SINGAPORE – The Singapore archdiocese’s central fund has been “blessed” because the archdiocese has a very conservative investment policy and has not invested in Madoff, Lehman Brothers or any structured products, said Jesuit Father Philip Heng (photo) in an exclusive interview with CatholicNews.
Father Heng has been a member in the archdiocesan finance commission since February 2002. The finance commission comprises Archbishop Nicholas Chia and 10 lay and priest members.
Father Heng explained that the surplus funds of each parish in the archdiocese are sent to a central fund which is invested by the finance commission on behalf of the parishes. The funds are clearly demarcated for each parish; and each parish receives an annual statement on the status of its investments.
The money is invested in cash, bonds, preference shares and fixed deposits, “in that order”, said Father Heng.
Three fund managers and two members of the finance commission monitor the investments and information is fed back to the commission every two weeks, he explained.
In view of the serious financial crisis and economic recession in Singapore and globally, Father Heng noted that the archdiocese’s investments have not gone unscathed, but because the archdiocese invested only in “capital-protected and capital-guaranteed” investments, the fall in value of the church’s investment portfolio is “way, way below” that seen in the stock market.
“In the years when people were making 15 to 20 percent [returns], we didn’t have that, but we were satisfied with having less returns… we rather have less returns than risk the church’s funds,” he said.
Father Heng noted that the loss experienced by the central fund is an unrealised book loss and he is hopeful that things will turn around within five years. The finance commission takes a five-year view on its investments.
As for the future, “no one can predict anything”, he said. “We are just very blessed that we didn’t suffer such a big loss.”
One thing for sure is that the recession, which experts say may last one to two years, “is going to test our faith”, said Father Heng. “People are going to have to make ends meet, [and some may find that] their only hope is God, and to return to their faith for some strength.
“Faith comes in times of crisis. We have to believe that God is really there to provide for our future. We have to look at our values and to discover faith in reality… Hopefully people will come back to the very basics of life and faith… and learn that everything is transitory.
“As Church, we have to be compassionate. We are going to see more people in need, and we have to make the Gospel more relevant to them. We have to see people as individuals, not just people who come for Mass, receive Holy Communion, and go home.
“Without the crisis, (some) families were breaking up because of secularism. What more with the crisis? As Church, we must reflect more deeply on this, and give people a sense of hope that just because people have lost things, it’s not the end.”
Father Heng was a certified accountant before he joined the Society of Jesus in 1983. He was ordained in 1993 and professed his final vows in 1996. Since then, he has been novice master at the Jesuit novitiate and will be taking over from Father Leslie Raj as parish priest of Church of St. Ignatius from Apr 1. n