on Opus Dei
By John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter, July
last couple of weeks I have had occasion to mention Opus Dei, an
organization of priests and laity born in Spain in 1928, and the
only Catholic group with the status of "personal prelature,"
meaning that its internal life is subject to its own leadership
rather than local bishops. Opus Dei came up in connection to my
recent trip to Peru, and again with respect to the current sexual
abuse crisis in Austria, where the apostolic investigator is an
Opus Dei bishop.
references have brought varied reactions. Some readers found the
coverage uncritical, such as reader Christine Roussel, who called
the columns "egregious examples of unquestioning parroting
of Opus Dei's whole cloth." Roussel writes:
July 16th's issue, we were treated to a tour of Peru which focused
on two Opus Dei figures. There was the persecuted but smiling Cardinal
Cipriani who was given one-half of the Word From Rome to extol his
own virtues and expound his view of not one but two plots of other
bishops against him, complete with clumsily clerically forged documents,
but omitting the fact that this cardinal was a close collaborator
of the former violent dictator of Peru, Fujimori. Allen also allowed
Cipriani to grandstand his role in a 1997 hostage crisis ("'it
was heroic'") and to defame Father Gustavo Guitterrez. The
last one-third of the column was on a heroic lay woman and community
organizer in a small poor village who just happened to be - Opus
In the July 23rd Word From Rome we read praise of Pope John Paul
II's naming of Bishop Klaus Kung of the Diocese of Feldkirch, a
member of Opus Dei, as apostolic visitor of the diocese and seminary
of St. Polten and its very conservative bishop, Kurt Krenn. Bishop
Kung is praised for his diligence in beginning his investigation
immediately and we are told that the choice of an Opus Dei bishop
to investigate a conservative bishop means that the report conclusions
will not be seen as the product of ideology. Again, Allen is being
disingenuous at best and hopelessly naïve at worst. Krenn has
very close ties to Opus Dei and the report is likely to have an
ideological bias -- that of Opus Dei which has been busy for the
past several years trying to destroy the legacy of progressive Austrian
Catholicism left by the late, beloved Cardinal Franz Koenig.
Esther Baker, on the other hand, detected an attack on Opus Dei:
Your liberal bias was never more clear than in the disgusting way
you tried to hold Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, and by extension
Opus Dei, up to ridicule in your column from Peru. Why didn't you
ask the cardinal about any of the good he's done over many years,
rather than dwelling on sterile controversies? Instead of insisting
that Opus Dei is divisive, why didn't you talk about the way it
has changed thousands and thousands of lives for the better? Then
you seem shocked that a Peruvian woman connected to Opus Dei might
actually be doing something positive with her life … Real
Catholics can see through your left-wing agenda.
I'm not suggesting that one letter cancels the other, or that the
two together prove that I'm in the center and therefore correct.
I offer them rather as evidence of the strong feelings Opus Dei
tends to generate.
it will help put things in context if I explain that I am writing
a book on Opus Dei for Doubleday, the publisher of my last two books
Conclave and All the Pope's Men. Part of the impetus
for the project comes from the success of Dan Brown's novel The
Da Vinci Code, and the enormous curiosity about Opus Dei it
has helped create.
aim is to produce a book that is journalistically serious, reliable,
and balanced. The book will strive to explain Opus Dei's structure
and spirituality, and to separate fact from fiction with regard
to issues such as recruiting, spiritual practices, secrecy and finances.
It will be an outsider's work, since I am not a member of Opus Dei
and have no special connection to it. Research for the book is why
in recent weeks I've traveled at my own expense in Spain and Peru,
as well as the United States, visiting Opus Dei sites and talking
to both friends and foes.
have been to Madrid to meet with Alberto Moncado, for example, an
ex-member of Opus Dei and perhaps the leading Spanish-language critic
of the organization. I have been to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to
meet with the leaders of the "Opus Dei Awareness Network,"
or ODAN, another critical voice. While I was in Peru, I met with
Jesuits who feel Opus Dei has sabotaged their social justice advocacy.
I've also met conservative Catholics who criticize Opus Dei on other
grounds. All this by way of saying I am not just taking the guided
tour, and the book will reflect all points of view.
the same time, I am not out to write an anti-Opus Dei book either.
My hope is to produce a work that can shed light rather than heat
on what is a notoriously fractious topic.
the meantime, Opus Dei will no doubt continue to surface from time
to time in the regular weekly reporting in "The Word from Rome."
Readers will continue to judge, and rightly so, on a case-by-case
basis whether I handle these matters fairly. All I can say is that
I am trying to be balanced, and I welcome anyone's feedback to help
keep me honest.
article above is excerpted from his column The
Word from Rome. The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
August 9, 2004