It’s refreshing, isn’t it? This priest actually sees his job as saving his parishioners from the money lenders:
But it was the outright fraud by America’s big banks that finally made Father Rien an activist for the first time since he was ordained 40 years ago.
As the crisis snowballed through 2007 and 2008, parishioners started coming to Father Rien for help, saying they had dutifully filled out and filed mortgage modification applications with the Bank of America, only to be suddenly evicted. Time and again the bank, equipped with their own legal documents, said their customers’ paperwork had been lost and their applications were too late.
“I had 24 or 25 families just in my parish saying the same thing; it was untenable.”
When Father Rien approached the Bank of America to plead his parishioners’ cases the bank told him he had no connection to the families and no right to speak on their behalf.
He did not know it then but Father Rien was seeing early signs of what became known as the robo-signing scandal, in which four American banks admitted forging signatures on untold thousands of documents to speed up foreclosures.
In February this year they came to a $US26 billion legal settlement over the issue, but Father Rien says they are still failing to help many of their struggling customers.
The priest seems stunned by what he says is the corporate and personal greed that has led to this situation.
“Look at how much money some of these people [in finance] earn; no one needs to be that rich, no one.” So Father Rien joined PICO (Pacific Institute for Community Organisation), the faith-based network that launched the bank divestment campaign. “I am angry,” he says.