“Clergy alarm over ‘white mafia'”
by Erica Cervini, Church Storm, April 1, 2001
Background: Opus Dei
As Archbishop George Pell prepares to move to Sydney, he will leave his successor a new controversy involving the expansion of a Catholic group that critics describe as “the white mafia.”
The group, Opus Dei, which includes priests and lay people, has been invited by Dr. Pell to supply a priest to run St Mary’s Star of the Sea parish in West Melbourne.
Father Joe Martins will take up duties, which include saying Mass, at the parish in May. It is not known whether Father Martins will be chaplain to the students at Simonds College, a Catholic boys’ secondary school, nestled behind the church.
Opus Dei has only recently gained a presence in Melbourne. Under the previous archbishop, Frank Little, Opus Dei was unable to get a foothold in the archdiocese.
During his reign, Archbishop Little canvassed the opinion of priests on whether the group should operate in Melbourne. The senate of priests, the chief advisory body to the bishops in the archdiocese, voted a resounding no.
Father Christopher Prowse, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, said he was unaware of a similar vote taking place during Dr Pell’s reign. He said archbishops were not compelled to follow the senate of priests’ recommendations.
“Once a new archbishop comes on the scene, there’s often a different situation, a different way of looking at things. And he’s not under any way, shape or form bound by the recommendations of his present senate or past senate or another archbishop,” Father Prowse said.
Opus Dei is to open a $2.2 million centre in Carlton in June called the Drummond Study Centre. It will offer spiritual development and personalised tutorials to male tertiary students.
It will also serve as a housing centre for Melbourne’s two Opus Dei priests and male members who are professionals and students.
But Father Gonzalo Munoz, a Melbourne Catholic priest, believes Melburnians should be wary of the group. “The more we expose them the better. They are like snakes; they live in secrecy,” he said.
Father Munoz said he knew a lot about Opus Dei because he had lived in Spain, where the group originated. “I come from Spain where, in the ’60s, the majority of Franco’s ministry were members of Opus Dei,” he said.
Father Munoz likened Opus Dei to “the white mafia” because he said they operated in secrecy, aimed at the wealthy to become members and used insidious recruitment practices.
“My concern is really that they are trying to influence the church with values that are contrary to the Gospels. It’s about elitism, it’s about wealth and prestige,” Father Munoz said. “My concern is that they are going to infiltrate universities.”
Other Catholic priests and nuns also expressed concerns about the influence of Opus Dei. Some said they had problems with Opus Dei’s ultra-conservative approach to Catholicism. But many priests were unaware of Opus Dei’s growth in Melbourne.
Doctor Amin Abboud, information officer for Opus Dei in Australia, rejected claims that the group was secretive. “My experience has been that the spirit of Opus Dei encourages openness and honesty,” he said. “In fact, the statutes governing Opus Dei expressly forbid any kind of secrecy.”
Dr. Abboud said Opus Dei’s aim was “to contribute to the evangelising mission of the church”. He denied the group aimed at only the wealthy and young professionals.