ODAN’s Opposition to the Canonization of Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer
September 11, 2002
Statement on the Canonization of Escrivá
ODAN opposes the canonization of Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei. Based on the testimonies of thousands negatively affected by Opus Dei, and published evidence from various sources revealing the irregularities surrounding Escriva’s beatification and canonization processes, ODAN strongly believes that canonizing Escriva would be a grave mistake which would produce irreparable harm to the Church and leave thousands vulnerable to the deceitful and manipulative practices of Opus Dei. Specific details and reasons for opposing Escriva’s canonization follow:
Facts & Irregularities in the Escriva Canonization
The quotes and facts below are taken from Kenneth Woodward’s article, “A Questionable Saint, Is Opus Dei’s founder fit for canonization?” Newsweek, January 13, 1992; from the official Opus Dei website; from Kenneth Woodward in his book, “The Helpers of God: How the Catholic Church makes Its Saints” National Catholic Register World Notes May 10, 1992; from Kenneth Woodward’s article “A Coming-Out Party in Rome, Opus Dei prepares to stand by its man,” Newsweek, May 18 1992; from the Vatican website; and from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
1. Based on materials worked up by a team of Opus Dei priests, John Paul II declared Escriva “heroically virtuous” in April 1990.
2. In July 1991, a miraculous healing authenticated, in part, by Opus Dei doctors was attributed to Escriva’s intercession.
3. There is no devil’s advocate to systematically challenge a candidate’s claim to holiness. Thus some Vatican officials said Opus Dei was able to use its influence to manipulate the church’s saint-making system for the benefit of its founder.
4. Opus Dei’s first prelate, Alvaro del Portillo, who was also Escriva’s successor, was a consultor to several congregations and councils of the Holy See, such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. As a member of the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, he also helped in the drafting of the current Code that eliminated the “devil’s advocate,” promulgated by John Paul II in 1983.
5. An Opus Dei member, Dr. Raffaello-Cortesini, a heart surgeon, headed the medical board that reviews potential miracles for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
6. Serious charges were brought that Opus Dei prevented critics of Escriva from testifying at church tribunals called to investigate his life. Opus Dei officials insist that 11 critics were heard among 92 witnesses. Several former members were refused a hearing. Among them: Maria del Carmen Tapia, Father Vladimir Feltzman and John Roche.
7. Escriva defended Adolf Hitler. He told Father Feltzman that “Hitler had been unjustly accused of killing 6 million Jews.” “In fact he had killed only 4 million.”
8. Even some Opus Dei sympathizers, like retired Cardinal Silvio Oddi who served the Vatican for decades in key posts, believe the push to make Escriva a Saint has done Opus Dei “more harm than good”. Although bishops are reluctant to criticize Opus Dei openly, says Oddi, many are “very displeased” by the rush to judgment and see “no need for the immediate beatification of their founder.”
9. Normally to assess potential saints the Vatican appoints “consultors” who come from the candidate’s homeland. Curiously, eight of Escriva’s nine judges were Italian – a sign say critics that the congregation wanted to avoid Spanish theologians, many of whom are known to oppose Opus Dei. Opus Dei officials argue that because Escriva was an international figure and lived in Rome, there was no need to have Spanish judges.
10. Opus Dei has refused to let outsiders see the material on which Escriva’s “heroic virtues” were judged — an unprecedented act of secrecy, say priests familiar with the process.
11. Opus Dei officials have claimed that Escriva’s cause had been unanimously approved. However Newsweek has learned that two of the judges, Msgr. Luigi De Magistris, deputy head of the Vatican’s Holy Penitentiary, and Msgr. Justo Fernandez Alonso, rector of the Spanish National Church in Rome, did not approve the cause. In fact, one of the dissenters reportedly wrote that beatifying Escriva could cause the church “grave public scandal.”
12. Under Pope Paul VI, Opus Dei was suspect. Vatican documents show that Paul worried that Opus Dei priests in the Vatican were leaking confidential decisions to Escriva.
13. John Paul II has increased the number of Opus Dei bishops . . . (there were only 4 before, all in Latin America) and granted Opus its own Pontifical “atheneum” in Rome despite objections from the rectors of the Church’s established pontifical universities.
14. In 1982 John Paul II awarded Opus Dei a unique status as “personal prelature” which means its clerical and lay members take spiritual direction from their own prelate in Rome and not like other Catholics from their local bishop.
15. Opus Dei’s real power is inside the Vatican bureaucracy . . .several ranking cardinals and at least one of the pope’s personal secretaries, Father Stanislaw Dziwisz from Cracow are either [Opus Dei] “cooperators” or like the Pope himself, strong sympathizers.
16. Officials who supervise the media-conscious pope’s liaisons with television are members of Opus Dei.
17. Officials of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints not only gave the cause top priority but, as the official positio on Escriva shows, they also bent rules to exclude damaging evidence about Escriva’s character and commitment to the church.
18. The positio claims that the volatile Escriva lost his temper only once, yet many former members who knew him will insist he was routinely abusive of anyone suspected of being an enemy of Opus Dei, including Pope John XXIII and Paul VI. Former numerary Maria del Carmen Tapia relates in her book Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei that Escriva routinely lost his temper, and that as secretary in charge of writing down his words and actions, she was not allowed to right down anything negative that she witnessed. She herself was subjected to abusive words from Escriva, who called her the most filthy names, e.g. WHORE, SOW, PIG, and then screamed during this meeting with both men and women present, that someone should “pull down her panties…. and give her a spanking,” referring to a fellow numerary woman who had assisted Tapia by mailing letters for her. Regarding this statement, a supporter of ODAN wrote the following: “This is the most bizarre and perverted talk coming from anyone, man or woman, but for a man to say this to an adult woman…for a priest to use this language and make this statement to a woman; for a saint to make this statement, completely perverts not only the rules of civilized behavior, but sanctity itself. There is no excuse for this conduct, no excuse at all. This, in and of itself, belies his sanctity.”
19. A Vatican source said, contrary to established procedure, no published writings critical of Escriva were included in the documents given to the judges of his cause; nor did the congregation investigate Escriva’s celebrated conflicts with the Jesuits, reports of his pro-fascist leanings and Opus Dei’s involvement with the Franco government.
20. 40% of the testimony came from just two men, (Alvaro) Portillo (deceased Opus Dei prelate and Escriva’s successor) and his assistant Father Javier Echevarria, (current Opus Dei prelate).
21. Although 1,300 bishops and cardinals from all over the world had written to the Vatican giving positive statements on the Opus Dei founder, only 128 of them had actually met him in person.
22. According to [Woodward’s] research, Opus Dei members allegedly have put hundreds of bishops under financial pressure in order to have them send positive reports about Escriva to the Vatican. Especially in the Third World, bishops were allegedly told that financial contributions from Opus Dei might be in jeopardy if they did not answer the request for positive testimony.
23. The “devil’s advocate” that had been part of the canonization process before 1983 was replaced by a “relator”; thus the door was open for the rapid canonization of Escriva. (Note that the current Opus Dei prelate at the time, Portillo, was part of the committee that eliminated the devil’s advocate.) In the past, it was the job of the devil’s advocate to ask “why shouldn’t this person be canonized?”
Feedback from ODAN supporters:
(Opinions held by the persons below do not necessarily reflect the views of ODAN, its officers or Board of Directors.)
Joseph I. B. Gonzales, Former numerary, six years
The problem is not the man. It is the institutionalization of the man.
My real concern is that his faults–his harshness, duplicity, or immoderation, for example–should by the fact of canonization render these traits dubiously normative, not only for Opus Dei but for all Catholics as well.
I hope that now that Josemaria Escriva is canonized, his life and the organization he founded will be opened up to the critical perspective that time and reflection by necessity lends to the fair understanding of the lives of the saints. At this point we may perhaps begin to acknowledge the glaring reality of his defects as well as their potentially damaging influence, just as today we easily recognize the vindictiveness of St. Jerome, the rigorism of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, or the neuroticism of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Joseph Gonzales has written the Vocation Trap for the odan website.
Dr. John Roche, Linacre College, Oxford
“I am concerned about the harm that the canonization of Josemaria Escriva will do to the reputation of the whole process of beatification and canonization.”
To read Dr. Roche’s personal testimony of his experience as a numerary in Opus Dei, please read his True Story, “The Inner World of Opus Dei.”
John Roche has also added the following points to the list of Facts and Irregularities in the Canonization of Monsignor Escriva:
1. Words of Monsignor Escriva
“… as Jesus received his doctrine from the Father, so my doctrine is not mine but comes from God and so not a jot or tittle shall ever be changed” (Cronica);
“I will pass away, and those who come afterwards will look at you with envy as if you were a relic” (Cronica i, 1971);
“. . . when I think of this divine predilection, I feel ashamed” (Cronica i, 1971);
“As we come to know the Work … not finding other more expressive words of love, perhaps we had to have recourse to scripture: tota pulchra est, amica mea, et macula non est in te (Song of Songs 4:7) … the Work is tota pulchra … this wonderful jewel that men admire” (Cronica v, 1960);
2. Words about Monsignor Escriva, from the internal magazine, Cronica, while he still lived
“The heritage of heaven comes to us through the Father” (Cronica i, 1961);
” … we will bless the Lord … because He chose our Father as the firm base for a Work projected through all the length and breadth of time” (Cronica i, 1971);
“God’s grace prepared the priestly soul of our Father, making it to the measure of Christ’s heart, that is open to the multitude that our Lord wanted to call to his Work with the passing of time, and even to all humanity” (Cronica i, 1971);
3. Facts about the Founder
L. Carandell, Vida y milagros de monsenor Escriva … (Barcelona, 1975), 62-67. On 24 January 1968 Mgr. Escriva solicited the title ‘Marquis of Peralta’ claiming that there was a family connection. He was granted the title. At the same time his brother, Santiago, solicited the title ‘Baron of San Felipe’
4. Testimony of former members
During the period 1959-1973, while I was a member of Opus Dei, it was frequently stated publicly at get-togethers of members of Opus Dei, that Monsignor Escriva had stated often that places where important events happened to him during the early years of Opus Dei would become centers of international pilgrimage — John Roche
In July 1973, in Galway, Ireland, Fr Daniel Cummings, the then Procurator-General of Opus Dei informed me the Monsignor Escriva was divinely inspired to found Opus Dei, that he could not err in matters of the spirit of opus Dei, and that, therefore, as a condition of membership I must believe in that Divine inspiration — John Roche
“On one occasion the Father was given the news that … an old priest … of Opus Dei … had a severe haemorrhage and was near to death. Monsignor Escriva replied that this son of his lacked supernatural outlook, that he wished to go outside without wearing his cassock” — Maria Angustias Moreno, El Opus Dei, 1993, 57.
Other comments about the canonization
Kenneth L. Woodward, Newsweek New York, NY
Fair to Opus Dei? Letter to the Editor of First Things, 61, March 1996, 2-7
I am pleased that Richard John Neuhaus (“The Work of God,” November 1995) finds me “often fair-minded,” though I suspect that is only when my views mirror his — as they often do. That he detects a “long-standing hostility to Opus Dei” is not quite fair-minded of Father Neuhaus. My writing about Opus Dei has focused almost entirely on the beatification of its founder, not the organization itself. On this point, the only fair-minded conclusion I can reach, given the evidence of the positio itself and interviews with people in Rome involved in the process, is that Opus Dei subverted the canonization process to get its man beatified. In a word, it was a scandal — from the conduct of the tribunals through the writing of the positio to the high-handed treatment of the experts picked to judge the cause. That Newsweek caught Opus Dei officials making claims that were not true is a matter of record. Escriva may have been a saint — who am I to judge? but you could never tell from the way his cause was handled. Then, too, there is the matter of the banality of his writings, especially the axioms. Not the sort of stuff, I think, to build a spiritual community around. As for the organization itself, I’m sure it meets the needs of some Catholics. But as a parent, I am naturally inclined to worry about its methods and to take more seriously than does Father Neuhaus the complaints of those who feel they have lost a child to the organization. I, too, thought Jim Martin did a good job in his America piece, and am sorry only that so many folks felt they could not speak on the record. Whatever else it does, Opus Dei strikes fear in the timid and the mitered. I’ve met some likable people in Opus Dei but I’d hate to have my daughter marry one. To be fair-minded, I wouldn’t want her to wed a Jesuit either, though I hope she’d ask one to say the nuptial mass.
Kenneth Woodward is the author of Making Saints, How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Simon and Schuster, 1990, in which he writes about Opus Dei and Escriva’s beatification on pp. 383-389. One former numerary testifies that this book is on Opus Dei’s Index of Forbidden Books, with the most restricted classification.
Revised June 20, 2005