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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

Opus Dei by John Allen Penguin, £8.99 
The Irish Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

Secularity, sanctification of work and "divine filiation" (that we are all God's children) are the framework of Opus Dei. In the language of a younger generation raised on The OC, divine filiation would be expressed something like: "Dude, what could go wrong? Don't you know who my Dad is?" Allen's work is balanced, unsensationalist and comprehensive - and most readable. He devotes a chapter to each of the "question marks" about Opus Dei. His careful conclusion is that "women in Opus Dei do not, for the most part, feel like 'second-class' citizens". He also concludes that the organisation is not particularly secretive or rich and is socially admirable because "the bulk of Opus Dei's corporate works [ are] designed to serve the poor and excluded". It doesn't have a political line, although its members would be classed as "conservative", and it is not taking over the church - stealthily or any other way. Brian Maye

Lucrative codology of 'The Da Vinci Code'
The Irish Times - Saturday, October 30, 2004

When she worked in the civil service in Edinburgh during the 1950s, my mother-in-law, Pat, found that virulent anti-Catholicism was the norm. For example, one man told her of someone witnessing a group of cowled monks bricking a woman into a wall, and leaving her there. This kind of carry-on was normal for Papists. My mother-in-law found hearty laughter the best response to such tales.

Her office colleagues would have got along fine with Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. As a piece of pulp fiction, Brown's book is mildly entertaining, though his penchant for long lectures in the final third of the book causes it to flag somewhat. These lectures are addressed to Sophie Neveu, who mainly responds by appearing startled, uneasy, shocked, surprised and amazed. She never laughs out loud, a fact that shows that despite being a talented police cryptographer, she is none too bright.

The book opens with the murder of the curator of the Louvre, Jacques Sauniere, who, when shot in the stomach, realises that he has 15 minutes to live. What might one do with 15 minutes? Well, our curator strips naked, and paints a five-pointed star on his abdomen in his own blood. He writes messages in code that are only visible under ultra-violet light, and draws sweeping circles around himself. Then he arranges himself like Leonardo's Vitruvian man, the famous depiction of a naked man with outstretched arms and legs.

All of this is to attract the attention of the aforementioned Sophie, the cryptographer. It might seem a tad excessive, given the fact that she is his grand-daughter, and this fact is known in her police unit. It might have been expected that someone might have told her that her only living relative had been shot in the Louvre, even if he had been found fully clothed.

It might be worth mentioning, though, that the last time she had seen Grandad, he had been naked, too, and wearing a black mask, while a woman made love to him, in the presence of rows of white-robed women and black-robed men. Not surprisingly, after inadvertently witnessing Grandad's little hobby, she never spoke to him again.

Given that her grandfather has been found, bizarrely naked again, it might have confirmed to Sophie that (a) her grandfather was even more of a fruit and nut case than she originally imagined, or (b) that his pervy exhibitionism extended even to his dying moments. But, no. It convinces her to defy the entire Parisian police force in order to protect a man mentioned in Grandad's dying scribbles, Robert Langdon, a Harvard "symbologist". It is at this point I can hear my mother-in-law muttering, "codologist, more like".

Dan Brown's thesis is that the Catholic Church has been engaged, since the time of Christ, in suppressing the truth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that they had a child called Sarah, whose descendants were Merovingian royals. Descendants still exist today, and an organisation called the Priory of Sion, of which Grandad was head honcho, has as its task the protection of the tomb of Mary Magdalene, along with four chests of documents proving Jesus wanted the church left in the care of Mary Magdalene, not Peter.

The Holy Grail is not a chalice, but the womb of Mary Magdalene. Jesus was never divine, just an inspirational teacher, but the Church has systematically destroyed the "sacred feminine" in order to prevent this truth emerging. One wonders exactly what the Priory of Sion are for? Why don't they just produce their shattering proof of Mary Magdalene being the Holy Grail, and allow her descendants to do whatever it is they are to do? But, no. Much more fun to hold arcane sex rituals and hide from mad, murderous monks, than actually to subject claims to investigation.

Where to start with Brown's distortions? Well, maybe with his claims that Jesus was just a great teacher, until in a close-run vote, Constantine rigged the Council of Nicea in 325 in order to have Jesus declared divine. The early Christians had endured torture and death in order to preserve what the Apostles had told them. How likely is it that they would have allowed a massive fraud like this to be perpetrated? One day Jesus is a great teacher, the next day he is divine? Incidentally, only two of hundreds of bishops voted against official recognition of Jesus's divinity.

Constantine allegedly dumped some 76 gospels, in favour of the four most patriarchal versions. Never mind the fact that earlier documents are considered to be more historically reliable, and that all four of the gospels in the New Testament predate the dozen or so which were rejected for inclusion. Funny, Brown does not mention either that the Gospel of Thomas, one of the rejected texts, ends with a declaration by Jesus that he will make Mary Magdalene male, so that she may be saved. Wonderfully affirming of women, don't you think?

Brown does not do much better with the present day. One character is a homicidal albino Opus Dei monk named Silas. Except that since Opus Dei is not a religious order, it has no monks. The whole point of the movement is that you are sanctified through your daily work, so celibate lay members work in ordinary jobs, where a wool habit might be slightly distracting.

Brown paints a picture of a grimly murderous Catholic Church, which has deliberately suppressed the truth of Jesus's marriage in order to oppress women. Patriarchy ousted the loving, peaceful, nurturing goddess worship that rejoices in human sexuality. Sadly for Brown, there were many versions of the worship of goddesses, and in some religions, goddesses wreaked havoc and destruction. For example, an ancient temple in Turkey dedicated to the fertility goddess Cybele, has niches behind the altar for men to deposit their testicles after they had emasculated themselves in a religious ecstasy.

Brown is making a fortune, mostly because so few people know enough about Christianity any more to know that he is simply recycling stories which have been discredited a dozen times before. In an odd way, that may present the Church with an opportunity to tell the story one more time, of a faith that has survived lots of Dan Browns, and still offers sustenance to millions.

Church-State relations
The Irish Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Madam, - Nigel Cooke (October 9th) makes the serious charge that a number of Catholic lay organisations such as Opus Dei were "attempting to interfere in the making and execution of public policy" from within the Civil Service. He makes this serious allegation in the context of the heated debate about the compensation settlement between the State and religious organisations.

As regards Opus Dei, this allegation is complete rubbish. The Opus Dei prelature does not, and indeed cannot, get involved in any such matters.

If Mr Cooke has any information to show that specific public servants or organisations were attempting to interfere in this way, he should lodge his complaints with the appropriate authorities. -

Yours, etc.,

Opus Dei Information Office, 
Hume Street, 
Dublin 2. 


Madam, - Nigel P. Cooke asserts (October 9th) that, during his years of employment in the Irish civil service (1978-1990), a number of lay Catholic organisations were active, specifically "targeting" departments with responsibility for social policy.

Yet, judging by the direction that social policy took during those years and after, it would seem that whichever organisations were influential in this regard, it certainly was not the Catholic ones.

Furthermore, Mr Cooke says how appalled he was when a senior official at the Department of the Taoiseach declared at an official meeting that he was a "Catholic first and foremost, a public servant thereafter".

Is Mr Cooke unaware that all Christian denominations encourage their adherents to put their faith first in every sphere of life? Why single out only Catholics? Fair comment and criticism are to be welcomed always, but Mr Cooke's letter simply amounts to old-fashioned, anti-Catholic rant. –

Yours, etc.,

Co Kildare.

Church-State relations
The Irish Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Madam, - I wonder if, amid all of the debate over the financial deal agreed between the Irish State and the Roman Catholic Church, any consideration has yet been given to the primary allegiances and motivations of those supposedly acting in the Irish public's best interests?

What prompts this question is my experience of Church-State relations during 12 years (1978-90) in the middle ranks of the Irish civil service. While employed in the Departments of the Public Service, Agriculture and Finance, I could not help but become aware of a number of Roman Catholic lay organisations active within the civil service, e.g. Opus Dei, the Knights of Columbanus, the Legion of Mary, St Vincent de Paul.

Some of these appeared harmless enough, organising Masses, retreats and outings. Others - and I am very conscious of the charge I am making here - were widely acknowledged to be attempting to interfere in the making and execution of public policy. They particularly "targeted" those departments responsible for social policy (e.g. contraception, divorce, abortion) such as Social Welfare, Health, Justice and of course Education.

I was personally invited, in my capacity as a civil servant, to join Opus Dei in early 1984 - they soon realised their mistake!
I also attended an official meeting in 1986 at which a senior official of the Department of the Taoiseach openly declared that he was a "Catholic first and foremost, a public servant thereafter".

As a Derry man raised in the Civil Rights era with John Hume as my history teacher, I was appalled and could imagine the furore if a civil servant of similar status in Northern Ireland were to declare "I am an Orangeman first and foremost ..." Nevertheless, this man's civil service audience seemed to approve of his stance.

Of course, those bad old days are long gone and the 21st century, post-Good Friday Agreement Irish State would surely have no truck with such carry on. Nevertheless, it might be no harm if senior public servants were required to make a declaration of interests recording their membership of listed organisations so that the taxpayer might be in absolutely no doubt about which piper is calling the tune. –

Yours, etc.,

River View,

The Irish Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002  GERRY HIGGINS,

Madam, - As a tradesman, I'm happy to inform Ann Peppard (October 23rd) that members of Opus Dei do in fact come from all walks of life. In Rome for the canonisation of St Josemaria Escrivá earlier this month, I could see how true this was not only of Ireland but of countries as far apart as the United States, Peru, Kenya and the Philippines.

Opus Dei helps people find God in their work, irrespective of what kind of work that may be. -

Yours, etc.,

Tirellan Heights,

The Irish Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Madam, - There are no tradesmen in Opus Dei, so Christ, a carpenter, would not have been accepted by the society. -

Yours, etc.,

Palmerston Park,
Dublin 6.


The Irish Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002
A sainthood cloaked in controversy

Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore Opus Dei. As its founder JosemaríaEscrivá is canonised in Rome tomorrow, Paddy Agnew  looks at thecontroversial movement which has pride of place in the Vatican

They have been called the "Cloak and Crucifix Brigade", the "Pope's Marines", the "Leopards in the Temple", the "Holy Mafia", and much else besides - most of it unflattering. The movement has been accused of elitism, secrecy, fanaticism, of using dubious recruitment practices and of being a "once in, never out" freemasonry with a right-wing, theologically conservative "hidden agenda".

We are talking, of course, about Opus Dei, the Catholic lay movement whose charismatic founder, Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, will tomorrow be made a saint by Pope John Paul II in a packed St Peter's Square in Rome. Wherever you go in the Catholic Church and whenever you mention the name Opus Dei (literally, the Work of God), the reaction is never indifferent. Some like it, some hate it, but almost everybody has a firm opinion.

Founded in 1928 in Madrid by Monsignor Escrivá, Opus Dei today boasts some 80,000 followers in 70 countries, with less than 2,000 of its members serving as priests. Escrivá's basic, laudable idea was that people should apostolate, evangelise and generally bear witness to the teachings of Christ through their professional work.

Put simply, if you are a good Christian, you are so in the office or on the shop floor, just as much as when attending Mass on Sunday morning.
Having survived, not without some risk to his own life, the Spanish civil war, Escrivá moved his small movement (in the mid-1930s he had only a dozen or so members) to Rome in 1946. From that point on, we enter into the realm of controversy.

For his followers, Escrivá simply went about his evangelical mission in his own charismatic, determined and driven way, overseeing the growth of the movement always in strict conformity with its founding principles.

Critics, however, argue that he (successfully) set about influencing makers and shakers in high Vatican places, gradually gaining a uniquely powerful place in the Catholic firmament for Opus Dei. For example, the Pope's highly influential spokesman for most of this pontificate, Dr Joaquin Navarro Valls, is a member.
For much of his lifetime, Monsignor Escrivá had campaigned for Opus Dei to be made a "Personal Prelature" in conformity with changes introduced at Vatican Council II. (The "Personal Prelature" was to be a "virtual" diocese, not defined geographically, but placed under the direct control of the Vatican rather than of local bishops).

In 1982, seven years after Monsignor Escrivá's death, Pope John Paul II did in fact confer this honour on Opus Dei.

To Opus Dei followers, this new-found status was merely in keeping with Vatican Council II. For its critics, it was proof not just of the favourable view taken of Opus Dei by Pope John Paul II (doubtless helped by its role in getting dollars across to Solidarnosc in communist Poland, but also of its unfairly privileged position in that it became a "church within the Church", an autonomous battalion in the Pope's divisions bearing allegiance to Opus Dei head office in Rome and not to a local bishop.

Today, Opus Dei is the only such "Personal Prelature" in the Catholic Church.

Not for nothing this week did Monsignor Flavio Capucci, the "postulator" of Monsignor Escrivá's case for sainthood and a member of Opus Dei, point out that tomorrow's canonisation in no way represents a Vatican "seal of approval" for Opus Dei.

That "seal of approval", he pointed out, had already been delivered 20 years ago, when Opus Dei was made a personal prelature.
In presenting the background to this canonisation, Monsignor Capucci also made reference to some of the many criticisms levelled at Monsignor Escrivá over the years.

The man that Opus Dei members like to call "Our Father" or "The Founder" has been accused of being vain (he allegedly had the "de Balaguer" tagged on to his name out of petty snobbery), fascist (he allegedly made anti-semitic remarks about the Holocaust, whilst his movement prospered greatly in Franco's Spain), arrogant and ambitious, as well as having such a loathing for many of the liturgical changes introduced by Vatican Council II that he once considered joining the Greek Orthodox Church.

A number of Vatican commentators have also expressed reservations about his appropriateness as a candidate for sainthood, reservations which reached a crescendo 10 years ago on the occasion of Monsignor Escrivá's beatification. In his book, Making Saints, religious affairs writer Kenneth Woodward comments: "Escrivá was an unexceptional spirit, derivative and often banal in his thoughts, personally inspiring perhaps but devoid of original insights".
Monsignor Capucci pointed out that such objections (and others regarding the unfavourable witnesses allegedly denied access to the beatification and canonisation hearings) are all irrelevant now: "The fact that he is to be canonised means that all these interpretations, reservations, are deprived of authority and are seen to be without foundation".

Yet, while the Catholic Church now considers Josemaría Escrivá a saint, others continue to have their doubts. Just log on to the Opus Dei Awareness Network site (ODAN at and you will be confronted with a sizeable body of opinion expressing reservations about Opus Dei, in particular about its recruitment practices. Embittered parents and relations complain about loved ones "lost" to an organisation they consider a mind control sect "as cultic in its way as Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses, Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church or the Falun Gong", (in the words of John Martin, a contributor to the ODAN website).

Furthermore, you could fill a bookshelf with publications critical of Opus Dei. Among these are Crossing the Threshold by Maria Carmen del Tapia, Parents' Guide to Opus Dei by J.J. Garvey, Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power within the Catholic Church by Michael Walsh, My Nightmarish Experience In Opus Dei by Sharon Classen, Why I Left Opus Dei by Peter T. Malinoski, etc., etc.

Talking in Rome this week, Opus Dei spokesman Jack Valero conceded that perhaps mistakes had been made in the past, both by over-enthusiastic members regarding recruitment and by over-discreet members regarding secrecy. He and all other Opus Dei spokesmen emphatically deny allegations of secrecy, elitism or "once in, never out". (In fairness, in its dealings with this writer and with the media generally, Opus Dei tends to be anything but secretive.)

Nonetheless, outsiders remain perplexed by a movement that encourages a minority of its followers (numeraries) to make a pledge of celibacy and to devote their incomes and entire lives to the "Work". Critics are also concerned about the effect Opus Dei can have on the majority of its membership (supernumeraries) who may be married but who also tend to contribute large portions of their incomes to the movement.

The economic well-being of Opus Dei was recently underlined by the opening of a $45 million, purpose-built headquarters in Manhattan. And the movement's spiritual well-being will probably be expressed by the largest crowd ever to attend a canonisation tomorrow. Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore Opus Dei.