It’s official. Opapo Soana’i Oeti can no longer be addressed as a Reverend of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.).
It follows the decision by the Elders Committee of the Church to remove his pastoral role. Mr. Oeti confirmed the decision yesterday during a media conference.
At their Vaitele home, Mr. Oeti and his wife Luisa Soana’i Oeti fought back tears as they reflected on 23 years of serving at the Si’ufaga Falelatai parish.
“I honestly believe that the main reason why I have been removed is because Senara does not believe what has been happening to Toa,” Mr. Oeti said.
“Reverend Senara gave me his word that he will be right behind me supporting me and my daughter, hence why I went to New Zealand with Toa.
“However, he then went and reported me to Elders of the church. I know as a faifeau, you have to do the right thing and you have to be honest with the things you do.
“But now that I have seen this, I don’t want to go back to being a faifeau if this is what they do.”
Reverend Elder Senara is the Chairman of C.C.C.S.
Toa Patrick is the daughter of Mr. Oeti who claims to be carrying the marks of Jesus Christ’s suffering. She is coming back from Rome at the end of the month.
Speaking to the media, Mr. Oeti expressed his disappointment about the decision.
“First of all, I don’t agree with their (Elders) reasons,” said Mr. Oeti. “I was hoping to be given a chance to explain things or say something in relation to the matter as it is my right to speak up.
“However I was not given a chance and that has denied me of my human right to speak up. They’ve discussed the issue and made their final decision without even giving me a chance to explain or say something.
“I was told in the beginning of the year in January that they (Elders) have made a decision for me to stand down, when I got back from Rome.”
A copy of the written document of the decision by the Elders of the Church has been obtained by the Samoa Observer.
According to the document, the decision based on the grounds that he was “disobedient” and “disrespectful” towards the Elder of the Matagaluega Falelatai, who is also the Chairman of the C.C.C.S church, Reverend Elder Ta’utiaga Senara.
It’s an allegation strongly rejected by Mr. Oeti.
“The thing is, I approached Reverend Elder Senara before we went to Rome,” said Oeti.
“We went to excuse ourselves and to ask for permission if it was okay for me to accompany my daughter to Rome.
“The first reply we got was from Reverend Senara’s wife. She said it’s best for us to go; she said it may put an end to all of these if we go.
“Later on, we got an answer from Reverend Senara himself, he said, I should go with Toa to help her. And I told him that I would return to Samoa on the 18th of December. He gave me his blessings before we left for Rome. I went to Rome happily knowing that he had given me his permission.
“I did fly back home on the 18th, but because my flight was delayed in Dubai, I got here on the 24th.”
Mr. Oeti said this is why he was shocked when he was informed by the Elders that he has been asked to step down in January this year.
“This has caused a lot of conflicts within our village and congregation. But people told me that it was Reverend Senara who told everyone about the decision.”
Mr. Oeti and the E.F.K.S Si’ufaga did not attend the annual service for the district of Falelatai.
“And so Reverend Elder Senara took this the wrong way and said that I was mad about the decision and that I was being disrespectful. So I wrote to him (Reverend Senara) explaining why I didn’t attend the service and apologised to him for not attending. My whole congregation did not go as well.
“And we also went to his house at Vaitele, me and my wife knelt before him saying sorry for everything, and he told that us not to worry that it is over.
“However, the following week, he went to the meeting with the Elders committee and reported me. So that was why my roles were being removed in the first place.
“He (Reverend Senara) called me and told me about the decision and I asked him why, and he said it was because of the statues of Mary and Jesus in our church.
“I was confused because I wasn’t aware of any rules belonging to the C.C.C.S church which prohibits having statues inside of the church.
“Reverend Elder Tunumoso also called me to inform me about the decision they made.
“I asked him about the reason behind their decision but Elder Tunumoso said it was because I disobeyed Reverend Elder Senara’s orders.
Mr. Opeti said Reverend Tunumoso told him Senara told the Elders Committee he was just going to take his daughter to Rome and return.
“However, I stayed there longer and that’s why they came up with the decision.
“So they were giving me different answers and I was confused.”
Mr. Oeti and his congregation at Si’ufaga performed a ifoga before Rev. Senara.
“Ifoga to me is the best way to ask for forgiveness,” said Mr. Oeti. “I believe that all can be forgiven once we do a ifoga, so we did a ifoga.
“Reverend Senara accepted our ifoga and asked us to join him in his house.
We all went into his house and his words to us were, “Thank you very much for what you have done. What more can we ask for, you’ve done what you had to do and we thank you.
If the statues of Mary have been removed from the church, then there is nothing to worry about.
“On that Sunday, we had all attended the church at Matautu, and we hugged each other after the morning service.”
But Mr. Oeti said the decision shows Reverend Senara accepted their ifoga but not him and his family.
“That is why I am surprised that after all that had happened and how hard I tried, he still went on and pushed the decision to remove all my pastoral roles.
“To me, I don’t mind that I am no longer a faifeau. I just want to clear my name and speak up against what they have accused me of.
“They accused me of being disobedient and high-minded. That’s why I am speaking up now on behalf of my wife and children.”
Mr. Oeti reiterated that he is innocent and that he did nothing wrong. He singled out Reverend Elder Senara for the decision.
“I have been told that a lot of Elders in the Committee, who were also in the position of Chairman of the church argued to re-instate my roles as a faifeau during the meeting that was held last week.
“They were Reverend Elder Lale Ieremia, Reverend Elder Utufua Naseri, Reverend Elder Tavita Roma, Reverend Elder Risati Ete, Reverend Elder Paul Grey and others.
“They argued that I didn’t do anything wrong but it was Reverend Elder Senara who stood strong by the decision to remove me.
“He is the Chairman of the Church. I strongly believe that he is the one behind the decision to remove all pastoral roles from me. The Elders are aware of this and they can agree with me on this.
“It was Senara who did not want to re-instate my roles as a pastor. I was also told that Reverend Tavita Anesone wanted to call me to the Elders meeting so I can listen to what they have to say and also give a chance for me to say something. That’s the normal process of how things are done.
“But I am the first faifeau who hasn’t been called in the meeting.”
Regardless of this, Mr. Oeti says, although it is painful to walk away, he accepts the decision.
“I accept the decision,” he said. “Our congregation wanted us to be independent, but I don’t have the heart to do that. I have the utmost respect for the Elders of the church.
“Eventhough I know I didn’t do anything wrong, I am ready to accept the decision and move out of Si’ufaga. We have already discussed with the congregation that we will leave after Easter.”
Reverend Elder Senara was contacted for a comment yesterday and he said “there is nothing new about this issue.”
He apologised he could only have a phone interview with Samoa Observer yesterday as he was on his way to the airport, leaving for Auckland.
“As a faifeau, I don’t want to do anything to stir up trouble within the church,” said Reverend Elder Senara.
“I respect my congregation and the church. I am not aware of the accusations he made but I don’t want to say anything as this is nothing new.
“This is not the first time he has turned to the media to say things against the Elders and the Church.”
Told that Mr. Oeti had accused him of being the one behind the decision, Rev. Senara said Mr. Oeti can say whatever he likes.
“Even if I read the story or see what he said, I can’t say anything as it will just make the situation worse.
“He is free to say anything. As for me, I don’t want to say anything now, as it might make the situation worse. But let’s just leave everything to God.”