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CURRENT ISSUE:  January 11, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
 
Oakland’s St. Bernard School will close temporarily
 
Sixth annual Walk for Life Jan. 23
Antioch parish divests funds from B of A
 

Charging Bank of America with failing to fulfill its promises to modify mortgages of families at risk of foreclosure, St. Ignatius Parish in Antioch recently took the first steps toward withdrawing its funds from the bank.

Father Robert Rien
Father Robert Rien, parochial administrator, closed two of the parish’s three accounts at a Bank of America branch in Antioch on Dec. 14 to protest the bank’s “horrific track record” on permanent loan modifications. He noted that Bank of America had made only 98 permanent loan modifications across the country despite having received over $199 billion in federal funds.

“We can no longer stand by idly while banks ignore the massive human suffering they have inflicted and the havoc they have wrought across America. We must act with boldness and moral audacity,” Father Rien said after withdrawing the parish funds.

Since last year the Antioch parish has joined with the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization in urging banks to conduct good-faith negotiations with families facing the loss of their homes. CCISCO is an interfaith advocacy group that includes several Catholic parishes.

CCISCO arranged for faith leaders to meet families who have lost their homes or who have had problems with the national lender. In addition to the Bank of America CCISCO has organized protests against Wells Fargo Bank, citing similar concerns. Father Rien described the accounts from these families as “heartbreaking.”

The families did what they were asked to do and completed the paperwork only to be told that their paperwork was “lost” and their homes were foreclosed, the priest explained. At least 24 families from the parish have lost their homes, he said.

CCISCO has asked bank representatives to institute a 90-day stay on foreclosures to give families a fighting chance to save their homes, which includes plowing through a mountain of paperwork.

CCISCO members have also met with Bank of America representatives to get the bank to negotiate with local residents. But the process proved exasperating.

Father Rien cited one meeting where they asked the bank representative to sign the minutes of the meeting — not an agreement — but the person refused. Upset, the priest returned to his parish financial council where members concluded that the “only” way to get the attention of bank representatives was to divest. The vote to divest was unanimous, he told The Voice.

When news of the proposed divestment was released, a Bank of America official asked the parish not to close its accounts and requested a meeting with parish representatives on Jan. 12. Representatives from CCISCO and PICO, a national network of faith-based organizations, are also expected to attend the meeting to be held at Holy Rosary Parish, also in Antioch. As a result of that request, the parish closed two of its accounts, totaling $35,000, but left open a larger account that the parish uses for operating expenses. “We want to see what will be said at the meeting,” Father Rien said.

Nylton Andrade of Brockton, Mass., talks to reporters about his home loan issues during a press conference with faith leaders calling for housing reform, outside the Department of Treasury in Washington Dec. 14. With Andrade are Mercy Martinez, left, from San Jose and Nelly Rubio of Oakley.
CNS PHOTO/LESLIE KOSSOFF-NORDBY
Jumana Bauwens, a representative for the Bank of America, told The Voice that the bank is aware of the protest and has been involved in reaching out to those involved “in hopes that we can build a working relationship with the group as we share the same goal of helping homeowners during these challenging times.”

Bauwens said the bank continues to observe a moratorium on foreclosure sales of loans that are under review for potential eligibility under the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program. The bank is also honoring a moratorium of foreclosure referrals, proceedings and sales of loans that are already in trial modifications under the Home Affordable Modification Program, she added.

The bank has also offered to work with CCISCO organizers to improve communication with homeowners and to help facilitate and streamline the modification process.

Father Rien said the parish has received numerous phone calls congratulating it for its stand on the foreclosure issue. “Our church has always been a voice for the voiceless, and has stood up for the vulnerable,” he said, noting the parish’s tradition of community outreach on a wide range of programs from Birthright to the Winter Nights Family Shelter.

“Our parishioners really understand the Gospel,” he said. “They take care of home and reach out to others less fortunate. I’m proud of them.”

The parish is hoping its divestment will inspire others to take a similar stand.

“This is only a beginning. We are inviting congregations and communities of conscience across America to close their accounts with Bank of America and other institutions that put their own greed above human needs,” Father Rien said. “We will continue until we chart a new path which is a light of justice and truth.”

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