Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pope John Paul II, Opus Dei and the Odious “Saint” Escriva

On May 17, 1992, Pope John Paul II beatified the founder of Opus Dei, Msgr. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, in St. Peter's Square in Rome. The Pope said, "With supernatural intuition Blessed Josemaria untiringly preached the universal call to holiness and apostolate." Ten years later, on October 6, 2002, John Paul II canonized Msgr. Escriva, saying, “St. Josemaría was chosen by the Lord to proclaim the universal call to holiness and to indicate that everyday life, its customary activities, are a path towards holiness. It could be said that he was the saint of the ordinary.” The Beatification and eventual Canonization of this thoroughly unsaintly and flawed man generated a lot of controversy and protest at the time. But the Pope listened to no one and pronounced one of mankind's worst examples of mankind a Saint. On December 1, 1993, I published an article in an alternative newspaper (“The Welcomat” in Philadelphia, PA), which summarized the findings of Michael Walsh in his book, “Opus Dei”. I am reprinting that article (in four parts) here in Ratfuck Diary…because if ever the Vatican ratfucked the world, it was when Pope John Paul II Canonized Josemaria Escriva Balaguer. Part I-God's Work, God's Cult? The Welcomat-December 1, 1993 By Joy Tomme Unless the process is somehow short-circuited, Escriva de Balaguer will be made a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Many Roman Catholic priests--including two of the nine Vatican theologians who passed judgment on Escriva's suitability for beatification--are against this canonization. But most lay Catholics don't know enough about the man to have an opinion one way or the other. A new book by Michael Walsh (Opus Dei, US publication, 1992) is a fascinating account of Escriva and his shenanigans. Jose Maria Escriba de Balaguer was born in 1902 and died in 1975. He changed the spelling of his name to the more distinguished "Josemaria Escriva" while still a schoolboy. However, he never lost his desire to seem more impressive than his provincial background warranted. In 1968 he petitioned for, and was granted, the title "Marques de Peralta"-a curiously worldly aspiration for a 66-year old priest who had once been called "domestic prelate to the Pope." But, like less virtuous souls, Escriva found behavior acceptable in himself which he discouraged in others. He wrote a treatise with 999 prescriptions for holiness called Camino. Maxim No. 677 states: "Honors, distinctions, titles, things of air, puffs of pride, lies, nothingness." Escriva's claim to fame and sainthood reposes mainly in his having founded a religious organization in Spain in 1928 called Opus Dei. Opus Dei, (God's Work, or more commonly called The Work) was his lifelong obsession. He had envisioned a holy organization for all sorts--men, women, married, single, lay and clerical. In Escriva's ideal religious society, everyone would be as fully involved in doing God's work as nuns and monks, but they would live their lives in the world as professional people also. They would commit themselves to God by taking a sacred vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Their allegiance to Escriva and Opus Dei would be total. And, of course, they would turn over all their salaries and personal monies to the organization. Implementation of this holy vision called for a high degree of cunning. Escriva had to let the Roman Catholic powers-that-were think they had ultimate authority (as they do in other Roman Catholic organizations) while, in fact, only Escriva had final say-so on any matter, large or small. In order to effect this managerial sleight-of-hand--creation of a completely closed entity which could thumb its nose at the Vatican--Escriva needed special rules and designations. And amazingly, all the Popes acquiesced. From Pius XII right through to today's John Paul II, they bowed to Opus Dei's demands in lesser or greater degrees. The final coup was when Escrlva's successor wrested Personal Prelature status for Opus Dei from John Paul II. Paul VI had refused. There are those who say John Paul II could hardly have said No, since it is widely believed Opus pumped mega-bucks Into Solidarity in Poland. Part II- God's Work, God's Cult? Originally. Personal Prelature was conceived by church worthies as a means "for the appropriate distribution of priests." Giving a quasi-religious entity complete and final authority over its members above and beyond the powers of Bishops and Pope was hardly in the game plan. Opus Dei is like no other Personal Prelature known in the church. It is clerical, but it isn't. It is lay, but it isn't. It has absolute power wherever it exists. According to Michael Walsh, members are told to play kissy-face with all Bishops, but in fact, Bishops have no authority whatsoever in Opus Dei matters. Opus is ultra-conservative, very right-wing and it conducts its business and religious activities as though it was 1950 and Pope John XXIII and Vatican II never existed. While Escriva was alive, he required all members to call him Father. It was his practice to refer to his followers as children and to ceaselessly remind them they were too innocent and ignorant to think for themselves. Father knew best. After Escrlva died, the reins were taken over by Alvaro del Portillo. Portillo encourages members to substitute the idea 0f Escrlva for God when they pray "Our Father who art in heaven". One 0f the kinder descriptions of the organization is "a Church within the Church". The Vatican's position seems to be that it has no choice but to let Opus Dei run amok, flouting Canon Law and ethical spiritual laws, like a bratty child who has never been civilized. Though Vatican watchers say the Pope's tolerance of Opus Dei has "peaked". An outsider looks at the Escriva/Opus history and wonders why the Vatican didn't squash this power-mad upstart in the beginning. But there are always mitigating factors and wheels within wheels in the question of why a dangerous, megalomaniac, borderline-nutcase wasn't chastised and removed before he became an uncontrollable power. Historically, Spain was in turmoil when Escriva founded Opus Dei. In 1931, a Republic was declared and agnostic socialism reigned. Monasteries and churches were burned, the Jesuit Society of Jesus expelled and crosses removed from schools. Education was completely secularized and ecclesiastical property appropriated by the state. Even divorce was permitted. At a time such as this, the rationale behind founding a secret society in which lay members would receive secular and religious instruction in a closed and authoritarian environment is easy to understand. But the accusations that Opus Dei always has supported and still supports military regimes will not go away. 5uch allegations are disquieting in the context of a holy organization backed to the hilt by the Roman Catholic Church. It is also disquieting that Opus Dei's allegiance always falls on the side of money and power. Opus does not initiate or support programs to feed the hungry or help the poor. It is strongly opposed to Liberation Theology-that movement within the Catholic Church in Latin America, which holds that alleviating hunger and deprivation are pursuits as holy as celebrating mass. Escriva had more than a few bizarre and archaic personal fetishes. All of which he passed on to members of Opus Dei as requirements for holiness. A small brown bag enclosing "instruments of mortification" is given to all members, even youngsters as young as 15. A spiked chain called a cilice is to be worn "around the thigh two hours a day, a rope whip is to be applied to the buttocks once a week. Hair shirts are worn. Members sleep on hard little mats, kiss the floor immediately upon arising and take cold showers. Part III- God's Work, God's Cult? "The Circle" is a particularly nasty little manipulation of power, which Escriva found to be indispensable and effective. Members sit around a circle and tell intimate details of their lives, concentrating on flawed behavior and sexual problems. All the areas which are found to be wanting are picked at and dissected. Members chastise themselves bitterly, and in turn are chastised by their superior and each other. Opus members are instructed to uncover defects in each other and to bring them to the attention of the director. When members have not "fished" for the requisite number of new apostles they are soundly reprimanded during the weekly circle. Church Canon Law banned this kind of “confidences” in 1980. But not by Escriva's law. Canon Law also states that Catholics may go to any priest they choose as long as he is approved the by the Bishop. This is given lip service in Opus, but in practice, going to a non-Opus priest is strictly forbidden and punished. Walsh, a former Jesuit, takes a dim view of Escriva and his organization. He is not alone. He noted in his "Afterward" that God-business journalist Kenneth Woodward (Newsweek) claimed at a press conference on April 20, 1992 that Escriva's beatification (which took place May 17, 1992) was too hasty and the ratio of two out of nine Vatican arbiters against beatification was very high. Vladimir Felzmann, who joined Opus in 1959, became a priest in 1969, and left Opus in 1982, has charged that Escriva was sympathetic to Hitler and was so distressed by changes fostered by Pope John XXIII and Vatican II that he considered defecting to the Greek Orthodox Church. Plus, Felzmann said, Escriva had a far from saintly bad temper. My own personal favorites about Escriva, which seem offensive enough to exclude him from polite company, let alone sainthood are: 1. He habitually whipped himself with a cat-o-nine tails to which he had attached bits of metal and pieces of razor blades; men who have seen his bathroom reported all walls were stained with blood. 2. In 1974, while visiting Sao Paolo in Brazil, he told the women, "When your husband comes back from work, from his job, from his professional tasks, don't let him find you in a temper. Do yourself up, look pretty, and, as the years go by, decorate the facade even more, as they do with old buildings. He'll be so grateful to you," Until Walsh's book was published, an interested church-watcher was hard put to find any facts about Opus, though the members have always loudly asserted information is readily available. Let's put it this way: the data cranked out by Opus members and spin-doctors is so washed and deodorized as to be no information at all. Even so, the small collection of writings released by Opus apologists prior to Walsh's book, sent up warning flares. A little volume by Paul Thierry (“Opus Dei”, 1975) recounts, in page after page, all the allegations, which Thierry swears, are not true about Opus Dei, making the reader absolutely positive they are true as sin. Thierry writes, "Our Lord gave rise to Opus Dei in 1928...the members are ordinary people...there is nothing false or artificial in their behavior...Opus Dei never had activity in political or economic matters...the University of Navarro in Pamplona, Spain was not founded in opposition to the official university...Opus Dei does not run profit-making enterprises...members manage their companies according to their own ideas without receiving the slightest guidance from directors of The Work." And Balaguer himself said, "Any attempt to picture Opus Dei as a source of temporal or economic directives is completely unfounded." Part IV- God's Work, God's Cult? The examples of Escriva's Maxims given by Michael Walsh show them to be a marvel of cultish wisdom. Maxim No. 457: "Who are you to pass judgment on the decisions of a superior? Don't you see that he is better fitted to judge than you? He has more experience...and above all, he has more grace." No. 946: "Women needn't be scholars. It's enough that they are prudent." No. 339, "Don't buy books without advice from a Catholic who is learned or prudent. It is easy to buy something useless or harmful...and it turns out to be garbage." Remember, these Aphorisms are taught today, and it's a very long time since the Vatican gave up its lists of censored movies and books. How about No, 563? "Win over the guardian angel of that person whom you wish to draw to draw to your apostolate. He is always a great 'accomplice'." Hello? Nos. 639 through 656 are about keeping Opus and its doings secret, Father Andrew Byrne, an Opus priest, wrote in a letter in the "Daily Mail", January 14, 1981, "In some cases when a youngster says he wants to join we do advise them not to tell their parents. This is because the parents do not understand us." The last Opus membership figures available are from 1982, when there were 70,000 worldwide members, only 2,500 0f whom were in the US. Full members (numeraries): 21,000. Oblates (similar to numeraries but living outside Opus residences): 14,000. Supernumeraries (governed by Opus Constitution, but more loose affiliates, like married people--who, by the way, are expected to be celibate): 35,000. It's interesting that the higher ranks (predominately men) can purchase their clothing from top-drawer shops. But lower ranks, like women auxiliaries, have to purchase clothing from cheap chain stores. Is Opus Dei a cult? Michael Walsh quotes Carol Coulter (“Are Religious Cults Dangerous?”, 1984). "The suspicion must remain that the Catholic Church has its own cult, protected up to now by the highest levels in the Church itself." Clinical psychologist and Jesuit priest, Father Brendan Callaghan, said he is particularly alarmed by the contrived confusion in Opus documents and teaching between "our Father" meaning God and "our Father" meaning Escriva. Maria del Carmen Tapia, who was head of the female section of Opus in Venezuela for ten years, reported that she was forced to resign from Opus for committing "crimes" against the organization. She had allowed women to go to priests of their own choice for confession. She was summoned to Rome where she was "put under virtual house arrest for eight months" with no outside communication. And she was told that no matter how much penance she did for her crimes, it was unlikely she would be saved. It's easy for someone outside the Opus discipline to say this is crazy. But look at the Branch Davidians in Waco. They also truly believed everything their leader said. However, David Koresh was not about to be made a Saint. As Tapia says, "In a hundred or in fifty years the Church is going to say that we were wrong to approve Opus Dei.”

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