Opus Dei in the news

The death of Pope John Paul II has occassioned a great deal of speculation in the press about the influence of Opus Dei, the secretive ultra-conservative Catholic organization, in choosing his successor. One of the more strictly factual accounts, "Pope Election: Opus Dei Pulls Strings," is from India’s Sify.com:

One of the unanswered questions about next week’s secret conclave to
elect the next pope is how much influence will be wielded by "the
Work," the conservative Roman Catholic organisation called
the Opus Dei.

Only two cardinals among the 115 electors belong to the organisation,
which counts more than 80,000 followers around the world and has
often been referred to in Spain, the country where it was founded
in 1928, as "God’s Octopus."

But it had an extraordinary degree of access to Pope John Paul II, and
enjoys the support and encouragement of many of the most powerful
cardinals, including Camillo Ruini, the prelate deputed to run the
diocese of Rome, who is seen as a strong contender to become the
next pontiff.

Ruini last year opened proceedings to declare the Opus Dei’s second leader,
Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, a saint.

John Paul II canonised the Opus Dei’s founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer,
in 2002, an extraordinarily brief 27 years after his death, at a
Vatican ceremony attended by more than 40 cardinals.

The late pope promoted several conservative groups, such as the Legion
of Christ and Communion and Liberation. But he was extremely indulgent
toward the Opus Dei, which he gave the unique status of personal
prelature, enabling it to operate anywhere in the world outside
the control of local bishops and making it accountable only to the

In 1998, the pope gave the Opus Dei’s theological school in Rome the
title of pontifical university, putting it on the same level as
the prestigious Gregorian University run by the rival Jesuits.

Few accounts recall Opus Dei’s historical connections to both classical and neo-fascism. A Dec. 21, 2001 BBC report on the Pope’s affinity for the organization recalled Opus Dei’s close links to the Franco dictatorship in Spain, where many top officials were members. A Nov. 18, 2001 account in The Tablet, a Catholic paper in Britain, noted that El Salvador’s Archbishop Saenz Lacalle is an Opus Dei member, and the organization worked to cleanse the church in that country of Liberation Theology influence following the 1980 death-squad assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. A Feb. 18, 2002 article in Chile Hoy notes that Opus Dei was officially encouraged under the Pinochet dictatorship, and that Luis Cipriani, the Archbishop of Ayacucho, Peru, remained close friends with Alberto Fujimori throughout the horrific repression in the 1990s, which was centered precisely around Ayacucho. Cipriani is today the Archbishop of Lima and Cardinal of Peru.

Here are some worthwhile web sites on Opus Dei:

Opus Dei: Finding God in Work and Daily Life (the official site)

Opus Dei: The Unofficial Homepage ("independent and critical information about Opus Dei")

ODAN: Opus Dei Awareness Network (support group for "people who have been adversely affected by Opus Dei")

Right Web page on Opus Dei: "Exposing the architecture of power that’s changing our world."

Religious Movements Homepage (U. of Virginia) on Opus Dei

  1. papal selection

    Here is a comment I posted and one response to it and my response to that response on the subject of papal selection and progressives. Progressive Catholics should speak out openly and counter the massive influence in the Church of the rightwing, which seeks to insure silence or ineffectuality on the part of any force that would move the Catholic Church — the largest, and possibly most influential private organization other than a commercial corporation, in the world.

    Subj: Speechless
    Date: 04/16/2005 12:31:43 AM Eastern Daylight Time
    From: hurlburj@gwu.edu
    To: cloudynuageux@aol.com
    Sent from the Internet (Details)


    To start off, I am an agnostic of Jewish background/traditions of
    authentic progressive political leanings. So first off, one might wonder
    what standing I have to say ANYTHING. Well, in the mutuality of social
    existence, I might SAY something about the elections in the Ukraine, the
    conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the Varela project in
    Cuba, or Hindu nationalism in India, just as they have every reason and
    right to protest my government’s neocolonial venture in Iraq. Of course,
    as in those issues, I have opinion, but my standing is different from a
    Ukrainian or a Cuban or a national of India.

    Progressives around the world, especially but not only progressive
    Catholics, need to make their voices heard. For a quarter of a century,
    the Catholic Church has been led by its right wing, with the pope
    appointing many of the Cardinals who will select his successor, with a
    built in massive trend toward the right. Many are concerned about issues
    like the ordination of women or a more advanced view about homosexuality
    and such. My main concern is for a Church that does not build a
    self-perpetuating rightward trend at a time when it is, after all, the
    largest private civil institution in the world. The question is what
    forces in the Church REALISTICALLY are the most progressive that could

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease and the rightwing in the US as in the
    Church is very good at squeaking, and SQEAKING STRATEGICALLY.
    Progressives tend to spin wheels on issues that seem tailored to not be
    effective. So the time is for progressives to insist that, given the
    political bent over the past quarter century, some ‘balance’ is needed,
    with a pope more along the lines of John XXIII, with a greater social
    conscience, a proper perspective on at least the theological and other
    changes that are POSSIBLE within the Church, and so forth. A pope from
    the third world, a good idea all other things being equal, is no step
    forward if they are just as conservative as John Paul II. A Vatican
    Clarence Thomas we don’t need. But a progressive, within the bounds of
    the Church — who need not promote married priesthood — from the Third
    world or at least a non-Caucasian should be the general demand, with an
    emphasis on the politics and not on the ethnicity.

    The squeaking must continue, whoever is selected, about the selection of
    cardinals. Progressives within the Church should continue to emphasize
    the issue of "balance", given a rightward trend in an institution where
    the world itself, including Catholics, have not be overall moving
    spiritually in that direction. A lengthy list of (relative)
    realistically possible progressives within the Church for high positions
    including cardinal should be constantly pursued and very vocally and
    publically. As the controversy brews, there will be pressure at least to
    balance the appointments to meet the disaffected progressives.
    Ordination of women and married priests, I suspect, are some ways off —
    and politics has to do with what happens over the next 15 years first
    and the long term afterwards. The better position someone is in now, in
    terms of power, the better position they will be in in the longer term
    too. This is indeed the credo of all opportunists, but it is one reason
    opportunists tend to dominate the world of power.

    His response:
    The Catholic church has political ramifications, but your email is
    offensve. The papacy is not an office to be "won", and the positions of
    the church are not whim to what "progressives" feel like. Nor what
    "conservatives" feel like. It is a church. It carries on the will of
    God as best it can, through tradition, research, and debate.

    Had you done any, ANY, research at all, you would already know that
    Cardinals are appointed through the Church, and every appointment must
    be signed by the Pope. Since there are Cardinals from every large
    Catholic country on earth, blaming the US for the current crop seems
    especially ignorant.

    The Pope is chosen by God – not by you, not by me. You are incredibly
    ignorant and insensitive to suggest otherwise. You are further
    arrogantly suggesting that because the methods of the Church don’t agree
    with your ideals that it needs to be changed in a manner more agreeable
    to you.

    The Church is not yours to change. It it not yours to manipulate. It
    belongs to myself and every other Catholic out in the world. We will
    change it, follow it, believe it, and love it as we see fit. You will not.

    And you most certainly will not use it to forward a political argument.
    We won’t do you that favor. God willing, He won’t do us that favor,
    either. We will hunt for the proper balance, do His will, and plead
    forgiveness if we fail.
    MY RESPONSE TO HIS RESPONSE, including a cc of another posting

    Dear Hurlburj, from Cloudy (rsvp):

    I am not sure which of the places to which I sent emails you are writing from, as you did not identify yourself. I will suppose you are from a Catholic organization, but I am not sure.

    First, nowhere do I "blame the US for the current crop" of cardinals, having reread my email. I DID say that in the Church, as in the US, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but that in no way could be reasonably read to say what you suggest is the case. I know that the cardinals are appointed by the pope. I know that all but three of the voting Cardinals are appointed by John Paul II (and one of those three is Ratzinger).

    Some are offended by any suggestion of politics in the selection of the pope. Evidently you are one of them. But reality is reality, and while it is the doctrine that the pope is selected by the Holy Ghost, there are plenty of Catholic writers and prelates, including one figure (I mention in the added email below) who have engaged in extensive speculation about the "politics" of the current choice, on the radio, while condemning any suggestion that pressure from progressives would be a good idea. I have read about effective mobilization from the Opus Dei wing of the Church; it seems that it is progressives who are admonished with especial verve to remain silent.

    It is difficult to argue with someone arguing from the point of ANY religious doctrine, be it fundamentalist Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or a Catholic insisting that God alone makes the choice and human, let alone heathen intervention has nothing to do with it. Just as an atheist is not easily convinced of the existence of God, so anyone subscribing to a doctrine that suggests that there is no "politics" in the selection of the pope will be appalled by consideration of that issue. It is not "ignorant" and "insensitive" to suggest a perspective that differs from the doctrine regarding the Holy Ghost.

    What we do have is often a political struggle where all parties INSIST that there is nothing political about the choice. Psychiatrists and other professionals like to wrap themselves similarly, shielding their political decisions from secular political scrutiny. If I were religious, which I am not, I would consider such a doctrine idolatrous, but you are entitled to it and I do NOT become indignant.

    I agree that the Church is not "mine" to change. I also pointed out in the first paragraph quite clearly that neither is the government of Ukraine, or any number of other venues where people have no problem expressing views. My views, however, are mine to express, and if some Catholics listen to them, great (from my point of view).

    I am not "manipulating" the Church, although I suspect other powerful interests, precisely those NOT in such a position to be scolded, have done so in the past and do so in the present and future. We should not be more royalist than the king, so to speak, on these questions. Do I advocate that the Church be changed in a manner more suitable to me? Well, anyone inside or outside the Church advocating anything is doing so, and the same is true in politics. Are not people advocating for a Cuba that is free "more agreeable" to them? Did not Pope John Paul II do so, regarding Cuba and regarding moral issues the world over, including issues of institutions outside the Church? I am not criticizing that practice at all, by the way — I am emulating it. Just as John Paul had plenty to say about issues outside the Church’s ‘jurisdiction’ in the secular world, issues within the "moral jurisdiction" some might say of the Church, by the same token authentic progressive humanists have the same right to extend their "moral jurisdiction" — without some sense that our morality is inferior to yours. This is not arrogance — it is citizenship and politics.

    I include for your further critique a tempting second posting responding the the discussion, including the ‘open conclave’ raised at the OpenDemocracy website:

    Here is a follow up of a recent posting I made at OpenDemocracy’s forum on "Democracy in the Church"? Although it makes specific references to the discussion there these seem to be self-explanatory. There are only TWO days left for progressives to try to be EFFECTIVE in addressing these issues, and to raise a PUBLIC voice of protest around the world for a pope for the PEOPLE. This is important for the cause of peace, the environment and social justice.

    I would also commend readers to the argument along similar lines by Rabbi Waskow from the Shalom Center, posted at http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-5-127-2424.jsp

    The point is that progressives need to act EFFECTIVELY AND SOON — and if past pattern and present momentum hold up, neither will be the case. Even if the protests are ignored, they would set the stage for future politics in this area for progressives.

    {perhaps you will want to contact Rabbi Waskow and excoriate him}.


    Much of the discussion on the various topics suffers from a kind of ‘reality exclusion’. First, even when supposedly discussing the future of the Church and the issue of democracy, long discussions ensue about the blame, eg of John Paul II for the Church’s inadequate response to the pederasty scandal. Let us remember that the scandal, by the way, indeed WAS a result of the ‘new morality’ that has emerged since the 60s, namely that 100 years ago, a child reporting on pederasty (re: the Freud issue) would simply be whipped or worse, and no professional backing such charges in, say, Vienna, stood a chance. Now we pay closer attention to problems that were simply tolerated in ages past and swept under the rug.

    But the real issue is the FUTURE of the Church, and the possibilities of democracy. Clearly, those including myself who put democracy first before loyalty to institutions like the Church either leave the Catholic faith or, like myself, have never been tempted to convert. But the Catholic Church IS one of the major institutions of our world and will continue to be for some time. The question is not what individuals might do to live according to their own beliefs, merely. The question is the future of this powerful institution, and its billion adherents, and its impact over the next century on the fate of the whole of humanity. (‘Not for ourselves but for the whole world are we born’ I believe is a Catholic doctrine, somewhat too extreme for my nevertheless socialist views. But surely one is concerned about the impact and potential impact of the Church and a new pope on the ‘whole world’)

    In this context, the question is what difference THIS selection of a new pope could make, given who MIGHT be chosen, and what progressives should do about it. I spoke with a Catholic Prelate on WNYC on April 8 who presumably sought to move the Church in a progressive direction. (He was the national US Church’s muck-a-muck on Latin American affairs, for the cognoscenti to figure out who he was). He insisted that pressure would have NO effect or possibly even a perverse one — recollecting a statement I once saw in the SF (Arch?)Diocese Peace and Justice Newsletter about 15 years ago that "Clearly, Catholic politicians" can take any position they wish on political issues, "except on the issue of abortion, where the Church’s position is clear"[using some version of the word "clear" twice in the same sentence]. Now I notice that Opus Dei people and such are mobilizing quite effectively to push for a rightwing successor to John Paul II. Progressives are failing to think as practically. Pressure seems to be OK for the right, and only likely to backfire for progressives. This and other points need to be made OPENLY through OPEN protest and mobilization. Note that the ‘open conclave’ sounds more like a consideration for long-term concerns about what kind of Church progressive Catholics want, rather than a focus on who is the most progressive minded Cardinal, not merely on doctrine but, as in the EXCELLENT article by Rabbi Waskow quoted at length in David Belden’s April 12 posting under the "Making sense …" discussion, a matter of placing an emphasis on putting into practice the more progressive aspects of existing doctrine.

    This prelate and the NY Times seemed to quietly favor Cardinal Hummes. On the other hand, Ratzinger, a rightwing Italian choice and Arinze are favored by the rightwing. Lustiger (France) seems a more progressive minded European choice, although the logic for a Latin American pope seems pretty overwhelming; yet at Intrade, the oddsmakers say that the greatest likelihood is of an Italian successor, (as of today) at 34%, with 62% betting on a European successor to JPII).

    Both Intrade and Paddypower (both oddsmakers) place Ratzinger in the lead with 17% at Intrade and 3-1 odds (33%) at paddypower. Lustiger is a high ranking contender with 10.5% at Intrade and 9-2 (a little over 20%) at Paddypower. Hummes is given about 10-12% odds by both, with Tettamanzi or Martini (Italian) seen as strong contenders at both. Remember that Tierney stated the common sense in the NY Times op-ed page recently when he said these were more reliable sources than press pundits.

    I raise this perspective to throw the cold water of realism on progressives’ thinking. Progressives ought to be thinking of WHICH Cardinals are most likely to be the BEST POSSIBLE choices and publically demonstrating and raising a hue and cry BEFORE April 18 in support of them and exposing and opposing openly the "clearly" bent of Church politics that suggests that rightwing mobilization is beneficial to them while progressive mobilization is perverse — a catch-22 on TOP OF the widely encouraged penchant of progressives for ineffectuality.

    Note that the idea that oddsmakers were better predictors than pundits was the subject of a Tierney recent column in the NY Times. Also, please note closely the point from the SF Church based newsletter about "clearly"…