And The DaVinci Code - Part II
By Lee Penn
Dan Brown's best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, has given worldwide notoriety to an influential, growing Roman Catholic religious movement: Opus Dei (which means "the work of God"). Is it true, as Brown claims, that Opus Dei is a powerful, ruthless, secret cult within the Catholic Church?
The pride and wrath of "Saint" Escrivá
Aside from the dubious spirit of Escrivá's teachings, there is the question of his character. By canonizing him, the Vatican has avowed that the Founder practiced "heroic virtue" in his life, and that he is worthy of emulation by the faithful. Critics tell a different story. As María del Carmen Tapia, former head of the women's section of the movement in Venezuela, said: "My astonishment is infinite when I hear now that Monsignor Escrivá is in the process of beatification."1
* Spying on guests: According to a former Opus Dei member, Escrivá put hidden microphones behind the pictures in the room at the movement's Rome headquarters where the Founder met guests. The visitors were taped without their knowledge or consent, so that Escrivá could not "be accused of saying anything he hadn't said."2
* A quest for worldly titles: In his teachings, Escrivá emphasized the importance of humility for his followers. He claimed the donkey (a humble servant animal) as his own mascot, and statues of donkeys are present in most Opus Dei centers.3 In The Way, he said, "Honors, distinctions, titles: things of air, puffs of pride, lies, nothingness."4
Nevertheless, like a garden-variety social climber, he "fought a long battle to get a title for himself, that of marquis of Peralta."5 Escrivá got the honor in 1968 from the Franco government.6 He also collected other decorations, as well: "the Grand Cross of St. Raymond of Peñafort, the Grand Cross of Alfonso the Wise, the Grand Cross of Isabel the Catholic and ... sundry gold medals."7
* Crowd management: When Escrivá traveled abroad, especially in the last few years of his life, "great crowds were assembled, in stadia, in conference centers, always of the faithful. He was greeted everywhere with rapturous applause. ... Many of the gatherings were video-recorded for posterity, and questions were carefully planted in the audience to allow the founder to give apparently spontaneous spiritual advice."8
* Love of luxury: As Michael Walsh reports, "everything which surrounded Escrivá de Balaguer has to be of high quality. ... Escrivá took a close personal interest in the choice of furniture and fittings. For himself, only the best would do. ... He was constantly and fastidiously concerned with detail of decor" in Opus Dei houses.9
* Bad temper: María del Carmen Tapia says that "Monsignor Escrivá did not have natural good manners. He was rough, brusque, and rude. When he was angry and had someone to reproach, he had no measure of charity in his language. ... when I went to the Vatican in 1973 and visited His Eminence Cardinal Arturo Tavera, then prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes, he asked how many years I had spent in Opus Dei, and when I told him eighteen, he commented: 'and you needed eighteen years to realize how rude José María Escrivá is?'"10
Tapia heard--and was repeatedly the victim of--the Founder's rages.
In 1953, when Escrivá heard of the death of King George VI of England and the impending coronation of Elizabeth, he said, "Don't speak to me about that woman! I don't want to hear you talk about her! She is the devil! The devil! ... Understood? Well, now you know!"11
Tapia had been head of the Venezuelan women's section of Opus Dei, but in 1965 was brought back to the Rome headquarters for punishment by Escrivá; it was said that she had "murmured against the Father's writings" and had "diabolical pride."12 Part of Tapia's punishment was to be deprived of the right to send or receive mail. Tapia had gotten help in doing so from a fellow numerary, Gladys. In mid-May 1966, Escrivá and his associates summoned Tapia to his office for discipline. He said, "They tell me that you write Ana María Gibert, that woman, that wicked woman? And that you have a post office box here in Rome. ... What is this, you great hypocrite, you deceiver, wicked woman? ... And that procuress Gladys, that sow, let her come in!" Gladys entered, got her reprimand from Escrivá, and was told, "go to your room and don't leave it for any reason!" After Gladys left, Escrivá told the two female supervisors to deal with her further: "take that one ... lift up her skirt, take down her panties, and whack her on the behind until she talks. MAKE HER TALK!" The Founder then sent Tapia out, saying "You're a bad piece of work! ... You're a wicked woman, sleazy, scum! That's what you are! Now go! I don't want to see you!"13
At the end of May came Tapia's expulsion hearing. The Founder told her, "Don't set your parents against us, because, if I find out that you are saying anything negative about the Work to anybody, I, José María Escrivá de Balaguer, have the world press in your hands. ... I will publicly dishonor you. Your name will appear on the front page of every newspaper, because I will personally see to it. ... You are a wicked woman! A lost woman! Mary Magdalen was a sinner, but you? You are a seductress, with all your immorality and indecency! ... YOU HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR BLACKS! First with one and then with the other. LEAVE MY PRIESTS ALONE! ... And don't ask me for my blessing because I don't intend to give it to you! ... Hear me well! WHORE! SOW!"14
Such was the charity of the man whom the Vatican has named a saint. When her father wrote to Escrivá protesting the treatment that she had received, Escrivá's aide wrote back, with the Founder's approval: "in view of her having lost her way, there was no choice but to open a process, fulfilling the norms of Canon Law with maximum justice and charity and using the utmost delicacy at every step."15
* Pride: In Crónica, Escrivá wrote, "In my life, I have already known several Popes, many cardinals, a multitude of bishops. But on the other hand, Founders of Opus Dei, there is only one!"16
While he lived, he had one of his followers propose--successfully--that "members of Opus Dei should greet the President General by genuflecting with the left knee touching the floor."17 The President General at the time was Escrivá, and genuflection is a Catholic sign of reverence normally used only when facing the Cross or the consecrated Eucharist.18
According to Tapia, "from the time I met him at the end of the 1940s, Monsignor Escrivá planned his road to sainthood. Convinced he would be canonized, he had his tomb built in the central house in Rome as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He instructed the superiors, "But don't leave me here for too long. Let them take me after a while to a public church so that they will leave you alone so that you can work."19 This indicates that he looked forward to being venerated, since "moving a grave to a public church is clear evidence of a cultus or devotion."20 Tapia saw that "All personal items that Monsignor Escrivá ceased to use were kept as future relics in the central house in Rome and in the houses he visited, especially on his last trips to Latin America." 21
Most seriously of all, it appears that Escrivá had a messiah complex. A former member of Opus Dei--for a time, a close associate of Escrivá's--said that the Founder was "totally committed to the growth of Opus Dei because he was convinced that it represented the salvation of the Church. It was the most crystalline, the purest form of Christianity, and he had received it as a direct inspiration from God. There's no doubt about it: he saw himself as the twentieth-century reincarnation of the word 'God.' A messiah, sent by God. You did what he said, you were guaranteed heaven."22 Escrivá himself told his faithful, "I can assure you that you will be faithful, even though at times you will have to suffer. Besides, I promise you heaven."23 In an interview with the New York Times, Escrivá's successor said, "We are his children. ... We cannot criticize our father."24 Another defender of the movement says, "Escrivá is Opus Dei in the same sense as the gardener and the plant that have been entrusted to him form a single unity."25
Such claims were not unique to Opus Dei and its founder. In the same way that Opus Dei members refer to Escrivá as "Our Father who is in Heaven,"26 members of the Legionaries of Christ refer to founder Marcial Maciel as "Nuestro Padre."27 Taken together, the Catholic "new ecclesial movements" appear to have a surfeit of World Teachers, each with their own claim to glory.
A spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ makes this apologia on behalf of the cult of personality surrounding movement founders: "In a letter to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements in May, 1998, Pope John Paul II defines a movement as 'A concrete ecclesial entity, in which primarily lay people participate, with an itinerary of faith and Christian testimony that founds its own pedagogical method on a charism given to the person of the founder in determined circumstances and modes.' This definition highlights three traits of the new movements: they are primarily lay; their work is to evangelize; and their charism comes from their founder. The focus on the writings and teachings of the founder, therefore, is not some sort of hero worship. ... So, far from being a sign that they are 'cults,' the focus on a founder's teachings is a sign that the new movements have received their charism, their unique vocation, in the same manner as all the other charisms in the history of the Church: Benedictine, Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, Carmelite, Salesian, etc. The gratitude and enthusiasm members feel for their founder is only natural. They owe much to their founder's generous response to God's call."28 The followers of Sai Baba and Sun Myung Moon couldn't say it better.
The New Age movement, the Neo-pagans, the atheists, and secularized liberals openly oppose Christ, or offer a substitute "Teacher" that no orthodox Christian would ever accept. In their diverse ways, they offer a New Religion for a New Age. Opus Dei sets forth a "gospel" that cloaks itself in traditional garb, and that appears to pr omote an orthodox understanding of Christ. However, the teachings and practice of "the Founder" and his followers point toward a clever counterfeit of the Gospel, one that would direct mankind toward a false Christ, the "god of forces." (Daniel 11:38, KJV)
"Sanctified" cruelty and abuse: the ethics and discernment of Opus Dei members
For any organization that claims to be holy and spiritually discerning, there is a practical test: how moral and wise are the members of the group, in practice? It isn't fair to ask that members of a "holy" group all be saints, but if a movement makes very high claims for itself, its followers should show at least above-average virtue and discernment.
By this standard, Opus Dei is not doing well. There are numerous high-profile instances in which Opus Dei activists fail tests of morality and discernment that many rank-and-file Christians pass.
First, there's the matter of Opus Dei's repeated dalliance with extreme-right dictatorships and military human-rights violations--a consistent pattern of behavior despite Escrivá's insistence that Opus Dei "is bound up with no country, no government, no political party, nor with any ideology."29
Opus Dei has been strongly anti-Communist since its founding. That's reasonable in itself, given the religious persecution and mass murder committed by Marxist regimes. But Opus Dei's opposition to Marxism has led it to support right-wing dictatorships--governments which have excused their own repression and crimes by the need to defeat Communist subversion.
* In Spain, Opus Dei aligned itself with the dictatorial Franco government. In 1937, Escrivá fled the region held by the Republican government (a pro-Soviet regime that killed more than 4,000 priests and nearly 2,400 monks, and nuns).30 He spent most of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in Nationalist-held areas, and returned to Madrid with the first detachments of Franco's forces that took the city in 1939.31 Escrivá directed a religious retreat for Franco in 1944.32 The Vatican did not object to this alliance with the regime; in 1953, Pius XII signed an agreement that gave Franco final say over the appointment of bishops in Spain.33 (This concordat remained in force until Paul VI rejected it in the 1960s.) In 1969, three Opus Dei numeraries and 12 supporters assumed cabinet posts in the Franco government--thus holding 15 of the 18 positions.34 Raimundo Pannikar, a prominent Opus Dei priest from the mid-1940s till he left in the 1960s, says that the movement "set out to see if they could take charge of the Spanish State--and nearly succeeded."35 The movement's influence in the government decreased after the 1973 assassination of Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco, who had been rumored to be a member.36 After Franco died, the cult has continued to be influential in Spanish banking, industry, and media.
In October 1967, Escrivá acknowledged that "Opus Dei has a real influence on the life of Spain" with "a noticeable social impact."37 But in an interview with Time in April of that same year, he had said, "it is in Spain that we have had the greatest difficulties in making the Work take root. ... The governments of countries where Catholics are a minority have helped the educational and welfare activities founded by Opus Dei members far more generously than the Spanish government."38 While Escrivá spoke out of both sides of his mouth about Spain, Opus Dei member Calvo Serer spoke plainly on behalf of Francoism for a Madrid newspaper in 1957: "Freedom of conscience leads to the loss of faith, freedom of expression to demagogy, mental confusion and pornography, and freedom of association to anarchism and totalitarianism."39
Spain has remained a stronghold for Opus Dei (and similar new Catholic movements) since the end of the dictatorship. As Vatican journalist John Allen reported in 2003, of the 18% of Spanish Catholics who attend Mass at least once a month, more than 40% are affiliated with Opus Dei and similar movements.40 About 40% of worldwide Opus Dei membership is in Spain.41
Note, however, the poor spiritual fruit of Franco's confessional state (1939-1975) and of Opus Dei in Spain. Less than one Catholic in five attends Mass, the central religious rite for Roman Catholics, even once a month--despite canon law requirements that Catholics attend Mass weekly. By contrast, about 45% of American Catholics and Protestants report that they attend church weekly.42 Additionally, the Spanish government elected in 2004 has passed a spate of laws contrary to traditional Christian teaching; more is to come.43
* Regarding the Third Reich, a former associate of Escrivá's says that the Founder told him, "Hitler couldn't have been such a bad guy. He couldn't have killed six million. It couldn't have been more than four million."44 Fr. Felzmann added, "I could just feel that Hitler was one of his heroes, and he couldn't believe that Hitler had really done that."45 Escrivá believed that World War II was a crusade against Marxism, and "members of Opus Dei offered to volunteer for the so-called Blue Division," to fight the USSR on behalf of Nazi Germany.46 Such a view of Hitler's deeds is strange for a devout Catholic, since the first victim of World War II was Catholic Poland, and the Nazis killed equal numbers of Polish Catholics and Polish Jews.47 Additionally, it was a pact between the Nazis and the Soviets that gave Hitler the green light to invade Poland.
* In Chile, Opus Dei members and supporters favored the overthrow of Salvador Allende, a socialist who was democratically elected as head of state in 1970.48 After the September 11, 1973 coup installed the Pinochet dictatorship, the new regime quickly earned infamy for widespread use of torture. Hernán Cubillos, an Opus Dei supporter and CIA asset, was a foreign minister for the regime.49 Jaime Guzmán, one of Opus Dei's "earliest recruits" in Chile, wrote the new Pinochet constitution, and three Opus Dei members in succession headed the national ministry of education.50
* In Peru, the diocese of Opus Dei Archbishop Cipriani had been the center of a brutal civil war between the Army and the terrorist Maoist group "Shining Path." Cipriani "consistently defended the armed forces against charges of atrocities, and argued that 'Most human rights organizations are just covering the tails of political movements, almost all of them Marxist or Maoist.'"51 Such was his justification for refusing to allow the Catholic bishops' human rights groups to enter his jurisdiction.52 In 2003, after peace was restored, the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) paid "tribute to the role of the Churches, 'irrespective of theological or pastoral positions' in 'saving many lives and preventing many other abuses.'"53 However, "the report made an explicit exception of the diocese of Ayacucho under its then archbishop, Juan Luis Cipriani, who 'placed obstacles in the way of church organisations working on human rights, and denied the existence of human rights violations.' Speaking at the Mass for the feast of St. Rose of Lima on 30 August, Cardinal Cipriani said the TRC had not bothered to talk to him, and denounced its report as 'prejudiced, biased and petty.'"54
The dictator of Argentina from 1966 to 1970, General Juan Carlos Onganía, seized power after making a religious retreat sponsored by Opus Dei.55 (The general became convinced that he was "personally called"56 to lead his country.) Under Onganía's regime, death squads and torture were routinely used against opponents.57
* In Venezuela in April 2002, there was a military coup against the leftist president Hugo Chavez; the insurgents installed a "leading businessman," Pedro Carmona, as the interim president.58 Carmona's allies backed out when he selected all Opus Dei members for his cabinet. As a result, the coup collapsed, and Chavez returned to power. It seems that Carmona, himself an Opus Dei member, never learned the political equivalent of the investing slogan: bulls can make money, bears can make money--but hogs never make money.
George Weigel, the neoconservative author of a massive, adoring biography of John Paul II, says in its defense that "Opus Dei members took part in the first public demonstrations against Franco and played crucial roles in Spain's transition to democracy"59 after Franco died. Other defenders of Opus Dei say that "the movement does not direct the political views of its members, only their spiritual outlook and life."60 Nevertheless, anyone's spirituality and worldview will have a decisive effect on their business and political activities.
In 1966, Escrivá said, "I have always defended the freedom of individual consciences. I do not understand violence; I do not consider it a proper way either to persuade or to win over. Error is overcome by prayer, by God's grace, and by study; never by force; always with charity. From the first moment this is the spirit we have lived."61 In view of the foregoing track record, these assurances by the Founder ring hollow.
Second, there is the Opus Dei response to the revelation of priestly sex abuse (and hierarchical cover-up) in the Catholic Church. It's true that activists and researchers who investigate the scandal have found little evidence that Opus Dei members have sexually abused children and teenagers.62 That's a remarkable finding--and is in contrast with the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Catholic "new ecclesial movement" whose founder has been publicly accused of molesting seminarians.63 When Bishop Kurt Krenn of Austria became embroiled in scandal in 2004, after it was revealed that his seminary students were hoarding child pornography and groping each other for the camera, it was an Opus Dei bishop, Klaus Küng, whom John Paul II sent to the diocese to clean up the mess.64
Nevertheless, the response of several Opus Dei spokesmen to the victims could be summarized as "let them eat cake." The mind-set that Opus Dei brings to Vatican policy-makers would ensure the continuation of the cover-up into the indefinite future.
In August 2002, the conservative Catholic journalist Rod Dreher wrote in a column for the Wall Street Journal that unless John Paul II took "dramatic action to restore the church to holiness--starting with deposing this legion of bad bishops--his [the Pope's] criticism of modern society will ring hollow in the heart of this faithful American Catholic."65 The prominent Opus Dei priest Fr. John McCloskey replied to the Journal that a "minuscule proportion" of "Catholic priests and bishops" were implicated in the scandal, and that "remedies are already being put into effect. I would hope that Mr. Dreher would be more patient in terms of the remedy. The church has a pretty good track record. Check in again in about another thousand years."66
Other Opus Dei members and supporters have said likewise. In March 2002, an Italian priest, Fr. Vimpari, relied on Escrivá's maxims to attack "Diogenes," a Catholic World News columnist, for his criticism of scandal-tainted priests. The priest also blamed parents for not teaching children to respect the Church hierarchy: "Unfortunately not all priests live in full harmony with the Church and with their sacred commitments. One of the prominent figures of the Church of the last century, Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, reminds us accurately of the fact that any priest--whoever he might be--is however always another Christ (The Way, 66). ... Yes, there is a crisis in the Church in many countries. And, yes, many priests continue to contribute to it, but this should inspire us to pray more for the priests and for their sanctification, rather than to publicly ridicule them as a group or even under pseudonyms. After all, even more responsible for the present crises are those parents who educate their children to all, but not Gospel values, including the lack of respect and devotion to the hierarchical structure given to the Church by Our Lord."67
Fr. Vimpari's Escrivá-inspired admonition is the opposite of what Christ taught. Far from assigning privileges and "devotion to the hierarchical structure" to His apostles, Christ called the leaders of his Church to accountability and to childlike humility. When the apostles asked Christ, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," He replied, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18:1-6) After another squabble among the disciples, as they vied for position, Jesus rebuked them: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:25-28)
In April 2002, Cardinal Julián Herranz, an Opus Dei member whom Vatican reporter John Allen has described as "the Vatican's attorney general," criticized "a climate of 'exaggeration, financial exploitation and nervousness' in the United States. Herranz also complained of a 'tenacious scandalistic style' in the American press."68 He denounced requirements to report abuse allegations to civil authorities, saying: "The rapport of trust and the secrecy of the office inherent to the relationship between the bishop and his priest collaborators, and between priests and the faithful, must be respected. ... We must oppose efforts to impede the necessary pastoral work of priests with young children and adolescents, or to discourage vocations or entrance into seminaries that have been generically and unjustly defamed."69 In 2003, the Cardinal said, "pedophilia is only minimally identified with the Church, touching scarcely one percent of priests. Meanwhile for other categories of persons, the percentages are much higher."70
Ratzinger, who is now Pope, said the same in December 2002.71 Reality soon intervened. A research report issued in early 2004 at the behest of the Catholic bishops in the US found 4% of Catholic priests serving since 1950 in the US have been accused of sexually molesting minors.72
At a March 2004 conference on "Justice and Penal Processes in the Church," sponsored by Santa Croce University (an Opus Dei institution in Rome), a Spanish Opus Dei priest set out the party line: more leniency for priests accused of abuse, and more rigor against artificial contraception and abortion.73 Fr. Joaquín Llobell, a professor of canon law and a member of a Vatican appeals court, criticized the U. S. Catholic bishops' "one strike and you're out" policy adopted in 2002. He said that that "canon law has a bias in favor of rehabilitation of the offender, and that it seeks proportionality between offense and punishment--meaning that 'one size fits all' penalties are foreign to canonical tradition." Additionally, he "criticized the American Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for asking bishops to inform civil authorities of any accusation against a priest, 'perhaps without distinguishing sufficiently the origin of the report and its credibility.'" Llobell also criticized the Vatican for "revisions to sex abuse norms ... approved by John Paul II in February 2003, which removed the statute of limitations, allowed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] to defrock a priest using non-judicial means, and prevented appeal" of a CDF decision. The Opus Dei canon lawyer opposed recent reforms in the US and in Rome that aim to root out abusive priests--but "wonders aloud why bishops don't prosecute priests who tolerate birth control in the confessional, and he applauds American Archbishop Raymond Burke's denial of communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians."
For some leading Catholics--including Opus Dei members--Americans' public outrage at the abuse scandal heralds the beginning of a persecution of the Catholic Church and (as a deserved consequence of persecuting the Church) the downfall of the US. In 2002, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who is not a member of Opus Dei, decried "media 'persecution' of the Catholic church in the United States, comparing it to the times of Nero and Diocletian, and more recently, Stalin and Hitler."74 Another non-Opus Dei cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera (from Mexico City) supported Maradiaga, saying that Rodriguez "expresses well in this regard the common sentiment of many of us, cardinals and bishops, in Latin America, in the context of what appears to us to be a generalized and ungenerous attack on the U.S. Church. ... Reviewing church history, one can see that many persecutions started precisely with the moral delegitimization of its members and of its hierarchy, with the aim of disqualifying the Church and dismantling its prestige. This is what happened in the early centuries of Christian history, with Nero for example. This is what happened in the past century with the persecutions in Mexico, in Spain, in Nazi Germany and in communist countries. It is this that seems to be happening today in the United States."75 That same year, a lay canon lawyer associated with Opus Dei said (in response to the then-emerging abuse scandal in Boston), "something will happen to America to protect the Church. This is tried and true historically. ... any country that has historically persecuted the Church at the height of its power collapsed."76 Such is the voice of "God's mafia" to America: lay off the priests and bishops, or "God" will ensure that America takes a long walk off a short pier.
Third, there is one instance that has come to light so far of sexual allegations against an Opus Dei bishop--charges made by Alberto Jaimes Berti, a Caracas lawyer (and critic of Opus Dei) who had been legal counsel for the Apostolic Nunciature (the Vatican embassy) in that country. As reported in Their Kingdom Come, in 1970, "the nuncio in Caracas received a complaint from the parents of two teenaged boys in the diocese of Margarita, a group of islands off the Venezuelan coast. The parents were threatening criminal action against the local bishop for molesting their sons and the nuncio feared a scandal. He asked Berti to intervene. The Bishop of Margarita was Francisco de Guruceaga, Opus Dei's first vocation in Venezuela. Berti flew to La Asunción on the Isla de Margarita and through the help of a woman prosecutor in the sexual offences department got hold of and shredded the Guruceaga file. He then negotiated a $160,000 payment for the parents. The nuncio sent Guruceaga to London on an extended sabbatical, where he lived a secular existence for the next three years, traveling extensively. In 1973 the new nuncio, Monsignor Antonio del Giudice, gave Guruceaga another chance and appointed him Bishop of La Guaira, a small diocese and port city in the federal district of Caracas. According to Berti, Guruceaga considered himself a mercantile prelate, licensed to make money for God's work. One of Guruceaga's deals had been the 1975 sale for $2.5 million of a tract of land belonging to the diocese of La Guaira. The money disappeared."77 The next nuncio asked Berti to investigate--which was done, and the documentation went to Rome. Nothing happened thereafter; he retained his post until 2001, when he resigned at age 73. In this Opus Dei bishop's case, the lust for boys seemed to go with the lust for money--and he benefited from the usual ecclesiastical cover-up.
Unprincipled alliances: Espionage and Wicca
Fourth, there is the case of Robert Philip Hanssen, a top-level FBI agent responsible for counterintelligence in the US, who spied for the Russians from 1979 until his arrest in February 2001.78 He told the Soviets about four of their own intelligence staff who were spying for the US interfered with the investigation of a Soviet spy in the US State Department, and gave the Communists "the plan of a program for the continuity of government in case of a Soviet nuclear attack and planned defense and retaliation."79 A biographer calls him "the most damaging spy in history."80 For his efforts, the KGB (and its successor agency, the FSB) gave Hanssen $1.4 million in cash and diamonds.
While betraying his country, Hanssen was a devoted member of Opus Dei.81 With the Soviet money, Hanssen put his children through Opus Dei-approved private schools. According to one report, Hanssen believed that his children "might in the future be part of a holy war that would remerge God and country, whose leaders would then ban abortion, divorce and other evils of the world that he and Opus Dei opposed."82 He and his wife were public activists against abortion.83 Meanwhile, he put sex stories about his wife on the alt.sex group on the Internet, "shared pornographic photos of his wife with his best friend, [and] secretly broadcast his sex acts over closed-circuit television to his guest room."84 He also spent $80,000 of Soviet-supplied cash on a two-year flirtation with a stripper--and justified himself by refraining from intercourse with her, and by trying to get her to attend church.85 When his wife confronted him in 1982, after she caught him in the basement counting out $20,000 in $100 bills,86 she made him confess to an Opus Dei priest--Fr. Robert Bucciarelli, the former head of Opus Dei in the US. The priest told Hanssen to give the $20,000 that he had thus far received to Mother Teresa's charities.87 The rite of penance did not cause a change in Hanssen's behavior; he continued to spy on the US throughout the Gorbachev era. Hanssen and Louis Freeh (head of the FBI from 1993 to 2001) attended the same church,88 St. Catherine of Siena,89 as have Justice Antonin Scalia and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa).
One way that Hanssen might have rationalized his behavior was his belief that the Soviet Union would soon collapse. One of Hanssen's bosses at the FBI said, "He was a religious person who put the Soviets into a religious context. He would say that the Soviet Union is bound to fail because it is run by communists and communists don't have God in their life. He said to me, 'Without religion, man is lost.'"90 The reporter Adrian Havill added, "Did Hanssen believe that giving our most vital secrets to the Soviet Union was a moot issue because they were about to collapse? If so, he was a true seer. Mikhail Gorbachev would declare communism dead in 1991. 'Ramon Garcia' [the name Hanssen used in his dealings with the KGB] went to ground a few months later."91
Another reporter sees a more direct link to Vatican and Opus Dei statecraft: "It may seem paradoxical that Hanssen would spy for the Soviet Union, a moral adversary and indeed a satanic force in the eyes of Opus Dei. During Gorbachev's glasnost era, however, there is evidence of behind-the-scenes collaboration between the Vatican and Moscow. In particular, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, a powerful Opus Dei supporter, pursued a policy of reaching out toward Moscow with the aim of gaining Poland's release from the Warsaw Pact. ... Hanssen's most damaging activities in FBI counterintelligence coincided with these years, 1985-89. Secrets from America's intelligence vaults could well have been part of the quid pro quo in the late cardinal's dance with Moscow. Certainly, the Vatican has had no qualms about violating American sensitivities. Indeed, it seems to reflect a Eurocentric triumphalism. The papal encyclical on labor rights slapped rampant materialism--that is, the immoral United States--as the 'other' great evil afoot in the world. The Vatican's political work with Moscow paid off handsomely with the independence of Catholic-dominant (sic) Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine and later, from Moscow's nominal ally Yugoslavia, of Slovenia and Croatia. All the while, Hanssen kept up the flow of U.S. secrets to Moscow."92
Fifth, consider the favorable Opus Dei reaction to the Harry Potter books, best-sellers which Wiccans are exploiting in order to "mainstream" Neopaganism. At the 2005 Pantheacon witches' convention, an annual West Coast event attended by about 1,300 Neopagans,93 there was a class titled "A Magical Education," whose leader said, "Until that ticket for the Hogwarts Special comes through, this may be your best chance" to "learn magical philosophy, theory, and practice."94 Another teacher offered "Real Wizardry for the Harry Potter Generation," and said that he "wrote his Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard to address the needs of a vast new generation of young people inspired by Harry Potter."95
On the same day as these two real-world gateways from fantasy "Hogwarts" magic to real Wicca were offered, there were Pantheacon classes titled "Magick Mushroom Cultures Around The World," "slip of the tongue; ritual and history of oral sex magick, from a queer sexmagick perspective," "Divine Horsemen: A Panel on Possessory Experience," and a Gnostic Mass according to Aleister Crowley's 1913 ritual.96 Such is the world into which some Neopagans wish to lure the hitherto-innocent fans of Harry Potter.
Opus Dei, meanwhile, sees no problem with the Potter books. In May 2000, the magazine Studi Cattolici (which is "closely associated" with Opus Dei) praised the Potter books for "teaching children that good can prevail over evil;" the reviewer said that "the books' message is positive" and that "Harry Potter's adventures teach young readers to face 'the challenges of everyday life with a look that reveals faith and passion for all that the good life promises.'"97 In 2003, an Australian reported to an anti-Opus Dei activist that efforts to warn "the staff at the nearby Opus Dei school of the dangers of Harry Potter ... have had no success;" the Australian added that he "asked one of the Opus Dei priests myself about the books. He has read them all and says there is nothing wrong with them, it is just imagination and ... they are no different from Tolkien's books."98
Opus Dei's complacent acceptance of the Potter books is a far cry from the insightful warnings against them given by Catholic novelist Michael D. O'Brien. He is a Tolkien fan who nevertheless says, "Harry is the reverse image of Frodo. Rowling portrays his victory over evil as the fruit of esoteric knowledge and power. This is Gnosticism. Tolkien portrays Frodo's victory over evil as the fruit of humility, obedience and courage in a state of radical suffering. This is Christianity. Harry's world is about pride, Frodo's about sacrificial love. There is, of course, plenty of courage and love in the Harry Potter series, but it is this very mixing of truth and untruth which makes it so deceptive."99
Sixth, there are allegations that Opus Dei makes unprincipled alliances with putative enemies. As a critic wrote in 2002 to New Oxford Review, a conservative Catholic magazine, "Opus Dei is not a conservative organization, it is a chameleon organization. Opus Dei people are conservative when they are among conservatives, but liberal when among liberals--whatever serves Opus Dei's purpose of garnering influence, favorable publicity, money and power."100 Javier Sainz Moreno, professor of law at Madrid University, said, "Opus Dei distinguishes between its members and the rest of the world. The institute is not afraid to co-operate with people of dubious reputation, outright crooks, or even Socialist politicians. But Opus Dei's hierarchy is careful to ensure that these persons do not contaminate or get too close to the Work. Once they have been used, Opus Dei washes its hands of them, casts them adrift, and despises them."101
D. Ricardo de la Cierva, a Spanish historian of the movement, said, "It is a fact that, after 1950, Opus Dei university branches in certain occasions committed notable injustices; at times in iniquitous alliances with Marxist professors and against Catholic professors;" in the 1970s, "the key rightist group of the province of Navarra, made up by many Opus Dei members have entered into certain alliances to form the government of Navarra ... with socialists and communists extreme defenders of abortion."102 He continued, "they do not mind allying themselves politically and/or culturally with the enemies of the Church while, on the other hand, they frequently consider the other members of the Church as alien or undesirable competition."103 An August 1996 article in a Spanish newspaper gives some details about the strange alliance between Opus Dei and proponents of abortion: "responsibles of the municipality of Pamplona have organized the distribution of abortifacients ... in Pamplona. ... there was no qualified personnel and the pills were being distributed without prescriptions nor medical supervision. ... The CDN party governs the Pamplona City Hall by virtue of an alliance with socialists, communists ... A large number of CDN Party members are connected with Opus Dei."104
News management, financial trickery, and terrorism
Seventh, there are other public instances of questionable moral judgment by Opus Dei members.
* We can begin with Navarro-Valls' accomplishments as a spin doctor.
Catholic journalist Sandro Magister reports, "Navarro has turned the Vatican's grey press office into a full-scale factory of the pope's public image. Everything comes second to this objective: sometimes, even the factuality of the information that he himself provides. The most famous case of the imaginary news presented as accurate by Navarro was the make-believe audience which John Paul II supposedly gave to the Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, in Guatemala City in 1996. The meeting never took place, but Navarro gave journalists a detailed account of it, making it credible by quoting from the conversation the two allegedly had."105
In November 1993, the Pope fell while receiving a UN delegation at the Vatican, breaking his shoulder. Two American reporters wrote: "On orders from the Secretariat of State, the film clip of the event, which the Vatican television crew was covering as usual, was never shown to the press. Journalists were told that at that moment the cameraman hadn't been focusing on His Holiness. A freelance photographer on the scene had his film confiscated by the Vatican staff."106 From the White House to the Vatican, the same practice prevails: if some facts are inconvenient or embarrassing, suppress them.
In December 2003, Steve McEveety (the producer of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ) said that he had received a favorable comment about the film from John Paul II, via his secretary Archbishop Stanslaw Dziwisz: "It is as it was." The Papal press secretary Navarro-Valls sent the producer an e-mail saying that he should consider himself free to repeat the Pope's comment "again and again and again."107 Controversy arose after several journalists and news agencies had confirmed this statement, and Gibson's website had used it to promote the film. In January 2004, Dziwisz denied that the Pope had told anyone his opinion of the movie, and the Papal press secretary, Navarro-Valls, denied that he had ever sent the aforementioned e-mail to the producer. However, reporters Rod Dreher and Peggy Noonan were both "able to establish that the e-mail message to McEveety was sent from Navarro-Valls' e-mail address, and relayed through a computer at the Vatican."108
Navarro-Valls engaged in the type of spin that might be expected of a White House or Enron PR man, not from someone who has been a devoted member of a strict religious community since 1960.
Then, there are the shady business deals that some prominent Opus Dei members have engaged in on several continents. These aren't evidence that Opus Dei as a movement favored such activities, but do indicate that Opus Dei's indoctrination of members often fails to teach them the basics of morality.
* In Spain, a business scandal related to "the Work" erupted in 1969. Matesa, an export firm owned by Opus Dei members, "defrauded the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies and loans through a fake export scheme."109 The ministers of finance and trade, who had supported Matesa, were Opus Dei members. Former Opus Dei member John Roche said that "when he was at the University of Navarra in 1972, Opus Dei numeraries were still talking about the Matesa scandal, in which $180 million apparently volatilized without trace into the international monetary system, a masterpiece of financial dissimulation. Said Roche, 'Members could see nothing wrong in the misappropriation of the money. They thought it was clever.'"110
Immediately thereafter, in Portugal, an Opus Dei numerary absconded with $225,000 that he had been given to "found an Opus Dei branch and open a subsidiary of a Spanish bank controlled by an Opus Dei banker."111
In 1983, the Rumasa conglomerate--Spain's largest--collapsed due to massive overspending and fictitious asset inflation on the part of José María Ruiz Mateos, who had been an Opus Dei member since the early 1960s.112 To prevent a banking panic, the Spanish government expropriated the business--but the rescue cost Spanish taxpayers $346 million. According to Lernoux, "Ruiz believed, as Opus Dei had taught him, that his work at Rumasa was sanctified. He had followed the Opus Dei formula scrupulously--daily attendance at Mass, the construction of a chapel in his home, enormous donations to Opus Dei, and a large family. That his business methods were questionable apparently never bothered him."113 (The donations totaled $11 million, and a thirteen-child family was evidence that Rumasa and his wife did not contracept.) Opus Dei dropped Mateos from its rolls in 1986 because he "failed to attend required spiritual sessions."114
In August 2005 in the Philippines, an insurance company filed multiple charges of swindling against its former CEO Emmanuel Ticzon, for failing to return 56 million pesos (about $1 million in US currency) that he had (allegedly) illegally withdrawn from the firm over the last 4 years.115 Ticzon, an Opus Dei supernumerary, claims that the withdrawals had been approved by the company treasurer (also an Opus Dei member); the treasurer has said that he was "too terrified to question" the CEO about his "off-book transactions." A 2002 report on a scandal at a Philippine investment bank dominated by Opus Dei members, Corporate Investments Philippines, Inc., said that "even Opus Dei stalwarts can cook corporate books and engage in self-dealing a la Enron and Worldcom."116
In addition, some Opus Dei members have been involved in the international arms trade, and have made excuses for terrorism.
* Seamus Timoney, a mechanical engineer and Opus Dei numerary in Ireland, "tinkered with advanced weapons systems, designing and patenting a sturdy armored personnel carrier known as the Timoney APC."117 This went into production in 1978, and was sold to Argentina and Chile (both of which were military dictatorships at the time) and to Belgium.118
In 1971, Michael Adams--a numerary who lived at the Opus Dei headquarters in Dublin and was an executive at Four Courts Press, Irish publisher of Escrivá's The Way-- wrote a letter to the editor of The Irish Press, justifying IRA terrorism. He said, "None--let's hope--of the guerrillas in the North enjoys killing English soldiers, yet they will celebrate in a kind of poignant exhilaration the death of each soldier because each death builds up the only language which the British seem to understand. ... somebody has to die, somebody has to get hurt. If the 'hurt' can be achieved through civil disobedience that certainly is preferable and more 'Christian;' but it is difficult to believe that anything less than violence can at this stage keep the pot boiling and so lead to fruitful negotiations. ... Bombs seem to work."119
To distance the movement from the deeds of its own members, Escrivá said in 1967, "A member's job is in no way related to his membership, consequently, neither the Work nor any of the other members has anything to do with his professional activities. Joining the Work only implies an obligation to seek holiness in and through one's job and to be more fully aware of the service to humanity that every Christian life should be."120 It's a strange disclaimer to make, since he also said, "the Work does organize religious doctrinal training, which lasts all one's life and leads one to ... a personal and responsible apostolic activity, devoid of any kind of fanaticism."121 In other words, Opus Dei promises to give life-long spiritual training to its members--and then disavows any responsibility for the way that they live out the "gospel" that they are taught. Nor does Opus Dei acknowledge that its tight supervision of its members--in the "confidence," the "circle," and the required confessions to movement priests--makes it highly likely that movement leaders know what their followers are doing.
Is Opus Dei a cult?
The classic list of criteria for brainwashing and (by extension) religious cultism was put forward by Dr. Robert J. Lifton in his book about the "thought reform" that prisoners of the Chinese Communists underwent during and after the Korean War. The criteria are these:
1. "Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.
2. Mystical Manipulation. There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement ...
3. Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.
4. Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members' 'sins,' 'attitudes,' and 'faults' are discussed and exploited by the leaders.
5. Sacred Science. The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.
6. Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members' thought processes to conform to the group's way of thinking.
7. Doctrine over person. Members' personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.
8. Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group's ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also."122
Anti-cult activists often refer to these or similar criteria in analyzing the behavior of cults, sects, and new religious movements. Opus Dei scores "yes" on the majority of these criteria--so it could justly be called a cult within the Catholic Church.
Defenders of Opus Dei have various responses to the above accusations of thought reform: (a) that the movement rarely or never behaves in this manner, or (b) that the movement does behave in this way, but that the practices are harmless, or (c) that the movement does behave in this way, but that the practices are hallowed by centuries of use. Papal biographer George Weigel offers the historical defense of Opus Dei: "The historically minded recognize that many of the things said about Opus Dei in the twentieth century, especially the charges of being an elitist fifth column within the Church, were said about the early Jesuits in Counter-Reformation Europe."123 This begs the question: is Opus Dei now, in truth, a Fifth Column within the Church? If Opus Dei is a Fifth Column, it is irrelevant whether the same charges were made against the Jesuits in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
More common yet is the appeal to authority. Catholic apologists claim that since Opus Dei and other "new ecclesial movements" are authorized parts of the Roman Catholic Church, and are under Papal authority, they cannot be sects or cults. Cardinal Schönbern, a conservative, made such a defense in 1997.124 Other Catholics, liberal and conservative alike, say the same. Fr. Rosino Gibellini, director of Concilium (a liberal Catholic theological journal that "exists to promote theological discussion in the spirit of Vatican II"125) said in 2003: "the movements are religious organizations. They are not sects as, above all, they refer to the authority of the Church. What is more, it could be said that they have a direct line with the leadership of the Church."126
"New ecclesial movements" proliferate in the Catholic Church
Opus Dei is not the only new religious movement within the Catholic Church with cultist overtones. Other organizations have become prominent with the aid of new teachings from a charismatic founder, a new organizational form, new spirituality, and zealous recruits. These include:
* the Legionaries of Christ, founded in 1941 by Fr. Marcial Maciel, in Mexico. It has 600 priests and 2,500 seminarians. Regnum Christi, an allied movement for clergy and laity, was founded in 1959. It has 80,000 members in 30 countries.127
* Focolare, founded in 1943 by Chiara Lubich, in Italy. It has 87,000 members in "more than 180 countries."128
* Communion and Liberation, founded in 1954 by Msgr. Luigi Guissani, in Italy. It now has 100,000 members in 70 countries.129 According to Vittorio Messori, Guissani told him over a decade ago, "we are the guerrillas, the irregulars, the rock-throwers. We do our part, and sometimes really stir something up. But those people in the Work [Opus Dei], they have the tanks: they are well armored with rubber-coated treads. Nobody has heard of them yet, but they're here, believe me. And we'll be talking more and more about them, you'll see."130
* the Neocatechumenal Way, founded in 1964 by Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández, in Spain. It is active in 100 countries, and claims 1 million who "adhere to the Way."131
* the charismatic "cursillo" movement, founded in the 1940s in Spain, and brought to the US in 1957 by Eduardo Bonnin.
These movements profess loyalty to the Pope and to the teachings of the Catholic Church. A scholarly observer of new religious movements says, "Each, from its own point of view, is promoting true spirituality, religious orthodoxy, and conservative morality."132 In 2002, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said, "Even now we witness this 'new evangelization' through many ecclesial lay movements such as Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenate, Focolare, Regnum Christi, Communion and Liberation."133
Reporter Gordon Urquhart says, "If it was John Paul who gave these groups authority through his enthusiastic backing, Cardinal Ratzinger was the architect of their permanent place in the Church, both by justifying them theologically and by ensuring that they received Vatican approval."134 In 2000, Cardinal Stafford, a conservative, hailed the movements as "among the most beautiful fruits of the [Second Vatican] Council."135 On the eve of Pentecost 2004, Pope John Paul II said, "The ecclesial movements and new communities are a providential answer, inspired by the Holy Spirit given the present need of new evangelization."136
Upon the rock of these movements, the Catholic authorities propose to build a new Church for the Third Millennium.
The new ecclesial movements "are in practice largely autonomous from the local Churches."137 An article published in 2004 by La Civiltà Cattolica--a paper whose contents are reviewed by the Vatican's secretariat of state before going to press--warns of three dangers: "The first danger: 'The tendency to make absolute their own Christian experience, holding it to be the only valid one, for which reason the 'true' Christians would be those who are part of their own movement.' The second: 'The tendency to close themselves off; that is, to follow their own pastoral plans and methods of formation for the members of the movement, to carry out their own apostolic activities, refusing to collaborate with other ecclesial organizations, or seeking to occupy all the territory themselves, leaving scarce resources for the activities of other associations.' The third: 'The tendency to cut themselves off from the local Church, making reference in their apostolic activity more to the methods of the movement and the directives of its leaders than to the directives and pastoral programs of the dioceses and parishes. From this arises the sometimes bitter tensions that can be created between the ecclesial movements and the bishops and pastors.'"138
In 2003, Vatican reporter John Allen forecast the emerging structure of the Catholic Church, based on what he learned from two Opus Dei leaders in Spain: "the parish will not disappear, but it will play a very different role. Instead of being the center of Catholic life, the crucible in which one's spirituality is forged, it will function as a meeting place for the movements. The parish would become a sort of ecclesiastical piazza, in which adherents of the Neocatechumenate, Opus Dei, Regnum Cristi, Catholic Action, Communion and Liberation, etc., meet to share experiences, to work on joint projects, and at least sometimes to worship together, before moving back down their different avenues."139
As an Italian Catholic journalist noted in 2003, the new ecclesial movements "refer directly to the pope as their one connection to the Church. To different degrees they bear the distinctive features of a sect. The risk is that they will transform the Catholic Church into a body of memberships in juxtaposed groups that don't communicate with each other: each movement with its own liturgy, its own discipline, its own system of authority and beliefs."140 Catholic parishes and dioceses would become recruiting grounds for competing authoritarian, politicized sects.
A former member of Focolare warned, "It is ironic that the most pernicious and inhuman idea of the twentieth century, the deification of the collective, has found its last refuge and most passionate proponents in the very Catholics who fought communism so fiercely."141 It should be a red flag that most of these "new ecclesial movements" have spawned groups of bruised and disillusioned survivors (organizations such as the Opus Dei Awareness Network142 and REGAIN143), and that these new ecclesial movements have a place on standard anti-cult web sites144--an "honor" not shared by traditional Catholic religious orders such as Benedictines, Dominicans, and Franciscans.
As Opus Dei and the other new ecclesial movements grow, the Catholic Church is likely to change in ways more radical than Call to Action, We Are Church, and other leftist dissenters would have ever dreamed.
What about the good members?
Many members of Opus Dei and other authoritarian "new ecclesial movements" are--as one defender said in 2004--people who are "trying to be good Catholics in these difficult times."145 Like Lot, they are "greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked" (2 Peter 2:7). Therefore, when they see a life raft that promises to carry them unscathed through the present ecclesiastical and social chaos, they climb on board. Criticism of these movements--especially from the Left--only makes this life raft look more appealing to beleaguered conservatives and traditionalists.
Despite the good will of many of its members and supporters, it is necessary to make this criticism of Opus Dei public.
* Many of Opus Dei's adherents and allies just see what they want to see in the movement, and will never learn of or promote the full agenda of the organization. In this respect, they are like ordinary American Freemasons: sociable Protestant men who attend Lodge parties, do some old-fashioned rituals, and network for business--and who never discover, let alone approve of, the Theosophical and esoteric form of Masonry espoused by Foster Bailey, Manly Hall, and Memphis Rite Masonry.146
* Sincere zealots with praiseworthy intentions can do great harm--regardless of whether the fanatics are secular or religious, leftist or rightist.
* The more convincingly a cultic spiritual movement can present itself as a model of probity and orthodoxy, the more dangerous it is. The most dangerous spiritual counterfeits are those that most resemble the genuine article.
* The movement is using money, political power, and spiritual manipulation to re-mold its followers and to re-make the world. People of good will may enter the rank and file, but if they are fully re-formed in the image of Opus Dei--or if they rise within the movement, approaching its "inner ring"147--how long will their sincerity and good will last? In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf warned the hobbit Frodo about the awful transformation that will befall any person who seeks to use the Ring of Power, even for good purposes: "Yes, sooner or later--later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last--sooner or later the dark power will devour him."148
The Opus Dei vision of the future
Opus Dei and its allies have a very optimistic (and at times, grandiose) vision of what lies ahead for the Roman Catholic Church as an institution.
In early 2002, an Opus Dei cooperator--a canonist--made it clear how the movement interprets Jesus' promise to Simon Peter, made immediately after the apostle recognized him at "the Son of the living God": "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:18-19) The canonist said that "the bills" of ecclesiastical scandal "will NEVER become due. ... The Church is incapable of self-destruction [and] I mean the visible Catholic Church, Pope, Bishops, and all."149 He added that if the U.S. persecutes the Catholic Church, we face "the collapse of America as a superpower."150 (Recall that several Cardinals have defined the current legal, media, and financial reverses for the Catholic Church in the US [the results of the uncovering of the abuse scandal] as "persecution.")
Fr. McCloskey, the well-connected Opus Dei priest in Washington DC, has expanded upon this apocalyptic theme. In the May 2000 Catholic World Report, he wrote a futuristic story (from the perspective of a 77-year-old priest in 2030) in which the US had turned left, persecuted the Church, produced "tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America," and then underwent "that final short but relatively bloodless conflict that produced our Regional States of North America."151 As a result, there is a smaller, pure Catholic Church in which "the notion of dissent has all but disappeared from the theological vocabulary. ... the Catholics of this generation are averaging four to five children per family. ... in this year 2030 we are only 10 percent of the population, but we have a rock-solid fulcrum of which Archimedes would be proud. Upon that fulcrum we can transform the world."152
In 2003, McCloskey made it clear that he thinks along these lines in the real world, not just when writing fiction. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he said, "Do I think it's possible for someone who believes in the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of family, over a period of time to choose to survive with people who think it's OK to kill women and children or for--quote--homosexual couples to exist and be recognized? No, I don't think that's possible. ... I don't know how it's going to work itself out, but I know it's not possible, and my hope and prayer is that it does not end in violence. But, unfortunately, in the past, these types of things have tended to end this way. ... If American Catholics feel that's troubling, let them. I don't feel it's troubling at all. ... I love the United States of America. ... I would hope, rather than violence, if there was to be a difference in the way that people look at the fundamental issues, that they would separate peacefully rather than impose their views on the others. It's not my ideal. I'm just trying to explain it to you. Really, I'm being quite honest and sincere."153
At the apex of a purified Catholic Church, there is to be a zealous Pope. The current Pope--a friend of Opus Dei--has an inflated vision of the role he may play for the Catholic Church and for humanity. On the day after his election, Benedict XVI told the Cardinals that during "the death and the funeral of the lamented John Paul II ... the entire world looked to him with trust. To many it seemed as if that intense participation, amplified to the confines of the planet by the social communications media, was like a choral request for help addressed to the pope by modern humanity, which, wracked by fear and uncertainty, questions itself about the future."154 Ratzinger seemed to put himself forward as the one to answer that "request for help," by reason of his election by God to the Papacy: "If the weight of the responsibility that now lies on my poor shoulders is enormous, the divine power on which I can count is surely immeasurable: 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.' Electing me as the Bishop of Rome, the Lord wanted me as his Vicar, he wished me to be the 'rock' upon which everyone may rest with confidence."155 These, indeed, are New Revelations!
Strong leaders need willing followers. In response to the priestly sex-abuse scandal and the ongoing decay of Roman Catholic institutions--a decline that came to public view after Vatican II, as documented in Kenneth Jones' Index of Leading Catholic Indicators156--various Catholic commentators propose strict obedience and respect for the hierarchy as the solution. Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Denver spoke for them when--as an antidote to the "prophetic" antics of liberal dissenters in religious orders--he proposed that we follow one of the "Rules for Thinking with the Church"157 offered during the Reformation by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The "Thirteenth Rule," cited by the Archbishop, is: "If we wish to proceed securely in all things, we must hold fast to the following principle: What seems to me white, I will believe black if the hierarchical Church so defines. For I must be convinced that in Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and in His spouse, the Church, only one Spirit holds sway, which governs and rules for the salvation of souls. For it is by the same Spirit and Lord who gave the Ten Commandments that our holy mother Church is ruled and governed."158
With the call to strict obedience comes the habit of secrecy, as may be required to protect the assets and reputation of the institution. In October 2003, when John Paul II named 30 men as cardinals, the oath they all swore included this vow: "not to reveal to any one what is confided to me in secret, nor to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to Holy Church."159
Leaders with such attitudes are capable of doing hideous things in times of great crisis, with the approval of their own conscience. As the Inner Party inquisitor told Winston, the dissident in Orwell's 1984, "Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party."160 Acceptance of this irrational mind-set (perhaps, after spiritual formation in a "new ecclesial movement" such as Opus Dei) prepares the faithful to goose-step off a spiritual cliff.
At the end of "The Way"
Here's the situation, in summary:
* Opus Dei is an authoritarian new religious movement in the Roman Catholic Church that offers innovative teachings to the disoriented and spiritually hungry faithful. Its teachings are at variance with the Gospel of Christ--even though the movement's leaders can quote Scripture chapter and verse.
* Opus Dei's skewed spiritual foundation has real-world results. Movement leaders and adherents emphasize "discretion," manipulation, and the quest for temporal power. The bad fruit of the movement (as documented above--favoring policies that would continue the coverup of priestly sex abuse, harboring a Soviet spy, winking at novels that advertise Wicca to youth, media manipulation, financial skullduggery, and the like) manifest the organization's spirit.
* Nevertheless, Opus Dei power increases in the Catholic Church. While parishes and dioceses crumble, and ancient religious orders dwindle, this "personal prelature" grows, and presents a united front to the churches and to the world. If there is factionalism within Opus Dei, it is not reported outside the movement. The fact that Opus Dei priests have very rarely been accused of molesting youth means that the movement can tell a scandal-weary flock to seek safety and purity by following them.
A mystery remains: why have Opus Dei (and other sectarian new ecclesial movements) grown within the Catholic Church, while other Catholic structures imploded so swiftly after 1965?
It may be that the "powers that be" in Rome have made a decision to allow this to occur. A conservative Catholic journalist (editor of Inside the Vatican magazine) explains: "The 20th century ended, for the Catholic Church, on October 6, 2002. It ended precisely 40 years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. It ended on a warm, blue autumn day with John Paul II's canonization of Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei, as a saint. ... The essential historical purpose and effect of that Council--as it now seems from a vantage point of 40 years--was to prepare the Church for a new world order: the order which is now nearly upon us. ... No longer would the Church be primarily organized in small, separated communities (parishes, dioceses) of people who lived most of their lives in one place, in one cultural context; the Church would increasingly be organized as one world-wide community ... a world-wide order, or organism--like the new Church movements" or personal prelatures, such as Opus Dei.161 John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, noted in 2004 that the European Union has rejected any mention of the Christian heritage of Europe in the proposed constitution. He added, "In a culture that often seems not just indifferent, but positively hostile, to organized religion, it may be that only disciplined, highly motivated groups operating outside traditional ecclesiastical structures will have the capacity to evangelize and catechize."162
In short, the authorities in the Catholic Church seem to have given up on the structures that had characterized the Church for almost 2,000 years. The easiest way to move them aside was to neglect them--and to ignore the voluminous pleas that the faithful made to Rome after 1965 to rein in the manifest heresy and vice that spread through the Catholic Church. In their stead, there are to be new institutions for a new, more-disciplined Church.
After chaos, there would be a religious New Order. Bishop Swing, the Episcopalian founder of the United Religions Initiative, would approve of the concept, if not of this application of it. In 2004, he wrote: "In the first words of the Bible we read where the Spirit brooded over the chaos. ... Chaos is the necessary ingredient that prompts the Creator's Spirit to be inventive. High praise for chaos. If Creation is an ongoing phenomenon and if chaos is a necessary ingredient beckoning to the Spirit, then we must be living on the edge of the Spirit's Pentecostal blast. Our world has more than enough of chaos. Surely the Spirit cannot be far behind. A new creation must be just ahead."163 He added, "Perhaps in the chaos of our own deaths and frightening uncertainties, the Spirit will bring us to a new order, for which at present we have no language or metaphors."164
The Bible, however, testifies against any church authorities who seek a new order through chaos. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): 'I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in chaos.' I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right." (Is. 45:18-19).165
Leaving aside the Machiavellian strategies of Opus Dei, we can give the last word to one of the cult's survivors, María del Carmen Tapia. After she was expelled from the movement, she continued to attend church. A priest who knew her story asked her, "Why do you go on believing in God?" She replied, "Because God has nothing to do with Opus Dei."166