Date: Wed, 24 Feb 1999 18:05:52 EST
Subject: re: AANEWS for Wednesday, February 24, 1999
Think of an organization with 3,000 members in the entire United States. Its new office, though, is a 17 story building at Lexington and 34th Street in New York City which boasts 133,000 square feet of space decorated with glitzy millwork and marble. The building will also include four outdoor terraces, and a plaza with magnolia trees. Even Donald Trump would be envious.
Guess again. The 186-foot behemoth now being built will house the offices of Opus Dei, a semisecret Roman Catholic organization that many accuse of being a force for religious fanaticism and reaction. The $47 million structure is to open next year, and will include a conference arena, three chapels, dormitories and rooms for acolytes, instructional facilities and administrative offices. For Opus Dei, which is a personal “Prelature” of Pope John Paul II and has its worldwide operation centered in Rome, the move to Manhattan should prompt critics of the groups to sit up and take notice. The new headquarters is a statement of the group's power within the Catholic church, and determination to create a presence in the United States. It also reveals an astounding level of financial support for an organization that has an estimated 80,000 worldwide, most of them operating in Europe and Latin America.
Few American Catholics are aware of Opus Dei. For those church members and laity, though, who seek to institute reforms within the ecclesiastical ranks and the make the church more tolerate on issues such as the ordination of women, or a willingness to reexamine questions such as abortion, extramarital sex or homosexuality, Opus Dei is seen as perhaps the most conservative, even reactionary order under the auspices of the Holy See. While its membership is relatively small, the group has emphasized recruiting “agents of influence” within banking, industry, communications and the academic professions. Church watchers agree that its impact on church policy is considerable. Indeed, when he was elected pontiff, Karol Wojtyla — Pope John Paul II—made a personal pilgrimage to the grave of Opus Dei's founder, and elevated the order to the status of “Personal Prelature,” meaning that it is ultimately accountable only to him. Some consider Opus Dei to be the “elite” of the conservative wing of the Vatican, having surpassed other Orders such as the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in influence within the walls of St. Peters. Even reform groups within the church such as Catholics for a Free Choice warn, “Opus Dei pursues the Vatican's agenda through the presence of its members in secular governments and institutions, and through a vast array of academic, medical and grassroots pursuits.” The goal of the organization as described in its magazine, “Cronica,” is “to hallow and Christianize the institutions of the peoples, of science, culture, civilization, politics, the arts and social relations.” From this perspective, Opus Dei is the Roman Catholic equivalent of militant Christian Reconstructionist Protestant groups and other religious “dominionists” who see a mandate from god to “take dominion” of governments, societies, nations and ultimately all individuals.
Opus Dei was founded by a Spanish priest, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer in 1928. From the beginning, the order—reflecting the paranoia and intolerance of its founder—saw itself locked in a near-supernatural struggle against perceived enemies including secularism, Republicanism, communism and Freemasonry. Indeed, Balaguer accepted a view peddled by fascists and anti-Semites through Europe at the time, that the world was under the control of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy that also lurked behind the forces of Soviet bolshevism, and threatened “the throne and the Altar.” Opus Dei members also were active in the regime of General Francisco Franco in Spain.
Former members of the group and other critics have charged that Opus Dei uses a subtle process of indoctrination and ritualistic mind-control techniques in an effort to control followers. Balaguer himself became a messianic figure within the group; one former member wrote that he “saw himself as a divine mandatory (sic) whose message and orientation we (the members) should accept without any criticism… Whatever he proposed really wasn’t his. It was God's proposal, and no changes or shading were accepted.” Likewise, members are encouraged to not reveal their involvement with Opus Dei when working in the secular world.
There are levels of participation within Opus Dei, from those who support the organization with money and other contributions, to more committed members who become what the group terms “fishes.” The order maintains a network of houses throughout the countries where it has established operations—often they are located in expensive neighborhoods—where those who are accepted as full members usually reside. Often, the “fishes” surrender any money or property they own, and make Opus Dei the beneficiary of wills. From morning to night, the “fishes” also live under a strict regimen which includes prayer, reading, confessions and training sessions. Visits with family members or interaction with the outside world are tightly regulated, and there are even reports that some “fishes” wear a special garment of thorns around the calf as a form of “holy coercion” and penance. These practices, along with other policies regulating diet or sexual activity and placing a high penalty on internal criticism suggest a remarkable similarity between the structure of Opus Dei and so-called “mind control” cults. Within the nexus of Opus Dei is a complex array of membership levels. “Fishes” are usually designated as Numeraries who live in Opus Dei gender-segregated houses, and donate their wealth to order in exchange for a small stipend. There is an “underclass” of female Numeraries known as Auxiliaries who provide cooking and housecleaning services. Associates live outside the tight Opus Dei communities, but take a legal bond comparable to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Supernumeraries, who reportedly constitute the bulk of Opus Dei's membership, are married couples, but their rank within the organization is considered beneath that of the cloistered Numeraries. Roman Catholic priests are accepted, and join the Opus Dei Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. Finally, there is a shadowy and secret network of “Cooperators” who assist the organization through donations and other activities as required.
Opus Dei boasts of having members in key journalistic positions throughout the world including print and broadcast media. It also operates a bewildering array of “institutes” and conferences which advance its agenda on issues such as abortion and population control. One Opus Dei front, the Institute per la Cooperazione Universitaria, is an NGO (non-governmental organization) within the United Nations and lobbies against any international family planning outreaches. Other groups linked to or controlled by Opus Dei include the Association for Cultural, Technical and Educational Cooperation (Belgium), the Limmat Foundation—a group which launches “projects of professional formation, especially of women,” and is accredited to the European Union, and the Hanns-Seidel Foundation of Germany. Hanns-Seidel even receives funding from the European Union, and is linked to key members of the Bavarian Christian Democrat Party. The Foundation, in turn, has funded other Opus Dei activities such as the Centre for Research and Communications which operates in the Philippines “to form the future economic and political elite of the country.” Opus Dei critic Peter Hertel observed that under former President Corazon Aquino, a favorite of Manilla Cardinal Jaime Sin, “Opus (Dei) members have put a decisive stamp on the country's constitution.”
Within the Vatican, the power of Opus Dei is even more pervasive, especially concerning issues linked to women's' rights and the family. Indeed, Pope John Paul II's constant denunciations of the so-called “culture of death,” embracing everything from population control and abortion rights to research using clumps of fetal tissue reflects and resonates with the ideological stance of Opus Dei and the Vatican agencies under its control or influence. These include the Pontifical Council of the Family, established in 1981 to promote “the pastoral care of families so they may carry out their educative, evangelizing and apostolic mission and make their influence felt in areas such as defense of human life and the responsible procreation according to the teachings of the church.” Cardinals, academics and Archbishops who operate the Pontifical Council are Opus Dei members or sympathizers, and include Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves (Brazil), Carlo Caffarra, Bishop Klaus Kung (Austria) and Christine Boutin, French Member of Parliament.
One indication of Opus Dei's financial power came to light in connection with the mysterious 1982 death of Vatican banker Roberto Calvi. Calvi, found dangling beneath Blackfriar's Bridge in London, had been at the center of a financial scandal involving Italy's powerful Banco Ambrosiano, the Vatican Bank (Institute for Religious Works) and a criminal renegade Masonic Lodge headed by an ex-Blackshirt named Liccio Gelli. The Vatican ended up paying nearly $250 million to excuse its role in the financial debacle, which included illegal currency transactions and possible financing of right wing terrorist groups. As Calvi's empire collapsed, it was reported that Opus Dei was about to bail out Banco Ambrosiano in exchange for a share of the action. One Calvi associate, Jose Mateos, was head of an industrial conglomerate and considered the wealthiest man in Spain. Author David Yallop in his book “In God's Name,” observed that Mateos “had funneled millions into the organization (Opus Dei) and that, “A considerable amount of the money from Mateos came from illegal deals with Calvi perpetrated in both Spain and Argentina.”
The group probably had the resources to bail out Calvi, had it chosen to do so, and today boasts leading financial contributors—which accounts for its ability to construct a lavish office building on some of the priciest real estate in the world.
The new headquarters in New York City may also be emblematic of the new phase the Roman Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II are moving into. With “godless communism” now out of the way, the Vatican sees the greatest threat to its political and cultural influence in the emergence of feminism, multi- culturalism, secularism and consumerism. This reflects the Opus Dei concern with “hyperfemism”—a term which covers population restraint, sex outside of marriage, abortion rights, birth control and blurred gender roles distinct from the “traditional family.” “Hyperfeminism” was a title in the Opus Dei scripted “Cairo Platform for Action” in 1994, where the church attempted to derail international family planning efforts.
Opus Dei also finds itself confronted with other foes as well. At an Opus Dei “Business Spouses Association” gathering in Dublin, Ireland, for instance, the topic was “Home Technology—Family Friend or Foe?” The conference examined “the impact of television in family intimacy,” along with the “psychological implications of the habit of ‘virtual reality.’” There is also the promotion of what the group terms “Christian Fashion,” defined best by an Opus Dei activist speaking at a conference of women university students near Rome. When asked about harassment in the work place, the speaker replied, “I believe that sexual harassment comes to those who invite it. Some women go around dressed in such a manner that they attract that kind of reproach. If we were more careful about our way of speaking, not sliding into dirty talk, if we took more care in our way of dressing, not descending to low-cut clothes, then, I believe, these problems would be eliminated at the root.” Nearly seven decades ago, Opus Dei founder Escriva Beleaguer, in his book “El Camino” (The Road) opined, “Women needn’t be scholars—it's enough for them to be prudent.”
But along with the struggle against “antinatalist forces” and “Hyperfeminism,” however, Opus Dei sees itself locked in an even greater contest pitting the church's template for social and political organization against a more pervasive threat. Opus Dei head Monsignor Javier Eschevarria told a Family Congress in 1994, “A few days ago the Pope spoke in Rome … about the necessity of setting up a new ’Maginot Line.’ He suggested that a ‘great wall’ should be erected to keep out the hedonist consumerism that threatens to invade the developing countries. You well know that this hedonism is often expressed by an aggressive antinatalist drive.”
For Opus Deity and the Vatican, the new enemy of the church is modernity itself.