editor submitted by Mr. Fuller for some perspective and calling out some of the slanted arguments made in the letter. I do not claim to be an expert in the Parish’s history but am an active member of the Parish and do have an informed opinion. I have included the original text so as not make wild claims and allow the reader to stick to the points made. The original letter is italicized for clarity.

I am sending out an SOS to all St. Catherine of Siena parishioners, especially those who have been part of the church for the last 20 years or more. For those are the parishioners who have donated to build a gym at St. Catherine’s church. The gym was an idea that was put together by seven St. Catherine basketball dads/coaches that thought it would be great if the 200-plus CYO basketball kids had a place to play to call their own.

First off, an “SOS” is an inflammatory suggestion that indicates a state of emergency. Fr. Anthony and many of the Parish Leaders, myself included, have been working for months and years to solicit more active participation and involvement in our Parish and our community. To feel like an SOS is required demonstrates the slanted perspective that Parishioners have not provided active participation in guiding and shaping the decisions of this Parish. Not having been in CYO 20 years ago, but having children currently participating, I do not understand the need to make such an investment in a stand-alone gym when the Junior High gym is available and where a large number of the existing CYO players currently attend school. Hence, complimenting the idea of ‘building the community’ between the public and private schools.

Further, the NorCal gym, being a new addition to our community, is available and a great example of re-purposing and saving money… and not requiring such a huge capital improvement.

Though we still have over 200 kids in the program, the gym has been declared dead without any dialogue, discussion or opportunity for all voices to be heard.

This is a blatant inaccuracy. Anyone and everyone have been invited on multiple occasions to be involved and provide input since Fr. Anthony’s arrival to the Parish. But, all of us have to see the value ahead of time in order to put forth the effort now and be willing to dedicate the time and energy to impact change. Mr. Fuller’s representation of the current affairs is blatant scare mongering and is a perfect example of drumming up knee-jerk reaction decisions, while demanding immediate desire for change when the opportunity for input was provided WAY in advance.

On October 30, 2019, it was declared that our voice did not matter, and we were silenced. It is for this reason, that I write you this opinion piece to let you know your voice still counts.

Again, this is not an accurate representation of what was stated. Yes, the decision was made but after months of discussion, deliberation and financial analysis prior to the announcement being made to the Parish.

As the Chairperson for Fulfilling the Promise campaign, I was shocked to learn that Father Anthony made a unilateral decision to end this project.

Of course one would be shocked, if they hadn’t been attending the meetings, were receptive to the facts and figures or were not ignoring the facts that this Parish could not, and should not put money into an ill-conceived project.

Though I should have known better – he has only met with my committee twice in the last two years since he came to St. Catherine’s. Never once during this period did he declare he supported the program. And in the early part of this year he stated he had the Bishop’s full support to not build the gym.

The finances for this project never overwhelmingly supported the endeavor. After 20 years, one would think that this would be apparent to all involved. It probably only took Fr. Anthony a few hours to figure out that this project did not pencil out. Is Father Anthony being faulted for being able to do the basic math?!

Yet Father Anthony and the Bishop still collected money – even after I asked the Bishop to stop the campaign. I mistakenly thought that the protector and moral compass of the project would be Bishop Barber since he is the ultimate decision maker in all Diocese fundraisers. One would suspect that a Bishop would have a moral and ethical financial compass. It seems, however, Bishop Barber may lack one.

I cannot speak to what conversations were had with the Bishop but I can offer the fact that my experience is that Fr. Anthony is working to support and grow our Parish and community. All evidence of his actions, words and behavior support that conclusion.  The Pastor and Bishop are there to support the Church; we the parishioners are the Church. As is detailed further in this response, I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Fuller raises these questions of unethical behavior out of spite as he is ignoring the financial obligations of the Parish that support the decisions made.

It should be noted, in 2014, under the guidance of then Pastor Fr. Clarence, the Parish entered a dual campaign with the Diocese.

Parishes are not supposed run a fundraising campaign concurrently with the Diocese, but St. Catherine’s was allowed as long as we guaranteed $284,000 which was to be paid to the Diocese campaign by October 31st, 2019 when that campaign ended. The goal was to raise $800,000 which would provide a net to the Parish of $516,000.

The total amount raised was $320,000! Not an overwhelming demonstration of support for the new gym. There were costs involved for new architectural drawings, and other miscellaneous costs for the effort. After accounting for these costs and what was obligated to the Diocese campaign, the Parish is left with a deficit of $50,000 which is still owed to the Diocese. Therefore, the third and final campaign was a complete failure in procuring additional funds for the building project.  This deficit also explains as to why, when the project was halted, funds were still being collected.  They were being collected to fund the Diocese campaign to which our Parish was committed.

And in full transparency, this explanation was clearly written out in the Parish Bulletin on November 10th. I find the omission of this fact compelling given Mr. Fuller’s accusation of deceit and unethical behavior on the part of the Bishop and Fr. Anthony.  The complete bulletin can be found here: https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/19260/bulletins/20191110.pdf or found by navigating through the Parish homepage.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore the history of the fundraising for this project.

And we expect a report on those findings no matter what the outcome. Or will the matter be lost when it is discovered that most Parishioners support the current trajectory of the Parish?

I hope to answer tough questions like; Did St. Catherine’s leaders sabotage the opportunity of building a gym to use the money for other projects? Was there fraud involved and was it directly supported by the leadership? Could the gym have been built and why was it not? Is there a culture at the Diocese that chooses to see no evil even we evil is happening and is it spreading into other Diocese in the U.S.?

I am curious to know what the findings will be when these questions are researched and answered. However, I have a question to add to that list: Fr. Anthony has been very transparent with the financial background that he inherited. What is clear is that there seems to be a significant amount of confusion and mismanagement of funds prior to Fr. Anthony’s arrival and early in the fundraising effort. The financial books and disbursement of funds from the early stages of this endeavor are in such disarray that the financial forensics are nearly impossible. Where was the Chairperson and Committee when it came to the documentation of decisions made and accounting of funds spent as these decisions were not unilateral by the “Church”?

For those who think the current church leadership was scheming to access the money for their causes, I would say, “I think you could be right.”

Just to be clear, I am not one of those!

Since the project is dead, I am going to make sure every single donor’s voice is heard, that their thoughts are recorded and acted on properly. There is a window of opportunity for all donors to request refunds. I recommend you submit your requests ASAP. 

What Mr. Fuller has not disclosed is that the Parish has already reached out in writing to every single parishioner and donor with an accurate accounting of the funds donated and the alternative to ‘cash-out’.

Why? Very simply put, St. Catherine’s does not have the money to refund everyone. Over $2 million was raised for the gym and St. Catherine’s has spent over $700,000 of that money to date. At this moment, St. Catherine’s now sits on $1.8 million in cash. Very basic math calculates that St. Catherine’s is short to repay everyone. On October 30, 2019, St. Catherine’s gave us two options: either redirect the funds towards school or church projects or give it back to the original donors.

Again, a slanted truth. The math may be correct that there are not enough funds to pay back every single penny donated… because there needs to be a deduction for the money spent toward the effort. Money was spent with what seemed to be good intentions but poor management (possibly due to the poor oversight by the Committee?). I too was a supporter of this project and new facility in the hopes that it would be built in the near future given the significant financial challenges to complete it. But I was never informed of a “money-back guarantee” when I made my donation. The fact that Fr. Anthony has offered to pay the funds back, versus letting them sit an account untouched until there is enough money (if ever!) to build this project, is very fair and ethical!

I too would like to know, “Why?” Why is the blame continually being put on St. Catherine’s?  And worse, why is it being directed at Fr. Anthony who is simply the messenger who inherited this mess! This project was formed and overseen by a committee 20 years ago as identified by Mr. Fuller.  There have been at least four (4) pastors in that time. But, the Committee and Chairperson have been present for the entire 20 years. The Committee hired a management company to help with the project. A significant amount of money was spent by the management company. The Committee and Chairperson should have had more oversight and kept better records so that the Parish, past, present and future, is not continually dragged through the mud due a 20-year old project that never came to fruition. What accounting and responsibility does the Committee have in this matter?

I raise caution about redirecting the funds since St. Catherine’s does not have any official projects list-ready with proper oversight; so the money will go to a general fund which would allow the questionable church leaders to spend the money any way they want. 

This is a blatant lie! And for this, you should be ashamed, Mr. Fuller. I have personally read the recommended list of improvement projects for the Parish proposed by the Diocese in 2013. This list is available for ANY Parishioner to read and review. It clearly lays out the projects, the priority, the approximate value and scope of every project currently being undertaken by Fr. Anthony and the Parish leaders. Further, active Parish Leaders have met, discussed, reviewed the multiple quotes and made decisions as to the spending of current, Parish-specific funds on behalf of the Parishioners and in their best interests.

And, there is significant evidence throughout the Church and School of the improvements and growing pride which is now appearing in our Parish! I would recommend you request your funds back in writing, specifically stating that St. Catherine’s is obligated to pay for all tax and legal issues that arise from such action.  And I would recommend that this community, and society, continue to re-invest in what we have rather than divert our funds to something new and shiny.  This attitude of “Who’s to blame?” is the problem with our society and I am saddened to see it in our Parish.

What good is a gym if we don’t have a CYO program? What good is the gym if there are not enough kids in the Parish school and it shuts down? What good is the gym if our Parishioner numbers dwindle to a point that the Diocese’ closes the church doors and diverts Martinez faithful to another parish? A gym would be a great addition if we were not faced with long overdue obligations to address the much needed maintenance of the existing facilities. But divisive, fear mongering as proposed by Mr. Fuller is the problem with our community. If you want to make a change, get involved. It doesn’t mean that you will always get what you want but you can at least participate in the discussion and trust that your fellow parishioner, fellow community member or Pastor are not ‘out to get you’!!

Mr. Fuller, you “raise caution about redirecting the funds”; I ask everyone reading this article, does it make sense to build a swimming pool in your backyard when the roof on your house is leaking and needs to be replaced?! You might be able to afford the pool, but does it mean you should?! The list of projects is long and extensive which are required to bring our Parish, our ‘spiritual home’, to a condition that is commensurate with its value. Does it really make sense to not invest the money into our current home?!

At this time, you may make the request to the church. However, leaders of St Catherine’s are the ones that shut down your voice. After making the request to the church, email the Bishop. Express your dissatisfaction regarding his and St. Catherine’s leadership with the copy of your request for your money. The Bishop’s email is bishop@oakdiocese.org. Also, if you email a copy of your request to stcatherinesvoices@gmail.com we will follow-up until it is fulfilled properly.

Again, I have to say, fear mongering; the “leaders of St. Catherine’s” are mostly parishioners with one ordained priest appointed by the Diocese. The leaders did shut it down because they are acting on behalf of the Parishioners!

I am truly sorry that I was not able to get this project done. The political barriers were higher than I thought. I assure you all that I will do everything to make sure your voices are heard over all the b.s that is going on right now and you get your money back.

And there it is… is this fact-finding hunt an effort to champion the original wishes and desires of the donors and contributors, or a stunt to placate the egos of those that wanted this project built with no regard for the finances or logic? I wonder if that question will be asked and answered in Mr. Fuller’s quest?

Please make your voice heard today!

Yes, please do… and while you are at it, pray for us, pray for and support St. Catherine’s and God Bless the Parish Community!

– Carlos Melendez, Parishioner

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