This will be the last in the series about the early origins of Couples for Christ.
When we began this story, the intention was not to pit one side against the other or generate even more contentious issues than our community already faces. We simply wanted to tell the truth. In the interest of fairness, we wanted to hear from those who, for 15 long years, had stood silently by while only one perspective of our early history was told. This series has allowed the other side to be heard now, at a crucial time in our community life.
Is it by God's design? We will never know. What we do know is this: In the pursuit of truth, we discovered a great story. This is it! We tell it now, to the best of our abilities.
If this series had raised more questions than it tries to answer, we sincerely apologize. History, after all, is only a series of perspectives that only attains clarity when seen from the vantage point of distance and time. Perhaps those questions will be answered in time, perhaps not. Perhaps we are all simply being asked to look at the facts and to relate those facts to our own lives. They are not meant to confuse or disorient us, but to lead us to a more committed life with the one who we say we are FOR...Christ.
In the pursuit of historical research, there is a tendency to get swamped in the minute details. We found ourselves wading through reams of materials, most of them unsolicited. But the ones that mattered, the facts that we eventually published, were those that we actively solicited because Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Community (LNP), the only true source of the facts, was not initially inclined to provide them. They only relented when we urged that Couples for Christ needed to hear their side.
Even after 15 years, the people we spoke to, clearly still felt the pain caused by the events of 1993. But the telling of the truth and the catharsis of finally being able to speak out, appear to be pointing the way to true healing and reconciliation.
In the last meeting that the authors had with Vic Gutierrez, together with Joe and Babylou Tale, what shone through was the spirit of genuine reconciliation. Joe was led to declare that this is the start of healing for both communities. He predicted a closer relationship between CFC and LNP based on the shared mission of renewal and of reaching out to others.
The unraveling of the story...
January 1991, after almost 10 years of serving as the head of CFC, Vic yielded the overall leadership to Fr Herb Schneider. He was very busy serving in several areas as a leader in Ligaya. Frank Padilla was then the executive director of CFC and also served as the Coordinator of the North District. The rest of the CFC council were; Tony Meloto, Bobby Pilar, Rouquel Ponte, and Arben Visenio. CFC membership was about 7,000 couples; larger than LNP and all its ministries combined.
There were many requests from various parishes for CFC to conduct a Christian Life Program. CFC could only accede to a few due to a lack of trained leaders. It had to 'borrow' leaders from Ligaya to accommodate these requests. Problems started to crop up, as Ligaya members had difficulty in balancing their schedule between service in CFC and Ligaya activities. CFC members were still in the so-called 'underway' phase undergoing leadership training.
Towards the end of 1991, Frank met with Vic to discuss CFC concerns and a proposal to establish CFC as an independent community. It would entail the spinning off the East district so that the entire group could concentrate fully on CFC. Vic, as his pastoral leader, advised him to put his proposal in writing and submit it to Fr Herb. However Fr Herb and the ExCom took a while before acting on the proposal.
February 1993, Fr Herb met in a series of meetings with Frank and some members of the CFC council. After the meetings, on March 11, he wrote a memo to Frank Padilla and the CFC Council explaining the response of the Overall Leadership Team (OLT). The following are excerpts from this memo:
"Couples for Christ is an outreach of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Community and a partner in mission with LNP and the other outreach organizations that were formed by the community. As such CFC leadership needs to acknowledge openly its accountability to the authority of the community over its outreaches as this is exercised by the Partners in Mission Council (in which CFC participates) and by the Overall Leadership Team.
The Executive Director of CFC, like all other executive directors of Ligaya outreaches, needs to be a covenanted member of LNP. This has been a long-standing policy. As a coordinator of the community, Frank was involved in establishing this policy. ...This means that Frank needs to live out his Ligaya commitments under the direction of his district coordinator, if he wishes to continue to serve as Executive Director of Couples for Christ."
Fr. Herb had this to say about 'who owns CFC':
"I believe with all my heart that the Lord inspired leaders of the Ligaya to start Couples for Christ. I believe that He guided these same leaders and others whom they raised up to develop CFC into the effective outreach for family renewal that it has become over the years....I believe Couples for Christ is what it is today because of the selfless cooperation in mission of many, many couples in CFC and in Ligaya. The leadership of community members on many levels made invaluable contributions especially in the earlier years of CFC. All of the above being true, in no way denies the authority of the community over Couples for Christ."
Making a stand, Fr. Herb declared: "If he (Frank) feels called to leave Ligaya, he resigns as executive director of CFC. One can be fully involved in the mission of CFC and give all one's time and energy to it without being an executive director."
He also appealed to the CFC Council to "...postpone the decision on appointing new members to the CFC Council until we can finish our organizational and structural decisions at the Partners in Mission Council. Furthermore, may I have the opportunity to communicate and explain the above to the Elders of CFC at their next assembly."
The Game Plan...
While consultations and meetings were ongoing among Ligaya leaders and some members of the CFC Council, the articles of incorporation of a 'new' CFC were already being worked out by a select few CFC leaders. It is now evident that just a small number of CFC leaders were privy to the round table discussions with Fr. Herb. Certain compromises were apparently made because of their love for CFC, their loyalty to Frank their leader, and belief in his ideals.
The greater majority of CFC members did not know the complete picture. They believed what they were told and knew only one thing—that the growth of CFC was hampered by LNP, whose training of leaders was limited and whose vision for evangelization was 'inward looking' not 'outward looking.' A lot of the leaders thought that the idea to separate was a blessing from heaven, that it was God's answer to their prayers. Meantime, Frank requested for a week of prayer and discernment, but the die was cast and the separation was in the pipeline. The split would occur in days.
The Final Stages...
On March 19 during the Elder's Assembly, before the agreed date to dialogue with Fr. Herb, Frank dissolved the council, held elections and declared the establishment of the 'new' Couples For Christ Global Mission Foundation Inc. The next day he wrote a letter to Fr Herb, informing him that the assembly of the previous night had elected a new Council and that CFC was no longer willing to be under the authority and direction of LNP.
On the issue regarding ownership he wrote, "There is no question that God owns CFC, and it is distasteful for any human person or organization to claim ownership of what belongs only to God. You will agree with this and thus there is no need to address this, it is the practical consequences of so-called "ownership" that need to be addressed, and these are mandate and accountability."
On mandate he wrote, "You claim that you placed us in our positions and that you have authority over us, our position is that its simply not right for a few men, who are not directly involved in the life of CFC and whose priorities lie elsewhere, to have this control and authority, over the lives of 45,000 people. Those who are in CFC should be the ones to determine their own leadership and how their lives are going to be lived.
Thus we have elected a new Council, by an overwhelming majority vote of CFC elders during our Elders Assembly yesterday. This new CFC Council now has its mandate and authority directly from its own members, through the elders themselves and as representatives of all other CFC members in this country."
On accountability he wrote, "You maintain that; CFC must be accountable to LNP and/or to the OLT and/or to the Partners-in-Mission Council. We steadfastly believe in accountability and pastoral cover. But it can no longer be to LNP/OLT, because we are no longer confident in your ability to care for CFC and to look to its best interests. Furthermore, LNP itself has no pastoral cover or accountability to speak of, aside from within itself or within the SOS.
Thus we have decided to voluntarily submit ourselves to the pastoral care of the Catholic Church and to be accountable to her shepherds, our bishops. Thus we have asked the following bishops to be our Spiritual Directors over regional CFC groups, to wit:
- Bishop Teodoro Bacani - CFC Metro Manila
- Bishop Ruben Profugo - CFC Luzon
- Bishop Jesus Varela - CFC Bicol
- Bishop Angel Lagdameo - CFC Visayas
- Bishop Carmelo Morelos - CFC Mindanao
All the above is to say that CFC, in accordance with what we believe is God's will, will determine its own life and mission, independent of and from LNP. We ask that you accept the will of the great majority of CFC leaders and members, and no longer try to impose anything on us. We ask you this, knowing fully well your disagreements, for the sake of CFC and the good of the overwhelming number of its members."
Frank and his wife Gerry, together with about 30 LNP leaders resigned from LNP. Bobby Pilar and Arben Visenio opted to stay with Ligaya. Some LNP members chose only to take a leave of absence from LNP, unwilling to leave behind the evangelization work that they had already started in CFC. Frank did not run for any position and it was Rouquel Ponte who became executive director of CFC for the next six years.
It was a period of pain and anguish, of losing friends, of broken relationships. It was time for prayer and discernment for leaders who were torn between love and loyalty to LNP and dedication to work and service in CFC. The crisis eventually became global as the rest of the leaders and members of CFC communities abroad had to make difficult decisions: Whether to stay or to go.
But, there was no need for all the pain and resentment, unknown to Frank and the CFC council, Fr. Herb drafted a proposal as a response to the issues that beset CFC.
One significant paragraph in this proposal stands out:
"LNP is genuinely concerned for the sound development of CFC. We want it to be long-range effective for Church and family renewal. Let me propose the following approach, let us give Couples For Christ its independence from us and also let us not insist that the executive director be a LNP member."
It is useless now to speculate whether or not Fr. Herb's proposal would have made a difference. The split pushed through because the major players in CFC were convinced that it was by God's design. It has now been 15 years since that painful period in CFC's life. Both communities have gone their separate but parallel ways, sharing a common vision to be instruments by which people can draw closer to God.
It is perhaps a fitting end to this story that on the eve of his departure for a new life abroad with his wife, Vic wrote the following letter to the CFC International Council. Eschewing any pretensions to be "founder," Vic says he wrote the letter as an exercise of the "grace of paternity," as a father to children he once nurtured.
Letter to the CFC International Council
I graciously agreed to speak with your Ugnayan staff though with much hesitation when you asked me to comment on the CFC origins and the 1993 CFC-LNP split.
I understood your quest. It is normal for any organization to try to authenticate its early beginnings and directions. The results of the interviews have now been published in the CBCP Monitor and many are happy about them. I am pleased to have been of help.
But I must have been naïve to think that my recollections of the past would be appreciated by all who are and were part of the CFC. Even with documents backing up my points of view, there arose dissenting views. My credibility was assailed, my version doubted and I am made to appear a peddler of untruths.
I do not mind that. For 15 years, some of you in the CFC have looked at me with very low regard because of accusations thrown against me by some of your leaders. I do not wish to make any attempt to vindicate myself now. It is not important to me.
I have concerns though. My version of the CFC origins seems to have fanned the flames of hostility further between your group and the FFL. I do not wish it upon you all.
The grace of paternity that St. John of the Cross spoke about impels me to desire nothing but peace and unity between the Global and the FFL servants of the Lord. Like a father, I pray that you may have peace, love and justice among all of you in the CFC. Let there be no more 'Global' or 'FFL' among you; only humble servants of God.
When the CFC split from the LNP in 1993, my ten-year old son said that the Lord had three words for me. He and I had just come out of a one-hour visit to the Blessed Sacrament. He said the words were: Love. Hope. Peace.
He explained to me what the words meant. Love the brothers and sisters in CFC. Hope for a better relationship. Pray for peace to rule the hearts of the leaders of both LNP and CFC so that they can do God's work effectively. Quite mature for a ten-year old, I took him seriously and I shared those words of wisdom with the brothers and sisters in LNP who were affected by the CFC-LNP split. Compliance with those words protected and nourished us in the LNP in the past 15 years.
Now I share the same words with you. Love. Hope. Peace. They can help you in your current situation.”
The FFL group is asking the Ugnayan to be fair. Get the side of Frank Padilla, they say. But some of you say that Frank had 15 years to promote his side of the story. You know the situation better than I do. However, maybe the FFL is right to demand that their side be heard.
Why not put the taped speech of Frank of March 19, 1993 on your website? Make it also available for audio listening at your office for anybody who wants to listen to his arguments and decisions on why CFC broke away from LNP. That was an event that Frank is very proud of, I was told. Then, publish the letter of Fr. Herb Schneider of March 11, 1993 which Frank denounces as a clear admission that Ligaya wanted nothing but to control CFC. And publish the reply of Frank dated March 20, 1993.
Everyone's side will then have a chance to be heard for one final time. After that, close the matter and never speak about it again for the sake of peace. What can be fairer than that?
Some say I still hold a grudge against CFC? Evidence? That I was not a signatory to the statement of reconciliation between CFC and LNP in 2005. Please understand that I had already retired from leadership at that time. Let me reprint here a part of my letter to the LNP Senior Head Coordinator in 2005 which should explain everything.
"First, I think it is alright that you meet with the top leaders of the CFC as proposed. You are the incumbent SHC of the Ligaya and thus you are empowered to represent the Ligaya in matters like these. It is also right for Fr. Herb to come with you because he is Ligaya's spiritual director. Together, the two of you can have a meaningful dialogue with Frank Padilla and his leaders. But I do not have to join you for I hold no leadership position in the community and I am comfortable with where I am right now."
I have nothing to settle with Frank and his friends personally. They did what they have done and they know what they did. If they think it is not wrong, I do not have a mission to tell them that what they did was wrong. They are big boys now.
On the other hand, if they think they did wrong to Ligaya, then they should ask forgiveness for that wrongdoing and you should accept the apology on behalf of Ligaya. No big deal. On a personal level, if Frank and his friends want to meet with me for anything, we do not need a third party, a go-between, to facilitate the meeting. Frank knows where to reach me. And we are on speaking terms.
Have I been telling you the truth? Yes. But if anyone doubts me, I can only borrow the wit of Abraham Lincoln, "...ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference." It makes no difference now whether some of you in the CFC or in FFL believe my account or not. There is nothing we can do about the past except to look back at it maturely and profit from it.
What do I gain from all these? Nothing. I also ask for nothing. How about you? Coming to me is an exercise in humility on your part. You came asking me, whose word had been meaningless to you in the past, to ask for my account of what happened from your founding in 1981 and the CFC-LNP split in 1993. You published my account even if it hurt some of you. I commend you.
Where do you go from here?
The task of evangelizing the world can continue without any of us. In a moment, God used us for the task. In another instant, we are put aside. When we say that only God owns CFC, we should examine what claims we make about the task and the organization, the positions and the corporate functions. I know I sound like I am preaching to the choir, but even leaders like ourselves need to be reminded of the most basic truths about the service we do in the Kingdom of God.
As for me, I will continue to exercise the grace of paternity. I will pray for your eventual healing and unity. I will pray that you will be restored to the fuller understanding of the mind of Christ about the work we do and the relationships we must maintain with our fellow servants
God bless us all.