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The Origins of Couples for Christ: The Split of 1993

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The Origins of Couples for Christ (Part 2): The Split of 1993
by Zeny Gimenez and Marivie Dalman (Ugnayan Multimedia Center)
published as a CFC Supplement at the CBCP Monitor, March 31 - April 13, 2008

The story of Couples for Christ continues in this issue. Vic Gutierrez, who oversaw the creation and growth of CFC from its inception in 1981 to the time of the split in 1993, agreed to be further interviewed. The facts mentioned in this article are based on records that have been kept by Ligaya ng Panginoon and on recollections of some of the leaders who were involved in the events leading up to the split.

The Split of 1993

By 1992, Couples for Christ had grown far beyond what Vic Gutierrez and Fr. Herb Schneider originally envisioned it to be. Back in 1981, they had simply wanted a venue where the women participants in their popular prayer meetings could bring their husbands and together, grow in their relationship with each other and with the Lord. But as the years wore on, it became increasingly clear to Vic, and later to the Executive Council formed to oversee CFC, that God's plan for CFC was broader and far more complex.

It was Ligaya that fostered and encouraged the early rapid growth of CFC. As early as 1982, Vic recalls that "LNP received requests from various groups in the Philippines for help in establishing support groups for married couples." With the help of what Vic calls CFC's "exportable packages" manuals and audio tapes CFC expanded into several provinces.

Expansion into other countries followed soon after. Vic remembers that as early as 1983, or only two years after its inception, CFC was already being promoted in various places in Asia. The first foreign country was Hongkong, followed by Singapore and then India. In 1986, Vic spoke about CFC at the Sword of the Spirit international conference of community leaders in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Very soon after, CFC groups were established in the United States. By 1989, a CFC chapter had been organized in Los Angeles by Jun and Auring Tan, one of the original 16 couples.

Rapid and Massive

1989 saw the realization of a prophecy that was revealed four years earlier to Nina Ponte, wife of Rouquel Ponte, a couple leader in CFC at that time. "God has given CFC His authority and blessing to win the world for Christ," was the revelation that inspired CFC to pursue a new vision. "Rapid, massive, and global" was the evangelization thrust formally declared in August 1989. During its tenth anniversary celebration in 1991, Couples for Christ adopted the vision statement "Families in the Holy Spirit Renewing the Face of the Earth." As CFC continued to blossom in many parts of the country, new chapters also started to sprout in countries around the world.

Ligaya encouraged the expanding reach of CFC, although Fr. Herb Schneider initially had misgivings about CFC's worldwide thrust. Fr. Schneider soon changed his stand, especially when the Sword of the Spirit expressed great interest in CFC and in a letter to then Executive Director Frank Padilla, stated, "We see a great potential for Couples for Christ not only in Poland, but in many locations in Europe."

CFC would later claim that it was Ligaya's opposition to rapid and massive evangelization that would trigger the split of 1993. Vic disagrees: "LNP said that CFC should do rapid and massive evangelization but it should exercise pastoral responsibility in forming the newly-evangelized couples before they are assigned to leadership positions. In other words, we wanted the newly-evangelized couples to grow a little more before they were assigned to serve as household heads. We felt that it was premature to push them into pastoral leadership immediately after finishing the CLP. Infants should not be assigned to serve other infants in the faith."

During his short exhortation at CFC's ninth anniversary on June 16, 1990, Vic told the leaders: "This year we committed ourselves to double our number. In the year 2000, one million members. Will we make it? I don't know. What I know is that we can only achieve all these by the grace of God."

In the year 2000, CFC did achieve that prophetic number of a million members but Vic Gutierrez would no longer be around to congratulate CFC. By then, CFC had been separated from its mother community for more than 7 years.

The Cracks Begin to Show

Success does have its downside. CFC's growth and what CFC leaders perceived as a reining in of their zeal for expansion would lead Frank Padilla and the other CFC leaders to question the authority of LNP and the relationship between the two groups.

What was the chain of command that Ligaya exercised over Couples for Christ?

Ligaya oversaw not just CFC but other covenanted groups, namely:

  • Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals
  • Christ's Youth in Action
  • Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon
  • Tahanan ng Panginoon
  • Institute of Pastoral Development
  • Women for Christ
  • Lumen Christi
  • Word of Joy Foundation

Each community had an Executive Director, later on an Executive Council, that oversaw the affairs and concerns of the community. According to Vic, this was done in order to make all the outreaches autonomous. In the case of CFC, the Executive Council in 1992 was composed of: Frank Padilla, Rouquel Ponte, Tony Meloto, Arben Vicenio and Bobby Pilar.

In order to keep all the communities in line with the mother community's goals and thrusts, Ligaya created the Partners in Mission Council (PIMC) composed of all the Executive Directors of the outreaches. There was one requirement: the Executive Directors of the outreaches must be covenanted members of Ligaya. Over-all leadership was vested in the Overall Leadership Team (OLT) of Ligaya. Fr. Herb was the head of the OLT.

Chronology of the Split

In late 1991, some of the top leaders of CFC, led by Frank Padilla, proposed the formation of a separate community that would solely serve the needs of CFC. The OLT studied the proposal at some depth but after much discussion, turned down the proposal and communicated the decision to the CFC Council in July 1992.

Vic, who laughingly refers to himself as "Mr. Trash" because he never throws any document away, can recall every detail and every date related to the split. He says, "Unfortunately that decision by the OLT did not resolve the conflict. Fr. Herb, as spiritual director of CFC, had to meet with the top leaders of CFC many times to discuss, to listen, to try to bring the issues to a resolution, but to no avail."

Finally, it became necessary for the OLT to meet with the CFC Executive Council to state clearly the relationship between the two groups and from there, to come to discussion and agreement on the changes being proposed by CFC. Two meetings were held on February 26 and March 1, 1993.

During the March 1 meeting, some members of the CFC Council refused to acknowledge that CFC was an outreach of Ligaya and consequently, denied that they were accountable to the mother community. Ligaya's proposal that this reality be accepted, even as a starting point for further discussion and organizational changes, was shot down.

On March 11, 1993, Fr. Herb, in his capacity as OLT head, wrote a memo addressed to the CFC Executive Council, spelling out the relationship of CFC to Ligaya (that it was an outreach) and asking the CFC leaders to acknowledge this publicly. Fr. Herb also reminded the CFC leaders of Ligaya's long-standing policy that the Executive Director of the outreaches must be a covenanted member of Ligaya.

On March 15, Frank Padilla replied, acknowledging receipt of Fr. Herb's memo. He requested that the CFC Council be given a week for prayer and discernment before meeting again with the OLT. Fr. Herb readily agreed and both agreed to meet again on March 20, 1993.

March 19 was the regular elders assembly of CFC. At that meeting, one day before the scheduled meeting with Fr. Herb, Frank Padilla led the move to dissolve the existing CFC Council and elected a new Council. Some of the CFC elders present at that meeting objected but the elections continued. With this move, CFC sent a clear signal to Ligaya: CFC was no longer an outreach of Ligaya and that the CFC leaders were no longer accountable to Ligaya on how they would conduct the affairs of CFC.

The promised meeting with Fr. Herb did not materialize. Ligaya would later learn that the incorporation papers of CFC were filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 3, 1993.

Ligaya's Response

Stung by the suddenness of the move, Ligaya needed more than a week to meet, discuss and formulate a response. The following are taken from the position statement that Ligaya released to its members on March 30, 1993:

"Response of Ligaya to This Move
  1. The Ligaya leadership and the community members who have been deeply involved in the CFC leadership are grieved by the move of the CFC leadership to separate from Ligaya. We strongly disapprove of the manner in which the separation was done. What they did was out of order and seriously damaging to relationships among brothers and sisters in the Lord.
  2. While we believe that Ligaya has rights over CFC, we opt not to pursue those rights for the sake of peace and harmony in the Church. We believe that it is right in the Lord for us to spend our efforts in bringing the gospel to many families, rather than in seeking redress for our grievance. We enjoin our brothers and sisters who share our grief to take on this posture of peace.
  3. In practical terms, our decision is to let CFC go its own way. We are relinquishing our rights to the name CFC, to the CFC Foundation, with all its assets and liabilities. This decision may create a vacuum for some CFC members and leaders who may not agree with the decision taken by the present CFC leadership. We want to assure these brethren and leaders that we are committed to continue serving them. We have a place for them in our plans for a family apostolate.
  4. Our decision to let go of CFC does not in any way affect our mission to bring families to Christ. The Ligaya is committed to continue responding to God's call to evangelize families. The response that we made to God's call in 1981 when we organized CFC does not end now that CFC has been led away from us.
We are now in the process of organizing the Ligaya Family Life Apostolate. We will pour into this apostolate our available pastoral and leadership resources as well as our years of pastoral experience in family life ministry."

As a conclusion to the position statement, Ligaya leaders explained:

"The position of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon as expressed above is the product of much prayers and discernment. We have consulted and have taken into consideration the prayerful inputs of our Ligaya members, especially those who are involved in the CFC-LNP relationship.
We are making this position paper available to anyone who wishes to understand our decision. Ligaya members who are serving in CFC may use this paper to speak to their members regarding the decisions taken by Ligaya. We caution them, though, to refrain from campaigning. While we do not want to campaign, we want to be clear that we are open to receive anyone who wishes to serve and to participate in our Family Life Apostolate.
We wish no evil to and speak no evil against those who have separated from us and have led CFC away. We do not intend to compete with them in any way. All we desire is to end the period of strife and be able to serve the Lord and His Church fruitfully through our family life apostolate.
...We commit ourselves to a common work. Through this cooperative effort, we desire to give witness to Christian unity and brotherhood and sisterhood, even as we pursue our individual organization's vision and mission.
We apologize to anyone who may have been scandalized by this unfortunate event and we seek your prayers as we try to serve the Lord in a more determined way."

The position statement was signed by Fr. Herbert Schneider, S.J., Victorino Gutierrez, Michael Joseph, Jr. and Kenneth Noecker.

Debunking the Myths

Vic Gutierrez was initially hesitant to sit down and be interviewed for this article. He would much rather have preferred to let the 15-year separation remain uncluttered by further controversy, particularly since it is now being compared to a similar recent separation. As he stated, "It is depressing to see such a wonderful work of God (CFC) being wracked in a senseless controversy."

He also hastens to correct the impression that he desires to be called the founder of CFC. "Why does there have to be a fight on who is the founder? In the broader spiritual community, it is distasteful and indecent to fight for such an honor."

He also explained some of the misconceptions about the split.

Myth No 1: LNP repressed CFC to prevent it from doing its mission in rapid and massive evangelization.

As earlier explained, it was in fact Ligaya that initiated the forays into the provinces and even into the countries of Asia, North America and Europe. It was also Ligaya, through Vic, that first began to think in terms of doubling membership and to dream of a million members as early as in 1991.
The "exportable packages" were in fact done in order to ensure that rapid and massive evangelization may be carried out with the minimum presence of LNP and CFC leaders.

Myth No. 2: The 1993 split was because of a basic difference in vision.

There was no difference in vision. Ligaya initiated and, when the CFC leadership was firmly in place, fully supported the drive for more members and for rapid territorial expansion.
The split happened because of a basic difference in the way the relationship between the two groups was perceived. In that meeting of March 1, Ken Noecker of Ligaya proposed that the starting points of the discussion should first be established. From these starting points would ensue the discussion and decision on how to re-align the relationship between the two organizations. The starting points were: the CFC Council must acknowledge, first, that CFC was an outreach of Ligaya and second, that the executive directors of the outreaches needed to be covenanted members of Ligaya.
Frank Padilla flatly refused to make such an acknowledgment, in spite of years of living and operating under such a reality. The meeting was adjourned.
After the March 19 meeting of the CFC leaders, Frank would write a memo to Fr. Herb (dated March 20, 1993) stating that "There is no question that God owns CFC and it is distasteful for any human person or organization to claim ownership of what belongs to God." The conflict was thus reduced to a question of ownership, on the premise that Ligaya was attempting to claim ownership of CFC.

Myth No. 3: God intended the split to happen.

Vic laughs when he hears that this is one reason being offered by some quarters to explain why the split of 1993 happened, the same reason being bandied about now that CFC has suffered another split. "God does not cause His disciples to break relationships, to quarrel and to accuse one another. He can bring us to where He wants us to be not through these means. When we quarrel, it is not because God wants us to quarrel, but because of our human weaknesses."

Myth No. 4: The split between CFC and LNP was by 'mutual agreement.'

Vic begs to disagree. "There was serious disagreement between the main leaders of CFC and the LNP leaders. But we did not want it to become a public scandal in the Church. Remember that we were caught unaware by the sudden move to separate. So there could not have been any 'mutual agreement.' LNP was against CFC's proposal to be spun off as a separate entity. We were ready to exhaust all means to prevent the separation. But the separation happened. We had no choice but to accept it in order to preserve the good name of both organizations. So our only response was to issue a position statement. We distributed it to members and to all who were interested in finding out more about the split. We mailed copies to all the bishops also."

Regrets...and Might-Have-Beens

It has been almost exactly 15 years since that fateful split. Vic has since retired from active leadership, although he is still very much involved in the life and mission of Ligaya. But he still thinks of those events of 1993 with a great deal of regret. He says, "When I recall the events of those days, I can only say, Sayang. Tears did not have to flow. Personal relationships did not have to be broken. LNP and CFC could have continued sharing each other's strengths. And CFC could still have attained its mission although in a lightly different way."

Vic believes that Frank Padilla misunderstood LNP's moves as a mere positioning for ownership and control of CFC. "He was wrong," Vic declares. "LNP only wanted to provide three things for CFC. First, LNP was concerned about the care and protection of the top CFC leaders, especially in the area of their personal relationships. We believe that the more responsibility you take on for yourselves, the more authority you have to seek over your life and mission. Second, LNP wanted to help CFC relate properly to local Church authorities, especially to the parishes. Third, LNP wanted to give guidance to the teaching courses and spirituality of CFC."

POSTSCRIPT

The rift between LNP and CFC would be healed but it would take more than 12 years. On July 16, 2005, on the occasion of LNP's 30th anniversary, the two organizations would meet once again, but this time in an atmosphere of healing and reconciliation. They would release A Statement of Reconciliation, Unity and Brotherhood, signed by Frank Padilla, Rouquel Ponte and Tony Meloto, for the CFC Council and by Tony Panajon, LNP Head Coordinator, for the Body of Coordinators of LNP. Fr. Herb Schneider would sign the statement as witness.

For LNP and CFC, it was time to close the book on a sad and difficult episode. It was time to move on, once again embracing one another as brothers and co-workers in the work of the Lord.

(In the next issues: more on the split)

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