Last week we focused on Father Marcel Macial and the Legionaires, better known as the powerful Legion of Christ. This week we'll treat another equally powerful organization within the Church which has gained even more power during the past forty years.
Josemaría Escrivá, founder of the Opus Dei organization who died in the 1970's, is up for canonization by John Paul II this summer. There is rather some controversy marking this canonization and the Opus Dei organization in general. Questions arise concerning the function, purpose, and modus operandi of the members and leaders. Numerous reports have reached us concerning the secrecy of the group. For example, normally the members of Opus Dei are never identified to the general public. They operate behind the scenes, and yet exert a powerful influence on our Church and its leaders. Certainly, this warrants some investigation, from which we may be able to draw some conclusions, such as whether Opus Dei is friendly to traditional and conservative Catholics, and whether it is a helpful arm of the Church that is working to restore Catholicism to its former glory, or not.
Let us first provide a little history about the organization. Opus Dei was founded in the 1920's by Josemaría Escrivá, a priest known in part for his fits of temper. His message was one of "lay spirituality" — that ordinary people should bring their spirituality into their everyday lives. This "lay spirituality" in fact also became an important philosophy of the Vatican II Council. Opus Dei was made a "personal prelature" in 1982 by Pope John Paul II, placing it outside of the church's normal geographical hierarchy and answerable only to the Pope himself. It has a Pontifical University in Rome, which gives it an important power base at the Vatican. In 1992, the pope made the controversial move of beatifying Opus Dei founder Escrivá just 17 years after his death, making him the "Blessed Josemaría" and bringing him just a step short of canonization. As we know, it usually takes many decades and sometimes centuries for candidates to be declared saints. Opus Dei's rise is perhaps best symbolized by the recent relocation of the group's headquarters from suburban New Rochelle, N.Y., to a new $54 million brick complex in midtown Manhattan. A chapel in the building is expected to soon be blessed by Cardinal Edward Egan, the archbishop of New York. The pope's own highly visible spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member of Opus Dei. Unmarried members, called "numeraries", commit to celibacy, turn over their salaries to Opus Dei and live in group-run "centers," where men and women are segregated. They often practice corporal mortification, which can include flagellation and wearing a spiked chain. The group normally does not identify prominent members or provide any detailed financial information about their dealings. However, leaders of the Opus Dei acknowledge that the group tries to attract or control influential members of society. Their stated goal is that the spirit of Opus Dei should be lived by all peoples in all sectors of society.
Knowing, then, that this association has become an important component of the Church, it is prudent to focus a bit on the psychology of it, which can help us to gain a fuller understanding of Opus Dei's methods and goals. First and foremost to realize I think is that Opus Dei'ers believe that they have a mission to carry out before God and Man to save the Church from heresy and destruction. Opus Dei people, like many of us, see the flaws since Vatican II Council that have been magnified before our very eyes, and are transpiring to this very day to reap havoc and destroy the rich harvest of souls that our Lord spoke about. They realize, as do many of us, that something needs to be done, and based upon the principles set down by their founder, they set about to correct things. In fact there are many new organizations that seek to revitalize the Church. These include both organizations which are lay-based and those that are clerical, both official ones that have the blessing of the Church, and private ones, some of which the Holy See endorses and others that tend to give the Curia a big headache. However, we can describe at least three significant characteristics that set the Opus Dei and its people apart from normal Church groups.
Firstly, we know that the Roman Catholic Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Being 'one' means that we have no secrets from one another of substance, and that everyone works for the common good and well-being while loving, protecting, and communicating with each other. The Church is also 'catholic', meaning universal - doctrine and dogma, and most of the laws, are the same everywhere. Dogma never changes, and although the Church laws may change a bit over time they are for the most part constant throughout the ages. Each separate clerical order and lay organization theoretically works as part of a unified whole, in common agreement with one another concerning the mission and purpose of the Church, in support of all doctrine and dogma. Although each distinct group may have a little bit of a different way of going about doing things, collectively, there is ideally a harmony of thought, synchrony of action, and synergism in the way in which the individual groups build up and serve Holy Mother Church. And this service is under the direction and guidance of the successors to the Apostles, the bishops, and to the Pope, who has been given the mantle of Christ Himself as governor of the Church until His return.
Therefore, any group that is out of sync with the rest, that does not build harmoniously on what has already been done for the glory of Christ the King and His Holy Church, that does not communicate with fellow Roman Catholics, sticks out like a sore thumb and may even be of great concern to us. An important fact about Opus Dei is that both its lay and clerical people tend to only accept correction and rebuke from fellow Opus Dei'ers. It therefore can be considered to be a highly clannish establishment, maybe even arrogant in a sense, because the bottom line is that a member of Opus has no ear at all for what those outside the organization think. He or she is guided only by the higher ups of the group. And these higher up counselors are not necessarily clerics, some are lay, so that in reality the Opus Dei member or numerary may be heeding a layman for much of his or her direction and guidance in everyday life. Furthermore, an Opus Dei member will only have as confessor and spiritual advisor an Opus Dei priest. When a group works separately from every other organization in the Church, thinks separately, takes directives separately, even eats and drinks apart, without credible service to their fellow man, then I would say that something is wrong. Although there are many monastic groups that live apart, these societies are always in service to the Church as guided by the local bishops and the Pope himself.
A second characteristic that sets Opus Dei apart involves Church government. Most religious orders are not intricately involved in the politics of the Church; for example it is rare for a bishop not to be a diocesan. Even the Superior General of most every religious order has only a limited role in interacting with the Holy See, and that role is usually just to take directives from it. On the other hand, it has been reported that the Opus Dei apparatus has a very strong role in Church politics. Since Opus Dei'ers are not limited to the confines of their own organization, they are free to extend their influence to all branches of the Church, to the Hierarchy, and to particulars concerning governance of the people in religious matters. The members even go further than this however, often taking it upon themselves to attempt to strongly influence secular matters according to the rules, bylaws, and goals of Opus Dei. Psychologically, I think that the Opus Dei member or numerary is concerned with influencing as many secular and Church matters as he or she can, guided, of course, by an Opus Dei spiritual director.
The third characteristic which makes Opus Dei distinct is, to ensure that their philosophy of usurpation of the Church structure and also of secular society is achieved as rapidly as possible, recruitment of new Opus members is not at all haphazard. To be sure, I suppose they'll be glad to take anyone meeting certain basic personality requirements, but the people they put their resources and efforts into recruiting, as the Opus Dei itself freely admits, are the high achievers, the shakers and movers and talents, in both the religious and secular worlds. In a nutshell, Opus Dei strives to recruit from the highest echelons of the Church and secular government. I'm sorry but to me this is quite odd somehow. The Lord Jesus recruited from among lowly sinners - and they became His primary disciples. Few of them would be considered exceptionally talented, and although He never minds when the great convert, He did not particularly seek them out in His ministry. The Lord Jesus tells us to 'invite the poor and sick to My banquet' because the great were called but they offered many excuses as to why they could not attend. Yet Opus Dei is primarily concerned with the great, the eminent leaders and talents in Society, which is directly opposite to those that Jesus was most concerned about. This fact should give us all pause.
Therefore, folks, we've then touched upon three important characteristics that seem to drive the entire organization of Opus Dei:
1. That directives are only to be taken from fellow Opus Dei'ers, and as such, the opinions and concerns and works of other organs of the Church are mostly irrelevant,
2. By taking up matters of Church governance, to make the Church, and secular society, harmonize with Opus Dei rather than have Opus Dei conform and harmonize with the Church. In so doing, many persons in both secular and religious life will be assimilated into the Opus Dei structure, and the works of others are absorbed and made in harmony with the Opus Dei philosophy.
3. To most rapidly execute the first two objectives by recruiting the most influential members of religious and secular society as expediently as possible. Keeping in mind the Opus principles, let us now consider the fruits of the organization and its philosophy.
Robert Hanssen, undoubtedly the most notorious spy traitor in the history of the United States of America, is the Opus Dei's most famous known member. This guy is an absolute scoundrel, a snake, in most every aspect of his life. For example, he apparently filmed his own marriage bed, and showed movies of his naked wife to others. This is not only highly reprehensible, but it also breaks a good number of the Commandments of God. He was an aloof kind of person, keeping to himself, and under this façade there was (and is) a very sinister and secretive mind. Somehow, based on the total incompetence of the higher ups in the FBI, this character was able to get away with passing huge numbers of vital secrets of American security to the enemy. He had no conscience, and nary even a poor excuse for doing this. By all reports he was living the American dream, with a good wife and family and a fine job. And yet he bypassed the incompetent FBI security to deliver huge payloads of information, the sweat of many proud and highly patriotic Americans working for our military and intelligence organizations, to the enemy. I am sorry to have to suggest it, but maybe this guy should have been fried like the Rosenbergs (Communist Americans who gave away nuclear bomb secrets), and one wonders why he wasn't, whether perhaps there wasn't someone higher up in government who went to bat for him.
Is there a connection between Opus Dei and this extremely reprehensible fellow? In many ways! For one thing, when Mr. Hanssen's Opus Dei priest confessor learned of these events, the confessor merely said that Hanssen should give a little money to charity and promise not to do it again, that there was no need to inform the United States government of the huge damage to security. God! I wonder if this same Opus Dei priest would also let pedophiles off the hook in the same way. But one should not be surprised; Mr. Hanssen was merely living out the tenets of Opus Dei in his secular life, that is:
1. The opinions and concerns of outsiders are irrelevant, which leads to an arrogance toward all things not Opus Dei, The low-life is now in jail, but his legacy will live on for many decades. The kind of damage he has done to American intelligence cannot be corrected in a few months or years, but will take decades at the very least, and his work may have provided rogue governments with such a leg up in matters of security that the United States will never be able to achieve the kind of huge predominance in military matters that it once had. As such, we are all markedly less safe, and it will be paid out in taxpayers' money that will be used to try to correct the damage as much as possible. As an aside, I would like to suggest that if Opus Dei is really concerned about secular matters, it should provide a big pay-out - probably needed are billions and billions of dollars - to the United States government, as partial amends for the damage its prominent member has done to the citizens of the United States and indeed to the world.
2. To throw off conformity with the existing structure, in this case the rules and bylaws of the FBI, and rather to promote his own twisted worldview in his dealings, and
3. To conduct business, in this case quite sinister, at the very highest echelons of government, having maximal impact on the entire nation, and the world for that matter.
It is also reported that Louis Freeh, the former FBI Director, is an Opus Dei'er, although the organization denies it. But it would not be surprising, since this character too has all the markings of an arrogant, insolent American citizen working at the upper echelons of power, who has done much damage to his country and to freedom in general. The biggest example is Waco Texas, that sad incident in which members of a religious sect (Branch Davidian) were burned alive in their compound. There has been much controversy over who started the fire and whether or not they were freely able to leave the compound once the fire started. Much of the evidence suggest that law enforcement, probably the FBI, actually started the fire, whether intentionally or not is not clear. There is also evidence that as the Branch Davidian members attempted to escape the fire, they were shot at by law enforcement. In essence, they were trapped and close to a hundred of their members, the entire compound's worth, died. This story is important because Louis Freeh was at the center of it. The subsequent mysterious loss of evidence, destruction of evidence, and murder of investigators attempting to uncover what really happened is most alarming.
A devout Roman Catholic would have no part in such events. He would know at every point, both prior to the Waco incident as well as during and after, that God is first and dealing with people, even unsavory characters such as the child molesting head of Branch Davidian, must be done in a manner which glorifies God, which seeks out the salvation of souls as much as possible. To do this is in no ways in discord to running a large branch of government, in this case the FBI. On the contrary, we are required by God to live our lives out in the secular world in conformity with all His teachings. And to do so pleases the Almighty and He will help us. But Mr. Freeh most certainly did not do this. The Waco incident is one of the most tragic in American history, because many innocent people including children were killed by being burned to death, and because there is a cloud of scandal concerning what exactly went on and how the FBI was involved in the events leading to the deaths of the sect members. The actions of Mr. Freeh are totally out of touch with Roman Catholicism, but they follow a pattern similar to that of Mr. Hanssen, a bona fide Opus Dei member, in that Mr. Freeh exhibited great arrogance, a lack of conformity to the tenets of the United States Constitution, and the expropriation of power at its highest levels.
Finally, does it not seem that the portrayal of Opus Dei by the Media, is, like most everything else the secular Media says, all wrong? They think of Opus Dei as a 'traditional' and 'conservative' organization, but as we have seen it is in no sense traditional or conservative. Generally speaking, liberal Catholic organizations do not like Opus Dei either. For example, a highly critical article on Opus was the cover story in an issue of the liberal Catholic journal 'America' some years ago. The liberals don't like Opus because the members do adhere to certain old-fashioned and strict Catholic ways, which of course, are contrary to the liberal mentality. However, it is clear that the Opus Dei has its own methods and goals which are alien to any of the traditional or conservative Catholic organizations. It is unique, and I think even Opus Dei members would agree with this statement. Is this good? Will the Opus Dei lead the Church to a glorious new beginning, as is thought by some persons, both members of Opus Dei and not? Well, 'by their fruits ye shall know them.' Have we seen saints and great works coming out of Opus Dei? To quite the contrary. The evidence is rather damning so far, and we should shudder to think what might happen if this organization were given the reigns of power, both secular or religious, any more than it has already grabbed them today. However, we can be comforted firstly by knowing that God is in charge. And secondly, we can take action ourselves in a positive sense, by becoming as excellent as we can in our vocation, to counteract the influences that we think are bad, which is both heroic and necessary because the times are very evil.
Beáti mundo corde, quóniam ipsi Deum vidébunt:
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God