Opus Dei Again in Movie
Once again, Opus Dei members are
featured in a movie entitled "Breach."
Unlike the fictional Da Vinci Code, however, the movie is based on
the true story
of convicted FBI spy and Opus Dei supernumerary Robert Hanssen.
Many wonder, how could a seemingly
pious, dedicated and hard-working man be at
the heart of one of the worst security breaches in the history of
the United States?
The answer can be partly found in the paradoxical nature not only of
Hanssen, but also
of Opus Dei, both of whom share similarities such as elitism,
intelligence, detachment, and isolation. For an in-depth
article on this topic, see below.
Articles about Hanssen and "Breach":
"'Breach' in the
Burbs" by Tim Mann
The Journal News, February 16, 2007
"Opus Dei's Secret Revealed: It Takes Spies in From the Cold,"
by Eugene Kennedy, Religion News Service, 2001. The arrest of
accused FBI spy Robert Hanssen shines a spotlight on Opus Dei, the
enigmatic Catholic group he belonged to. "This intersection of
secret group and secret agent, however, demands that Opus Dei either
reveal itself and its operations more fully or find that questions
and doubts about it will multiply in the future."
CNN Transcript. This is a transcript of an interview conducted
by Bill Delaney on May 18, 2001 after former FBI Agent Robert
Hanssen, supernumerary member of Opus Dei, was indicted on charges
of spying for Moscow. Both ODAN and Opus Dei were represented.
Spooks, and the Catholic Church?" by Catharine A. Henningsen,
The American Catholic, April, 2001. Questions the secrecy
surrounding Opus Dei, given its influence in the corridors of power.
Opus Dei and Hanssen: Masters of Paradox
Tammy A. DiNicola
When the news
media reported that alleged spy Robert Hanssen was a member of Opus
Dei back in 2001, many wondered how Hanssen could provide sensitive
information to communists, when Opus Dei has always seemed to be so
vehemently opposed to communism.
closer examination, the traditional profile we might associate with
a spy and the traits common to members of Opus Dei are remarkably
similar despite seeming paradoxical. Several words come to mind:
elitism, superiority, secretiveness, intelligence, detachment,
isolation, fierce loyalty. All of these traits and attributes can
generally be found in Opus Dei members as well as spies.
began his career in the Chicago Police Department as an internal
corruptions investigator, a position that many found difficult as it
required "spying" on one's fellow officers. Hanssen then moved on to
counterintelligence in the FBI's New York bureau, quickly moving up
into privileged positions. Over the years, he was set apart from
others in the FBI, where he was noted for his aloofness and
distinctive dressing; FBI colleagues nicknamed him "Dr. Death"
because of the black suits he wore.
On the outside,
Hanssen seemed to be the ideal Catholic: pious and dedicated, a firm
parent, a loving husband, a dedicated and thorough worker. Who would
ever guess the secret and dark life within? In a similar way, Opus
Dei members on the outside can seem pious and dedicated, and as they
repeatedly defend to the public, dedicated to living ordinary, godly
lives. Yet on closer examination, the reality is that Opus Dei
members live in a system that disconnects the actual
the group – often manipulative and deceptive - from its lofty ideals
– which in the mind justify actions and ways of thinking that would
be clearly wrong if taken out of the context of the “higher goal.”
(For example, Opus Dei numeraries are required to develop strategies
with their directors for drawing potential members closer to Opus
Dei, even to the point of manipulating behind the scenes to make a
humanly orchestrated plan look like a spontaneous vision from God.)
The result is a paradoxical, “Jekyll/Hyde” mentality that justifies
abuses for the sake of the higher good.
One might ask,
how could a person live in such a way and not see the disparities
and the incongruities? The answer is complicated and wrapped up in
the complexities of mind control and cult-like totalitarianism, but
much is due to the sense of group elitism and superiority, traits
almost always associated with totalitarian groups. Regarding Opus
Dei members, and in particular numerary members, the lifestyle is so
constrained and controlled, the only possible way that it can be
lived is to believe that you are living a Divinely inspired vocation
to which the rest of the world has not been called yet, or has
founder, Josemaria Escriva, used to teach (in the Way) that members
need to do and to disappear -- both spies and members of Opus Dei
live a life of setting wrongs right or manipulating the world with
information to suit their own ideal of what the world should be like
-- and since there is a danger of public opinion disagreeing with
you, the most effective manner of operation is in secret. Even with
all the exposure brought about by the publicity surrounding the “Da
Vinci Code” book and movie, Opus Dei still has not revised its
vocation process, which is couched in secrecy and the deliberate
withholding of vital information to make an informed choice. (To
date, Opus Dei has not admitted to any problems in its vocation
process, even though personal testimonies verify its cult-like
thrill of secretiveness is another common vein between Opus Dei and
Hanssen. The approach of always seeming not involved, never
admitting or never denying anything, creates a life of mystery.
Former members testify of being instructed by Opus Dei superiors
that it was acceptable and even advisable under pain of disobedience
to practice “mental reservation” when answering direct questions and
in some circumstances lying outright regarding internal practices of
Opus Dei members. And amid all the rumors that abound, there is a
sense of "if they only knew the truth". In turn this feeling of
possessing the truth and sharing it in secret with others further
leads to the sense of superiority and elitism, while also increasing
the isolation of the individual from all that is not of the group.
Perhaps this sense of secretiveness and isolation can be attributed
to the early years of Opus Dei, when Escriva was forced into hiding
during the Spanish Civil War, when priests and religious leaders
were routinely executed. Perhaps this experience led to Opus Dei's
fiercely secretive nature and the tendency of its members to quietly
move into leadership at the Vatican, government, the media, banking
and other positions of influence and power.
desires for flattery, passion and "being set apart" are evident in
his communications with his Russian spyhandlers. Hanssen described
himself as "insanely loyal" in a March 2000 letter, "complaining
like a jilted lover when his handlers failed to respond to one of
his signal marks -a piece of white adhesive tape on a sign post in
Virginia. Flattery and paying tribute are common between spy
handlers and their agents.
The life of
detachment and isolation -- knowing that you can at least confide in
your handler, or Opus Dei director, as the case may be, is very
similar to both types of life. The sense that you are not a common
person, and so must live these special burdens is there.
The sense of
superiority in Opus Dei must have appealed to Hanssen, along with
Opus Dei's highly disciplined expectations and detailed regimen.
Hanssen was highly critical of the United States in his
communications with the Russians, calling it similar to "a
powerfully built but retarded child, potentially dangerous but
young, immature, and easily manipulated. But don't be fooled by that
appearance. It is one which can also turn ingenious quickly, like an
Hanssen felt so
disenfranchised about the United States that it justified the double
life he led, even to the point of the betrayal of sensitive secrets
to communists. The devastation brought about by Hanssen is evident
in the fifteen years he acted as a spy; at least two men were
executed in Russia as a result of Hanssen's spying, not to mention
the compromise of our nation's defense brought about by the release
of top secret information.
In a similar
way, Opus Dei has also justified its own
questionable practices with
the result that thousands of former members now struggle with the
effects of a cult-like, totalitarian experience. Robert Hanssen now
sits in jail, serving a life sentence for treason. With the
increased publicity over the last year especially, will Opus Dei
ultimately grow and change, taking responsibility for the abuses of
the past and taking steps to eliminate them in the present and
future? This remains to be seen – though it is my fervent hope and
prayer that indeed Opus Dei will realize and amend the hidden
problems of its paradoxical nature.
1. Saints and
Schemers by Joan Estruch, Translated by Elizabeth Ladd Click, Oxford
University Press, New York, 1995.
on the Inside," by Vernon Loeb and Walter Pincus, The Washington
Post, February 21, 2001.
thrill led to spycraft obsession," by Patrick Smyth, The Irish
Times, February 24, 2001.
4. Beyond the
Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei by Maria del Carmen Tapia, Continuum,
New York, 1997.
Recall Regular Guy, Secret Room," by Tom Jackman and David A. Vise,
The Washington Post, February 21, 2001.
experiences and observations of former Opus Dei members Tammy A.
DiNicola, Dennis Dubro and others.
DiNicola is a former numerary (celibate) member of Opus Dei who
joined Opus Dei while attending Boston College in 1988. She left
Opus Dei in June 1990 after a family intervention, and has since
become active in the Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN). She
lives in Pittsfield, MA where she is happily married, an active
practicing Catholic Christian and the mother of three boys.
Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN) was founded in 1991 to meet
the growing demand
for accurate information
about Opus Dei and to
provide education, outreach and support to people
who have been
adversely affected by Opus Dei. ODAN challenges many of Opus Dei's
Practices because of the way they affect an individual's personal
and family life.
1991, ODAN has been in contact with countless individuals, families,
the secular and religious
religious, cult awareness
organizations, campus ministers, home-schooling parents and more.
is a worldwide community of people who have had painful experiences
as a result of their
association with Opus
is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible.
Dei Awareness Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 4333
Pittsfield, MA 01202-4333
Director: Dianne DiNicola
Revised December 13, 2010