in the Temple: Opus Dei, Escriva, and John Paul's Rome
John Martin, The
Remnant Newspaper, June 30, 2002.
break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry. This
happens again and again, repeatedly. Finally it can be counted on
beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony.
--Franz Kafka, Parables
a packed St. Peter's Square on October 6, barring fire, flood, crocodiles
in the Tiber, or the remake of Ben-Hur, the late Monsignor
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the controversial founder and guiding
spirit of Opus Dei, will be declared a saint -- a certified, bona
fide, and prayer-answering citizen of Heaven. While this swift and
improbable canonization will no doubt exhilarate Escriva's followers,
it will just as certainly exasperate his foes, set a vexing precedent,
and raise fresh questions about papal infallibility. With apologies
to Shakespeare, even if the graves don't stand tenantless while
the sheeted dead squeak and gibber in the Roman streets, the shock
waves will be felt from Michelangelo's dome to the crypt of Athanasius.
It's not simply that Escriva and Opus Dei have a legion of critics
and a history of dubious practices, it's the startling pace John
Paul II has followed in exalting this mysterious shepherd and his
multinational flock through a series of breathtakingly honorific
10-year milestones -- granting Opus Dei personal prelature status
(1982), beatifying Escriva (1992), and now (2002) declaring this
dynamic but disturbing son of Spain worthy to rub elbows with such
giants as John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Joan of Arc, Thomas
More, Therese of Lisieux, and Christina the Astonishing. And truly,
if there's anything more astonishing than St. Christina, who climbed
trees, hid in ovens, and even flew into the rafters of a church
to avoid sinful human contamination, it's the record speed with
which Escriva (1902-1975) will have won his heavenly spurs: a mere
27 years from coffin to choir. But there it is -- Roma locuta
est and no angry letters, please. Advocates of the old-fashioned
wait and see, devil's advocate school of saint-anointing may stage
massive protests and submit petitions swarming with signatures,
but nothing short of divine intervention is likely to head off what
promises to be the most audacious canonization of modern times.
In reality it will be two canonizations -- embracing not
only Escriva but also his mirror image, the coolly efficient, mystery-cloaked,
relentlessly proselytizing, internationally powerful, Vatican-savvy,
and thumpingly wealthy organization called Opus Dei ("the work
of God"). With the possible exception of the early Franciscans,
never in the history of Catholic zealotry has a new movement gotten
so far so fast. But whereas St. Francis and his brave little band
did it through wild faith and a jubilant poverty, Opus Dei has done
it with Harvard Business School efficiency -- spartan organization,
a discipline that draws blood, connections in high places, a healthy
amount of mammon, and a demanding patriarch who still seems to hover
over all things Opus Dei with the watchful eye of Banquo's ghost.
The present elevated status of Escriva and Opus Dei is of course
only one of many astonishments in the brave new Rome of 2002 --
this increasingly vulnerable "temple" that a number of
very human "leopards" have been breaking into ever since
the Second Vatican Council opened the windows and let in the so-called
fresh air of dialogue, collegiality, and ecumenism. If the leopards
have not yet drunk the sacrificial chalices dry, they have at the
very least left their paw prints all over the altar with their liturgical
novelties and Bob Dylan Eucharistic Conferences, their Assisi brotherhood
fests, their shell-game antics in the matter of Fatima, and their
brazen disregard for the rights and rituals of classic Catholicism.
To be sure, Escriva and Opus Dei represent a leopard with a very
different pattern of spots and manner of operating. Whereas the
others have generally been diluters of the sacrificial chalices
-- adding the pale water of liberalism to the good wine of orthodoxy
-- Escriva and Opus Dei have brought an additive of unmistakable
potency: Serviam, the spirit of true believers. Here are
people who look, act, and sound like the solid old Catholics of
yesteryear -- in fact, more so. And that's just the problem: in
their scrupulous adherence to the fierce and narrow demands of their
humorless and superorthodox prelature, Opus Dei members inevitably
become more "Catholic" than Catholicism -- especially
in the respective matters of self-discipline, spiritual direction,
and reverence for authority. And nowhere is that reverence more
evident than in the unthinking, uncritical, and virtually Maoist
way they praise and quote the man variously called "the Father,"
"Our Father," and "the Founder."
Now, it seems, they'll also be calling him "the Saint."
And whether they'll be calling him that in truth or misbelief is
a matter of the gravest concern, notwithstanding the dictum of Thomas
Aquinas that infallibility is not involved in a papal pronouncement
based on noninfallible "fact." It remains that heresies
are temporary and canonizations are permanent, and if Rome is wrong
about Escriva, the error will forever taint the whole idea of sainthood,
to say nothing of destroying trust in the keys of Peter. Meanwhile,
there are the keys of Opus Dei, and they continue to open doors
both inside and outside the Vatican with enviable efficiency.
In fact, with or without Escriva interceding in the high heavens,
Opus Dei is thriving -- some 80,000 members worldwide and a network
of residences, secondary schools, publishing houses, and universities
that make it seem more like an example of enlightened corporate
globalism than what it purports to be -- an apostolate for lay Catholics
resolved to sanctify themselves in both their daily work and their
devotional practices. This they do within the framework of a "personal
prelature," the first and only such secular institute in Catholic
history. Overriding the opposition of a large majority of Spain's
bishops, most of them uncertain as to whether Opus Dei was fish,
flesh, or good red paella, John Paul conferred prelature
status on Opus Dei in 1982 -- a kind of organizational beatification
recognizing a jurisdiction that is "personal" (individual
members, wherever they may happen to live) rather than territorial
(a diocese). While those individual members theoretically remain
ordinary faithful Catholics in their home dioceses, in effect they
belong to a superdiocese presided over by an all-powerful prelate
(presently Monsignor Javier Echevarria, who took over in 1994 following
the death of Escriva's first successor, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo).
At the command level, Echevarria is supported by some 2,000 Opus
Dei priests, an army of spiritual directors, and a growing number
of bishops who know where to find a sympathetic ear in Rome.
Yet papally blessed or not, both Escriva and Opus Dei continue to
attract bristling criticism from journalists, disenchanted former
members, and the often embittered parents of children "lost"
to an organization they see as a Catholic version of a mind control
sect as cultic in its way as Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses, Sun
Myung Moon's Unification Church, or the Falun Gong. Their unhappy
stories fill the pages of such works as Maria Carmen del Tapia's
Crossing the Threshold, J.J.M. Garvey's Parents' Guide
to Opus Dei, the Newsletter of the Opus Dei Awareness Network,
and Michael Walsh's Opus Dei: An Investigation Into the Secret
Society Struggling for Power Within the Roman Catholic Church.
their different experiences, a common thread runs through every
tale told of life in Opus Dei -- an emphasis on recruiting so intense
as to be compared only to the round-the-clock efforts of the coaches
at America's big-time football factories. According to author Jean-Jacques
Thierry, all Opus Dei schools, clubs, cultural centers, residences,
universities, publishing houses, and special events have as their
principal goal just one thing -- more members. And one of the reasons
Opus Dei is so successful on the recruiting trail is its talent
for making its elaborate courtship ritual seem as casual and spur
of the moment as finding a fourth for bridge. For one thing, its
attractive meeting places are rarely openly identified with Opus
Dei. As Thierry writes: "It just so happens that they are financed,
staffed and run by members, but not 'legally' owned by Opus Dei
the organization."  For another thing, it's a case of best
foot forward at all times -- clothes freshly pressed, smile in place,
and good cheer in abundance, almost as if everyone had been taking
lessons from Meg in Little Women.
The inspiration for this single-minded, go-get-'em attitude is directly
traceable to the example and exhortation of Escriva. His writings
include such lay-it-on-the-line comments as, "This holy coercion
is necessary; compelle intrare (compel them to come in) the
Lord tells us" 
"We do not have any aim other
than the corporate one: proselytism, winning vocations" 
"When a person does not have zeal to win others, he is dead
bury cadavers."  Needless to say, there are very few cadavers
in the Opus Dei ranks, buried or otherwise.
From all accounts, the most efficient recruiting takes place at
the Opus Dei residences, which are normally located on attractive
streets in prosperous urban and suburban areas, usually near universities
in such cities as Boston, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, South
Bend, and Princeton, among many others. College campuses are fields
white to harvest, and Opus Dei harvesters are ready and eager to
bring in the sheaves. And there are always suitable occasions for
attracting the unwary -- as, for example, an open house following
a Sunday meditation and benediction, at which the visitors, over
lemonade and hors d'oeuvres, get acquainted with a lot of ostensibly
happy, well-dressed, and well-adjusted young people laughing it
up and having a great time and oh yes, just incidentally, sizing
up the visitors as prospective members. The ones they most covet
-- young, attractive, agreeable, organized, and not sexually active
-- they will later pursue with all the tools of organizational courtship:
friendship, weekly "chats," regular telephone calls, letters,
birthday cards, and "love-bombing."
Above all, Opus Dei wants young people, and it wants them most of
all as "numeraries" -- full, celibate members who live
the full, ascetic, sexually segregated Opus Dei life in comfortable
group residences and who'll do their best to induce others to join
them in this same ultracontrolled environment. Tammy DiNicola, a
onetime numerary who, with the help of an exit counselor provided
by her concerned parents, made it back to life on the outside, recalls
a kind of pep-rally recruiting song she and her sister recruiters
used to sing (in Spanish, fittingly, that being the Founder's language
and a language numeraries therefore study), a song called "La
Pesca Submarina." No, that's not the Beatles' "Yellow
Submarine"; it's "Underwater
Fishing,"  and here's a sample verse:
Cuando ves un pez te pones a su altura
(When you see a fish, position yourself at the same level)
Con soltura, con listura
(With maneuverability, with cleverness)
Le disparas el harpon con punteria,
(You hurl the harpoon with aim)
Lo agarras luego y se acebo!
(Then you grab it (the fish) and that's it!)
This may not compare with the rousing sea chanteys Ahab's men sang
when they were hunting Moby Dick, but it does give some idea of
how serious these young recruiters are about not letting the "big
one" get away. Besides, singing must come as a welcome relief
to anyone living the numerary life day in and day out -- a day that
begins with the declaration Serviam ("I will serve") following
a night sleeping on a board (women numeraries only) and that usually
includes, in addition to one's job or schoolwork, early Mass, substantial
periods of morning and evening prayer, 15 decades of the rosary,
and two hours of wearing the cilice (a spiked chain) around the
upper thigh. For a refreshing change of pace, there's the once-a-week
flagellation with the "discipline" (a corded whip that
members apply vigorously to back or buttocks).  Not surprisingly,
a full account of this sobering routine, with colorful illustrations
depicting members pulling on the spiked chain or loosening up the
whip, is not usually found in Opus Dei handouts. Nor is it made
known to prospective members that they'll not only be doing that
very un-American thing and renouncing their credit cards, but they'll
also be turning over their full salaries to their new "parents,"
who in turn will provide them, as parents will, with an allowance
-- and by the way, strict accounting required. All of this is information
that can wait, and it normally waits until the prospective member
is psychologically ready for it, having taken the first big step
-- joining. And that big step generally isn't taken until someone
launches a well-thrown harpoon.
As Tammy DiNicola explains, the process of joining has everything
to do with Opus Dei strategy and timing: "They staged a vocation
crisis for me, although at the time I didn't realize they had staged
it. But it's standard practice. The person who's working on you
is consulting with the director, and the two of them decide when
is the best time to propose the question of vocation to the recruit."
Her comments are ringingly endorsed by Ann Schweninger, who left
Opus Dei forever one night with her few possessions stuffed in a
black plastic garbage bag (she had long since, as required by Opus
Dei's what's-yours-is-ours policy, turned over her suitcases). "They
make it a crisis for you," she comments. "It's totally
orchestrated. They tell you it's a decision you have to make now,
that God is knocking on the door, and that you have to have the
strength and fortitude to say yes." 
Saying yes is the beginning of climbing the three rungs on the ladder
leading to full Opus Dei membership. First comes "whistling"
-- writing a letter asking to join (at which there is much rejoicing
in Opus Dei houses). Second, there is the "admission"
-- a short ceremony with an Opus Dei priest and an Opus Dei lay
director in which the new member agrees to "live in the spirit
of Opus Dei." Then there is the "oblation," which
comes a year and a half after whistling, and during which the new
member commits his or her life to Opus Dei so seriously that to
leave afterward would be a "grave matter." Finally, there
is the "fidelity," five years after the oblation, when
the initiate becomes a full member of Opus Dei and is encouraged
to make out a will with Opus Dei as the beneficiary. 
Obviously, all of this presented at one time would not be the sort
of thing to put young people in a sign-me-up-right-away frenzy.
But when the right doors are opened at the right time and the revelations
are gradual, all things are possible. And they're especially possible
with the very young: Opus Dei permits children a mere 14 years of
age to make an initial commitment. Not only that, but they're allowed
to "whistle" at a mere 16 and a half and make the oblation
at 18. They can thus become a full fidelity member at a mere 23.
 "Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine
for life," says the worldly wise private academy schoolteacher
(played by Maggie Smith) in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
-- and if anyone knows that better than Miss Jean Brodie, it's Opus
In any case, numeraries account for only 20 percent or so of Opus
Dei membership. The majority are supernumeraries, usually married
persons who contribute financially, attend Opus Dei functions, but
who are spared (and often don't even know about) such numerary practices
as the spiked chain and the whip. Then there are the assistant numeraries,
who do the housekeeping; associates -- single people who live at
home, often because of having to take care of aging parents; and
cooperators, who are not in fact members and frequently not Catholics,
but who choose to assist Opus Dei both with their pocketbooks and
This, then, is some idea of how Opus Dei operates at the grass roots
level. But whether the level is grass roots or the international
stage, the stamp of Escriva is on it all, a living confirmation
of Emerson's dictum that an institution is simply the lengthened
shadow of one man. So indelibly did Escriva impress both his personality
and his philosophy on this organizational child of his that even
in his absence it continues to speak with his voice and build from
his blueprint -- as, for example, in its new 17-story, $42 million,
ziggurat-style American headquarters in midtown Manhattan. Success
is always hard to argue with and Opus Dei has been enjoying the
sweet smell of it for most of the 70-plus years that have passed
since that October day in 1928 when the 26-year-old Escriva, in
the process of making a retreat, heard the bells ringing in Madrid's
Church of the Angels and experienced a divine summons, as he thought
of it, to create an organization for those "in every condition
of life," who could "love and serve God without giving
up their ordinary work."
In fact, such an organization already existed, and it was right
there in Spain. This was the Parochial Cooperators of Christ the
King, founded in 1922 by a zealous Spanish Jesuit with the French
name of Francois de Paule Vallet. Having discovered the remarkable
faith-regenerating power of the 30-day Ignatian exercises, Father
Vallet (1883-1947) condensed them into a five-day format that proved
so popular and powerful it spread to France as well, giving birth
to "La Cite Catholique," a network of lay cells that studied
Catholic doctrine and attempted to restore Christ as King over society.
And from the evidence, members were prepared to pursue that restoration
all the way to blood witness. According to the SSPX report, "Opus
Dei: A Strange Pastoral Phenomenon,"  some 5,000 former
retreatants died battling for a Catholic Spain against the Socialist-Communist-Anarchist
troika of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
While Father Vallet had long since been banished from Spain, his
influence had not. Curiously, in any case, his banishment took place
in the very year -- 1928 -- that Escriva's work began. Coincidence
or not, two Hannibals have seldom been comfortable on one Alp, and
it would seem the powers of crook and miter preferred Escriva. As
an Opus Dei publication puts it, "Fully aware of the Opus'
spirit, aims, means, and ends, the Bishop of Madrid had encouraged
the Founder from the beginning, and had blessed his work."
Whether the Bishop of Madrid was banishing Father Vallet with the
left hand while he was blessing Father Escriva with the right, or
whether it was some other hierarchical figure or figures who opposed
the Ignatian priest, is a matter for historical research that has
not yet been undertaken. In any case, after Father Vallet's departure,
Opus Dei's magnetic leader had the lay spirituality field to himself.
Soon he was recruiting like-minded individuals, usually either university
students or young urban professionals, and little by little his
band of spiritual soldiers grew from squad to platoon to company,
passing through the perils of Spain's civil war and into the peace
of 1940 to find itself more than 300 strong. Nor did a little thing
like the Second World War get in the way. While bombs whistled and
torpedos hissed, the "Work" took root in Portugal, Ireland,
and Italy. And it really caught fire during the economic boom years
of the postwar world, spreading not only to Mexico and Latin America
but also to western Europe, the U.S., and Canada. Today, it's everywhere
from Scandinavia to Singapore and shows no signs of slowing down.
Meanwhile, in the very middle of World War II, Escriva set into
place another of the building blocks he saw as necessary to the
success of his organization. Lay-centered Opus Dei might be, but
it would need priests for the purposes of direction and authority,
and thus was born the Sacerdotal Society of the Holy Cross, "a
new pastoral and juridical phenomenon, the ordination of men with
university degrees and engaged in a profession." The first
three representatives of this new phenomenon, all of whom had been
lay members of Opus Dei, were ordained in June 1944 by the same
Bishop of Madrid who "had encouraged the Founder from the beginning."
Two years later, the Sacerdotal Society had a dozen priests and
was well on its way.
Escriva's next major step was to move his operations to Rome. This
he did in 1947 through the efforts of an Italian duchess right out
of the pages of Henry James -- Virginia Sforza Cesarini. Largely
through her efforts, Opus Dei was able to acquire a building in
the Viale Bruno Buozzi that had once housed the Hungarian Embassy
to the Holy See. Escriva renamed it the Villa Tevere (Tiber), refurbished
it, and, with his position secure at the center of things Catholic,
pushed forward on other fronts. By 1950, a golden year in Opus history,
the men's branch had some 2,400 members; the women's branch, another
550. Things were humming. And on June 16, Pope Pius XII formally
approved Opus Dei as a secular institute along with its new constitution
-- a constitution, not surprisingly, of stringent demands.
From that point on, it was pretty much clear sailing. The vexed
question of a lay institute with priestly leadership would continue,
but for the most part Escriva and Opus Dei saw their little Spanish
stream widen into a veritable Guadalquivir river. By 1979, when
John Paul II asked for the background information required before
he could formally initiate the process necessary to recognize Opus
Dei as a prelature, he got an impressive answer. Among other things,
the relevant document stated that there were 72,375 members in 87
different countries, forming a kind of "mobile corps"
ready, like the U.S. Marines, to go wherever they were needed. And
what a corps it was. Opus Dei was already at work running a total
of 479 universities and high schools on five continents, and also
busying itself with 604 publications, 52 broadcasting stations (radio
and TV), 38 press and publicity agencies, and 12 film production
and distribution organizations. Even without personal prelature
status, Opus was evidently getting by.
It was also getting by without Escriva, who had died abruptly in
the Villa Tevere in the middle of an otherwise ordinary summer day
-- June 26, 1975. In truth, however, Opus Dei was Escriva,
and not only did his memory linger on, so did his style, stamp,
maxims, and especially his likeness -- to be found in portraits
and reliefs in every Opus Dei residence and chapel as immovably
as in the hearts of his adoring followers. And they're not alone
in admiring him. Even some of his fiercest critics have good things
to say about this man with a dream and the zeal to go after it.
Vladimir Felzmann, an Englishman with Czech roots and also an Opus
Dei priest who ultimately rejected the organization, spoke of Escriva
as having "outstanding qualities of leadership," adding:
"Like any great leader, he was hard and he was soft. He attracted
by his strength and sense of direction -- his faith -- as much as
by his vulnerability and warmth
Impetuous, emotional, passionate,
he counterbalanced these natural qualities with the abstract strength
of ideals, discipline, will power, order, dogma, and performance."
Indeed, anyone who has seen an Opus Dei video of the Founder handling
a full-house audience with the wit, charm, and ease of a popular
motivational lecturer would know how truly Felzmann spoke.
Yet, as a number of Escriva intimates have testified, there was
a much less attractive side. Miguel Fisac, a leading Spanish architect
and one of the early Opus Dei numeraries (he remained one from 1936
to 1955), remembers an Escriva who "spoke well of no one,"
had so exalted a view of his mission that he was "completely
convinced that he had been chosen by God to reform the Church,"
and who was not above insisting on a considerable degree of splendor
in his surroundings, and especially in the mother house in Rome:
"Millions and millions of pesetas were invested in luxuries
of low artistic quality, but in the Renaissance manner, because
all of these frivolous details were of the greatest importance to
Nor did Escriva belong to that tribe of Catholic pathfinders who
take a special interest in those at poverty level. "During
the time I knew him," Fisac comments, "I never saw him
with any poor people." As a postscript, he tells the story
of a former high school companion who came to him (Fisac) to ask
for money to help with his family's desperate financial situation:
"I told him to come back the next morning as I could not make
that decision myself. I consulted my director and he absolutely
forbade me to give him anything. He himself was forbidden to consent
by the spirit of Opus Dei."
For these and similar reasons, Fisac felt "morally obligated"
to testify before the beatification tribunal. To his surprise, he
found his testimony wasn't wanted. He is convinced the tribunal
eliminated him from consideration simply because "they knew
my appraisal was going to be first hand and completely objective,
and I was not going to stop to think whether what I said favored
or hindered the case." Fisac's charge is echoed by Kenneth
Woodward, religion editor of Newsweek and a persistent Opus
Dei critic who refers to its members as the "Mormons"
of Catholicism. In a 1992 article, he asserted that Opus Dei had
sufficient influence on the tribunal to prevent critics of Escriva
from testifying. Woodward was later to say: "It seemed as if
the whole thing was rigged. They (Escriva's supporters) were given
priority, and the whole thing was rushed through." 
Another Escriva intimate whose testimony didn't make it beyond the
security guards, so to speak, was Spain's Maria Carmen del Tapia,
head of Opus Dei's female section in Venezuela and at one time Escriva's
secretary. She was summoned to Rome in 1965 for such breaches of
discipline as allowing the women under her to go to the Opus Dei
priest of their choice and for complaining about the amount of direction
coming from Rome. Ultimately, Escriva obliged her to resign, but
before that final answer, she reported feeling the full wrath of
outraged authority: for eight months she was kept under what amounted
to house arrest in Rome, allowed no contact with the outside world
by telephone or mail, and refused permission to return to her family
in Spain. Escriva, she reports, had concluded for his own mysterious
reasons that she'd had physical relations with not one but two Opus
Dei priests. At her tumultuous expulsion hearing, she quotes him
thus: "You are a wicked woman! A lost woman! Mary Magdalene
was a sinner, but you? You are a seductress! Leave my priests alone!
Hear me well! Whore! Sow!"  A number of years later, in
an account that appeared in the National Catholic Reporter,
she commented, "My astonishment is infinite when I hear now
that Monsignor Escriva is in the process of beatification."
A third whose testimony was zealously ignored was the eloquent John
Roche who, as a graduate student at Oxford in 1972 (he'd then been
an Opus Dei member for 13 years), concluded that "the ethos
of Opus Dei was entirely self-centered, sectarian, and totalitarian,
and that it was misleading the Church about important aspects of
its character."  Following his resignation in 1973, he
became one of its most articulate critics and in 1979 persuaded
the august London Times to take a reportorial interest. The
Times subsequently printed a profile of the organization and
called for an investigation into its practices. The most impressive
result was that England's Cardinal Hume, for one of the few times
any Church figure has ever been bold enough to look at Opus Dei
without fear and trembling, actually did something. In 1981, he
published guidelines that obliged Opus (in England only, of course)
to discontinue its practice of the secret recruitment "of children
under 18, to allow its members to receive outside spiritual direction,
and to allow them to leave if they wanted to." If those guidelines
are still followed in England, it's probably still the only place
on earth where Opus Dei has to deal with any authority except its
In any case, just before calling it quits at Opus Dei, Roche photocopied
some 140 editorials from Cronica, Opus Dei's chief internal
magazine. They leave little doubt about how serious and single-minded
Escriva was in pursuing his dream of an ever-expanding prelature.
Here are a few samples:
out to the highways and byways and push those whom you find to
come and fill my house, force them to come in; push them
must be a little crazy
you must kill yourselves for proselytism.
is not a single man on earth, a single soul to whom God has not
our inheritance is the whole world
all the seas
belong to us
Jesus received his doctrine from the Father, so my doctrine is
not mine but comes from God and so not a jot or title shall ever
be changed. 
If this is not outright Napoleonic megalomania, it's certainly a
novel form of humility -- especially in someone supposedly giving
off the rose-scented odor of sanctity. Humanum est errare
-- but if your doctrine comes pure and entire from God Himself?
Is even hubris a strong enough word?
Another awkward item for those who choose to look at Escriva through
saint-colored glasses is the curious business of his having sought
and gained a title of nobility. Nor was this some youthful indiscretion.
Escriva was a full 66 years old in 1968, when he petitioned for
and was granted the title of Marques de Peralta.  Though he
insisted it was only a form of belated recompense to his family
for their sacrifices in preparing him for the ministry, it seemed
all too consistent with some earlier behavior in the department
of status-seeking: in 1940, he had upgraded the family name in tone
and texture by adding the four euphonious syllables of "de
Balaguer" (the Catalan town where his family may have originated)
to the rather plain Es-cree-VAH.  In any event, as Michael Walsh
writes in his book on the society, this concern with name and rank
"would seem to be untypical of someone whose fundamental humility
is among the virtues his supporters list as his case proceeds for
particularly in the light of his spiritual treatise
Camino (The Way): 'Honors, distinctions, titles, things of
air, puffs of pride, lies, nothingness.'"
Of course the honor, distinction, and title of "saint"
is quite a different matter, and while Escriva himself may not have
sought it, his followers have shown no trepidation at all in seeking
it on his behalf. Which is one more reason Opus has so many critics.
In his book, The Helpers of God: How the Catholic Church Makes
Its Saints, Newsweek's Woodward not only appealed to
John Paul to stop Escriva's beatification, he claimed that the Pope
had not been informed that (a) two negative votes out of the nine
cast by the Vatican court handling the beatification process were
never presented to him, and that (b) while 1,300 bishops and cardinals
from all over the world had written to the Vatican with positive
statements about Escriva, only 128 of them had actually met him
in person. Woodward further reported that Opus Dei members had put
hundreds of bishops under financial pressure, threatening a cutoff
of Opus Dei funds, unless they submitted positive testimony.
Opus Dei funds have of course long been a source of fascination
to Opus Dei watchers -- almost as great a source of fascination,
in fact, as Opus Dei's alleged involvement in right-wing politics.
To be sure, Opus Dei flatly denies any official participation in,
or support for, any particular ideology or regime, right-wing or
otherwise, and while it has been accused of aiding and abetting
dictatorships not only in Spain but in Latin America, the suspicions
have generally been stronger than the proof. In his book The
Church and Politics in Chile, Professor Brian Smith of MIT claims
that Opus Dei members were among the first chief administrators
of General Pinochet's repressive regime, but even if they were,
it doesn't follow that they themselves were repressive or deliberately
sought out a government that would let them crack the whip.
In Spain, however, Opus Dei has been more than a little politically
active -- if, of course, when you say Opus Dei you mean not the
organization itself but Opus Dei members. All that began with the
Franco government, in whose departments it placed a number of its
more talented individuals. And to their credit, Opus members helped
bring about a modernization of the Spanish government, along with
its financial and industrial institutions, that, according to Michael
Walsh, "was all to the good and long overdue." And why
not? No one ever accused Opus Dei members of being shy or unmotivated.
it's Opus Dei's financial situation that gets most of the journalistic
ink and paper. In the absence of an annual report, of course, one
can only speculate about what reserves of treasure are to be found
in the organization's well-hidden coffers. Two brief illustrations
may help with the bean-counting.
The first involves one of Opus Dei's most successful breadwinners
ever, one Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos, the founder of Rumasa, one of
Spain's largest conglomerates, whose corporate umbrella sheltered
some 245 companies, including 18 banks and a number of major chain
stores. Though it enjoyed more than two decades of high-flying prosperity,
unfortunately for Ruiz-Mateos, the sounds of Mas! Mas! and
Ole! ceased to be heard in 1983, when Rumasa collapsed like
a bull that's just been finished off with the estocada. A
billion dollars in the red, it was taken over by the Spanish government
even as Ruiz-Mateos was fleeing the country. Meanwhile, by his own
admission -- and this is the interesting part -- Ruiz-Mateos had
contributed to Opus some $30 million (in today's US currency) during
Rumasa's 23 years of existence.  A few contributors like that
-- and Opus Dei has many more than a few -- and pretty soon you
don't have to worry about the monthly bill for flan and gazpacho.
A second Opus Dei almsgiver of note was Larrain Crusat, a Chilean
corporation that Michael Walsh reports was turning over to Opus
Dei 10 million pesos a month when the Chilean peso was stable at
40 cents to the dollar.  That works out to about $250,000 per
month, or $3 million per year -- and in the 1970s, mind you, when
a dollar was still a dollar. A few more contributors like that and
it's arroz con pollo every Sunday. Indeed, one can see why
bishops and other human beings like to stay on Opus's good side.
And it's not simply the men with expensive cigars and pockets deeper
than the Mindanao trench, it's all 80,000 of these partisans of
spiritual perfection coughing up all of their income (numeraries)
or a heroic part of it (supernumeraries and cooperators) month after
month, year after year, in saecula saeculorum. Oh yes, it
adds up, especially when, as is the Opus Dei practice, you have
local residences sending 10 percent of their income to the regional
administrations and the regional administrations sending 10 percent
of their income to headquarters in Rome. 
And of course with its peculiar capacity to make glad the heart
of man and open doors impenetrable to those who lack it, money has
made Opus Dei a popular presence in the Eternal City -- every bit
as popular in its own way, in fact, as the smiling Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls,
the Vatican press officer, who, yes, just happens to be a member
of Opus Dei. As the central character in Paul Claudel's great play,
The Death of Judas, says so emphatically concerning his responsibility
for watching over the apostolic purse: "Obviously, it's more
noble not to touch money, but someone has to do it, and he'd better
not be one-armed." There's no limb shortage in Opus Dei, and
for those in need, well, Opus may just be able to help out.
who was following the Vatican's financial misadventures in the years
following Vatican II will recall that somewhere in the middle of
it all was the Vatican's bank, the Institute for the Works of Religion.
It suffered calamitous losses (some $200 million) in 1974, presumably
through its problematic connections with the disgraced Sicilian
banker, Michele Sindona. While Opus Dei was in no way involved with
this colossal exercise in mismanagement, it was only too willing
to help right the capsized ship. Tiempo magazine reported
that during the 1974 panic, Escriva offered to provide 30 percent
of the Vatican's annual costs -- presumably in return for Vatican
recognition.  While it seems that kindly offer was declined,
its scope gives some idea of just how well-endowed Opus Dei is and
what favors it can do when the timing is right.
But while Opus money, with its labyrinthine travels, its eager suitors,
and its inevitable influence, may open doors for the organization
and positively cries out for an investigation by any financially
competent and personally uncompromised clerics who may still exist
in today's Rome, it's the closing of doors that needs to
be looked at even more earnestly. For it's behind those elegant
doors in those glistening numerary residences, and in some family
ones as well, that the deeper mischief is going on -- the control,
the conditioning, the cultifying.
And as it happens, the necessary understanding of the problem, if
not the will to do something about it, is right there in Rome. Yes,
curiously enough, in that modern Vatican that so often seems to
see, as Mark Twain said of James Fenimore Cooper, through a glass
eye darkly, there has been a surprising clear-sightedness about
the ever growing problem of cultic manipulation disguised as religious
vocation. Indeed, to speak to the threat, the Vatican issued a pastoral
letter on May 7, 1986, in which it issued guidelines intended to
provide Catholic parents and their children with a basis on which
to evaluate any group that the youngsters may be invited to join.
One who took the guidelines to heart was J.J.M. Garvey, a founder
of an organization called "Our Lady and St. Joseph in Search
of the Lost Child, an Ad Hoc Alliance to Defend the Fourth Commandment,"
a support group for families "who have been deeply hurt by
clandestine Opus Dei training and recruitment." In fact, so
much did he take the guidelines to heart that he issued a detailed
and extremely well-written 58-page commentary on them entitled Parents'
Guide to Opus Dei.  In it, he lays out, in a kind of
syllabus of errors format, a treatment wherein each general Vatican
guideline is followed by his own specific commentary. For example:
Those most often attracted by such measures are those who, firstly,
do not know that the approach is staged, and secondly, who are
unaware of the nature of the contrived conversion and training
methods for social and psychological manipulation to which they
are subjected. The sects often impose their own norms of thinking,
feeling, and behaving. This is in contrast to the Church's approach,
which implies full-capacity informed consent.
At first, most [Opus Dei] recruits do not even suspect that they
are being recruited
.Today, unfortunately, common sense must
dictate that all persons beware a sudden flattering interest by
In any case, the Guide is most compelling when it comments
on what the Vatican defines as the eleven classic characteristics
of sect behavior in the area of recruiting and training. Here
are a handful of examples:
a subtle process of introduction
discovery of the real host, along with THE GENERAL APPROACH: "deception
Articles 190 and 191 of the concealed Opus Dei Constitutions require
members NOT to reveal their membership or the membership of others
Silence about the Work is strongly
urged upon all members, and is termed "discretion"
ready-made answers and decisions
almost being forced upon the recruits
At the same time as Catholic doctrine is taught, the "spirit
of Opus Dei" is inculcated and extolled, the unchanging way
to sanctity as laid down by the Founder. In this teaching, tried
and true ways of being Roman Catholic are not presented
in the Founder's book The Way are driven home, especially
those directing silence with outsiders (Maxims 639-656) and obedience
(Maxim 936: "You have come to submit, to annihilate yourself";
Maxim 941: "Obedience the sure way. Blind obedience the way
of sanctity"). Yet in public forums Opus Dei spokesmen say
the opposite: "Our Founder was most insistent on the fact
that we all exercise personal freedom -- with responsibility,
of course. And so we do. We love freedom. We live a life of freedom."
keeping recruits constantly busy
and never alone; continued exhortation and training in order to
arrive at an exalted spiritual status, altered consciousness,
automatic submission to directive
all free moments are filled, particularly those times normally
reserved for fundamentally Catholic family gatherings: Christmas,
Easter, birthdays, weddings, siblings' First Communions
purpose is to prepare the way, surreptitiously, for eventual total
separation from the natural family
.The fear of actually
losing one's immortal soul is preyed upon as well: "If one
of my children abandons the fight
let him know that he betrays
us all, Jesus Christ, the Church, his brothers and sisters in
It would be treason to consent to the tiniest act
the insistence on a strong
focus on the leader; some groups may even downgrade the role of
Christ in favor of the Founder.
While there is little evidence that Opus Dei downgrades Christ,
there is ample and striking evidence of intense focus upon the
Founder (now called "Our Father" within Opus Dei), and
evidence of the downgrading of the rest of the Church
"the Work," complete and whole "was inspired by
God in the Founder on October 2, 1928, it therefore cannot be
." Carrying this to an extreme, members are
encouraged to abandon previous habits of prayer for intercession
by many saints, and to concentrate on praying for the intercession
of the Founder
.Doing the will of "the Father"
is a common phrase, and a common desire in Opus Dei.
is, of course, only the barest sample of Garvey's richly detailed
and cogently argued dissent from Opus Dei-style Catholicism. Perhaps
because he writes from personal and painful experience, he draws
the damning conclusions that so many others, from the power elite
in Rome to our see-no-evil bishops in America, are reluctant to
look in the face.
is fundamental," he writes, "that conniving to breach
the Fourth Commandment by subtly usurping parental roles and rights
is deeply wrong.
The spiritual formation of children is
a parent's duty and right. Others perform it in loco parentis,
and only with parental permission. When Opus Dei priests advise
underage youth not to tell their parents of their choice to join
Opus Dei, the false assumption they perpetuate is that children
are somehow autonomous, and legitimate targets for adult proselytizers.
Not to let their parents object (know) violates the parents' God-given
duty-rights. It breaches the Fourth Commandment, and, by teaching
children to give a false witness to legitimate authority, violates
the Eighth Commandment."
These are grievous charges and grievous realities, and no amount
of rhetorical fast-stepping by Opus Dei spokesmen protesting how
free and open everything is in the great land of Oz with its wonderful
Wizard can make them go away. Those conscientiously able to deny
them, except out of a truly invincible ignorance, can only be those
who, in Chesterton's immortal phrase, are capable of being satisfied
with something less terrible than the truth.
Nor do the problems begin and end with the underaged. Grover and
Mary Corcoran of Waterford, Virginia know at first hand what a trial
it can be to have a voting-age daughter married to a true-believer
Opus Dei supernumerary. What seemed to them at first a benign and
trustworthy organization took on a different aspect as time passed
and connubiality gave way to calamity.
son-in-law," Corcoran writes, "would spend his vacation
time at an Opus Dei workshop instead of with his family. Opus Dei
also had him attending other spiritual sessions with them a minimum
of three times a week. The rest of the time he only had recruitment
on his mind. In fact, the only guests invited to his home for dinner
were potential recruits.
Dei seemed to feel perfectly comfortable with the power they had
over our son-in-law, and our daughter was constantly pressured to
submit to Opus Dei spiritual direction. This became particularly
oppressive when she needed hip replacement surgery and was insisting
on Natural Family Planning. At the time she could barely walk, let
alone cope or carry another pregnancy. [She had already borne two
children.] According to Opus Dei, the ordinary teaching Magisterium
of the Church, which approves Natural Family Planning, wasn't good
were many other intrusions on the marriage
.Finally, when our
daughter asked her husband if he wanted to save the marriage by
leaving Opus Dei, he said, 'Do you want me to leave the Catholic
Church?' Members seem unable to differentiate between Opus Dei and
the Church." In any case, Corcoran's son-in-law chose not to:
"The marriage was annulled on the grounds of Lack of Due Discretion."
In his zeal to alert others to the dangers of Opus Dei, Corcoran
has created an extensive news-clipping file. It includes numerous
stories detailing some of the more troubling aspects of the Opus
IS WHY THE HOLY FATHER RECEIVES NO NEGATIVE INFORMATION" he
headlines a piece by Paddy Agnew in the Irish Times pointing
out that Monsignor Celso Morga Iruzubeita (Congregation for the
Clergy), Monsignor Juliano Herranz (Secretary for the Council for
the Authentic Interpretation of Legal Texts), Monsignor Fernando
Ocriz (Consultor with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith),
Monsignor Cormac Burke (Sacra Rota), and the Vatican's senior spokesman,
Dr. Joaquin Navarro Valls, are all Opus Dei members.
IT'S TRUE THAT THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE HAS BEEN ELIMINATED, WE WILL
SEE A PROLIFERATION OF 'SAINTS' WHO ARE NO MORE THAN SOCIAL JUSTICE
ICONS" he blazons above a Newsweek article about Escriva
and the Vatican's new and simplified canonization process, an article
that reports the disturbing fact that there is "
a devil's advocate to systematically challenge a candidate's claim
DAMAGE HE CAUSED CAN'T BE MEASURED" describes an excruciatingly
embarrassing (for Opus Dei) and very recent New York Times
article about FBI agent and accused spy Robert Hanssen, who just
happened to be a member of Opus Dei. In the story, Hanssen's wife
is said to have reported that Hanssen confessed to an Opus Dei priest
as long ago as 1980 that he had begun a money-for-secrets relationship
with the Soviet KGB. The stunning part of her testimony was that
while the priest initially urged Hanssen to turn himself in, he
soon reversed himself and persuaded Hanssen to donate the $20,000
he'd received from the Soviets to charity -- not exactly an acceptable
alternative, let alone a saintly one.
a letter to New Oxford Review, Corcoran said something that
Opus Dei's supporters and apologists would do well to ponder: "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."
An interesting word, "chameleon." And if there's a chameleon
in the world of the big cats and the mighty hunters before the Lord,
it's the leopard, a feline notoriously swift to adjust to whatever
environment it finds itself in. African tribesmen still sing songs
written in tribute to its hunting prowess, and one knowledgeable
student of the wild describes it as "the most secretive and
elusive of the large carnivores, and also the shrewdest."
Secretive, elusive, shrewd -- whether outside the temple hunting,
or inside it eyeing the chalices, the leopard called Opus Dei has
made its presence known and feared. Now, even as the unsuspecting
John Paul prepares for it a crown of glory, it more than ever threatens
to become part of the ceremony -- this dangerous and relentless
predator that comes in, like the fog, on little cat feet.
to website July 26, 2002
Thierry, J.J. Opus Dei, A Close-Up. New York: Cortland, Press, 1975.
2. Cronica, internal Opus Dei
publication, iv, 1971.
3. Cronica, v, 1963.
5. ODAN (Opus Dei Awareness Network) Newsletter, March 19, 1994.
6. Catholic Pictorial, Liverpool, 29 November 1981, p. 14.
7. ODAN Newsletter, December 1, 1998.
10. Dehan, Nicolas. Le Sel de la Terre. English translation by Suzanne
Rini. Reprinted by Angelus Press under the title, "Opus Dei:
A Strange Pastoral Phenomenon," 1993.
11. Walsh, Michael. Opus
Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power
Within the Roman Catholic Church. San Francisco: Harper, 1991,
12. An Interview with Miguel Fisac, Opus Dei Awareness Network,
Inc., 2000, p. 27.
13. Ibid, p. 30.
Martin, James. "Opus
Dei in the United States," America, 25 February 1995, p.
15. del Tapia, Maria Carmen. Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus
Dei. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1997, p. 277.
16. Walsh, op. cit., p. 155.
17. Roche, John J. "The
Inner World of Opus Dei: Evidence from Internal Documents of Opus
Dei and testimony." Linacre College, Oxford. 15 June 1982.
18. Cronica, iv, 1971.
19. Cronica, iv 1964.
21. Walsh, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
22. Fisac, op. cit., p. 12.
23. Walsh, op. cit., p. 155.
24. Walsh, op. cit., p. 155.
25. Walsh, op. cit., p. 155.
26. Jose Maria Bernaldez, Tiempo, 1 August 1983.
J.J.M. Parents' Guide to Opus Dei. New York: Sicut Dixit Press,