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Opus Dei and the 'Irish Catholic'
The Irish Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

Madam, - Fr James Good's intemperate letter of (September 19th) on Opus Dei and the Irish Catholic would give your colour writer Frank McNally a good run for its comic element and sheer entertainment value.

Unfortunately, his letter is not intended to be humorous but seeks to inflict damage on the reputation of the Irish Catholic newspaper, which has consistently demonstrated an independent and objective approach to publishing news and comment to the highest journalistic standards without fear or favour.

His insinuations of Opus Dei control of the paper are not only unfounded and untrue, but also unfair to the six hard-working full-time journalists here, all members of the NUJ who adhere to its code of ethics and pride themselves on the paper's independence of all church organisations and bodies since its founding in 1888.

In my four years as editor I have been accused of being right-wing, left-wing, a fundamentalist, a pagan, a libertarian, a homosexual, a freemason, and so on - and now, to add to the list, an apologist for Opus Dei, privy to the private thoughts of Pope John Paul II and guilty of allowing my newspaper to be used as part of a plan to take over The Irish Times! My response to Fr Good is to relieve him of the obvious stress caused by my recent Rite and Reason article in The Irish Times, which simply reported on a conference in Rome which was run by Opus Dei, and use my "insider information" to answer the two questions posed in his letter.

Do I know if Pope John Paul II was a member of Opus Dei? Given that the Pope regularly confided in me about many issues and sought my advice while I worked as a producer at Vatican Radio, you would imagine I would know the answer, but I must confess it never came up; perhaps my Polish just wasn't that good.

As for Fr Good's second question, no I am not, and never was, a member of Opus Dei, nor am I in any way associated with it. But if I was, so what? Is Fr Good seeking to become an Irish McCarthy-type figure, leading a witch-hunt against people's freedom of religious expression and affiliation? Will Fr Good now want me to disclose which gym I'm a member of? Is this not the same type of clericalism which Fr Good complained of when he ran foul of Bishop Lucey over his stand on Humanae Vitae? Is the oppressed becoming the oppressor?

What also worries Fr Good, is the "terrifying prospect" that the Irish Catholic will buy out The Irish Times! In these times of global fluctuations and financial collapses, mergers, and takeovers I suppose anything is possible, but I would like to assure Fr Good and everyone in The Irish Times that our newspaper takeover plans are not completed yet and, given the ongoing financial crisis, may have to be delayed for the foreseeable future.

After all, as Fr Good has cleverly uncovered, I'm a busy man. I have the Vatican to run (secretly) as well as a newspaper. -

Yours, etc,

Editor, The Irish Catholic, 
Dublin 12.


Opus Dei's parish in Dublin 4
The Irish Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Madam, - The recent apologia for Opus Dei by Garry O'Sullivan, editor of The Irish Catholic (Rite and Reason, September 2nd) was a very perceptive study of a new approach by that organisation. If Opus Dei's purported new approach of openness and facing criticism is verified, it should make a major change in the public reaction to its presence in parish work in the Dublin archdiocese.

I am, however, somewhat disturbed by Mr O'Sullivan's reference to Opus Dei as "the church and its members" (sic). I am also mystified by his news that Opus Dei was holding a week-long seminar "to introduce journalists to the Vatican up close". Does Opus Dei run the Vatican? And again: "Between the Pope and Opus Dei, the Church in Rome seems to be at last 'getting' communications." Indeed.

With this new approach to open communication, perhaps Mr O'Sullivan, with his obviously "insider" information about Opus Dei, might answer two questions which worry me.

1. Was Pope John Paul II ever, at any level, a member of Opus Dei? If the answer is affirmative, it would explain at last why John Paul inserted Canons 294-7 into his 1983 Code of Canon Law - canons which gave Opus Dei unprecedented power in the Catholic Church and effectively made it a church within a church.

2. Was the current editor of The Irish Catholic newspaper ever, at any level, a member of Opus Dei? Again, if the answer is affirmative, it would explain another mystery: how Mr O'Sullivan knows so much of the internal affairs of Opus Dei, and also why whenever he writes to The Irish Times, he identifies himself as editor of The Irish Catholic newspaper. Such an affirmative answer would also open up the rather terrifying prospect of a takeover bid for The Irish Times by The Irish Catholic. They have the lolly to do it, you know.

Yours, etc,

Church Street, 

Using conflict to teach truth about church
The Irish Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2008
RITE AND REASON: OPUS DEI always makes good copy for journalists. It was in the news again last week, having been given the lucrative parish of Merrion Road in Dublin, and the usual questions about cult-like practices and extreme secrecy were raised once more, writes Garry O'Sullivan 

Perhaps this is why Opus Dei is so keen these days to inform journalists about the church and its members, and would angrily refute any comparisons with cults. It is holding a week-long seminar in Rome, beginning on September 8th, to introduce journalists to the Vatican up close. The event will end with an angelus with Pope Benedict XVI.

As for charges of secrecy, Opus Dei has Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code to thank for shaking off that once-credible allegation. With the worldwide success of the book, Opus Dei found itself fighting rearguard actions globally against the damaging publicity brought by the, to put it frankly, often wild allegations in the book.

Yet as the controversy and debates surrounding the book grew, something happened in Opus Dei - a "Eureka!" moment. Its members decided to climb out of their bunkers, go public and tackle the suspicion and controversy head on.

At another media seminar organised by Opus Dei in Rome earlier this year, titled Church Communication and the Culture of Controversy, delegates from church communication offices around the world heard first-hand reports on how to handle controversy, as learned in the Opus Dei school of hard knocks.

Boston Opus Dei member Marie Oates told how, in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, the organisation began to media-train its members, a large proportion of whom are married women, all over the US. The experience of being under siege as a result of the book actually engaged people and enabled Opus Dei to create a network of proactive press officers.

Instead of avoiding the media, the group dealt directly with the controversial issues raised. Speaker after speaker detailed their experiences and the lessons learned. This was coalface crisis management.

The experience of Opus Dei is an excellent case study for the whole church on how it can learn lessons from controversies, such as the child abuse scandals, and how it might think again about the way it communicates. There are also indications that this has finally got through to the very top.

In 2005 Pope Benedict, reacting to criticism that he wasn't harsh enough in comments he made regarding the passing of a law on gay marriage in Spain while on a visit there, replied: "Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions; it's a positive option.

"It is very important that we look at it again, because this idea has almost completely disappeared today.
"We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer."

The pope put this to the test during his recent visits to the US and Australia, when he apologised for clerical sexual abuse and met victims.

As the veteran Vatican correspondent for CNN, John Allen, told the Rome media conference earlier this year, the pope's visit to the US was "a six-day seminar in how to get things right".

Promoting Catholicism as a positive option and engaging in dialogue with secularist governments are not what we expected of Cardinal Ratzinger as pope.

As someone said to me in Rome at that conference, this pope has confounded those who wanted a harsh, hardliner pope and bewildered those who feared he would be so.

Maybe the holy spirit is having the final laugh on all of us, liberals and conservatives alike, who predicted the direction of this papacy on that April 2005 day when we heard "Habemus Papam" being recited.

Between the pope and Opus Dei, the church in Rome seems to be at last "getting" communications.

In Ireland, promoting Catholicism as a positive option is a monumental task for a church still recovering from massive controversy and scandal. But it can be done and the gospel demands that it must be done.

However, communications as a genuine ministry needs investment of talent and resources. As Opus Dei discovered, every scandal, conflict and controversy is an opportunity for the church to teach. The church here is finding its voice again, but it is a voice that needs to be professional and evangelising.

For too long in the Irish Catholic Church, communications has been influenced by the mentality of the lawyer or the insurance broker, only concerned with legalisms or risk assessment, but as the gospel says, "as you sow, so shall you reap".

Press officers left that seminar in Rome earlier this year to return to their respective bishops and bishops' conferences worldwide with this message ringing in their ears: "Always tell the truth and use conflicts to preach about the church, and above all don't be afraid of communicating."

What a challenge for the Irish church that is - if anyone here is prepared to listen and learn from the past.

Garry O'Sullivan is editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper