Face to Faith: Too far back to the future

The Guardian/October 7, 2002
By Gordon Urquhart

Yesterday more than 300, 000 people turned up for the most controversial canonisation of modern times, that of Opus Dei's founder Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who died in 1975. Meanwhile, ex-members of the organisation recall his rages, his contempt for women and that he was a royalist who petitioned for the revival of his title of "Marques de Peralta" - hardly displaying saintly humility. Escriva supported Spain's dictator Francisco Franco - Opus Dei provided many of El Caudillo's cabinet members - and had favourable views on Hitler.

When Escriva was beatified in 1992, the controversy led the Opus- run Vatican press office to impose a news black-out three weeks before the event. Yet, it has been evident that nothing would halt Escriva's progress to sanctity.

This urgency probably has everything to do with his theocratic conception of the social order which coincides with that of Pope John Paul II. Opus Dei claims its main aim - and its novelty as a Catholic organisation - is "the sanctification of work", and "to hallow and Christianise the institutions of the peoples, of science, of culture, civilisation, politics, the arts and social relations".

Opus members have penetrated all of these fields, arguably blurring the distinction between church and state. Repeatedly, the Pope has attacked the church- state divide. On January 28, the Pontiff appealed to Catholic lawyers not to cooperate in divorce proceedings and to find ways of "obtaining the public recognition of the indissolubility of marriage in the civil juridical order". Outraged members of the European Parliament organised a petition criticising what they saw as unacceptable interference.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Since the early-1990s, John Paul II focused his reign on the imposition of Catholic teachings on sexuality, through influence in the secular field. He set up a number of departments to co-ordinate this strategy. The laymen and women appointed to these bodies - from such fields as medicine, politics and academia - were overwhelmingly Opus Dei members.

Opus has made a crucial contribution to the Vatican's "family politics" by formulating an ideology of sexuality through its journals, think-tanks and foundations. A random sample from Opus Dei publications reveals just how extreme its positions are. At a young women's conference in the mid-90s, Opus Dei member, Dr Clementina Meregalli Anzilotti, stated the Opus line on violence against women thus: "Sexual harassment comes to those who want it. Some women go around dressed in such a way that they attract that kind of approach."

Cormac Burke, Opus Dei priest and a judge of the Sacred Roman Rota, the Vatican's marriage tribunal, has expounded the organisation's opposition to the "unisex mentality": "A world that does not encourage men to be more virile and women to be more feminine is not the world that God wants."

According to an Italian Opus Dei psychoanalyst Sandro Gindro, women who have had an abortion suffer from "strong paranoid tendencies, delusions of grandeur, the delirium of omnipotence in which a replaying of the myth of the Great Mother can probably be discerned."

Determined to influence the development of the church - and the world - after his demise, the Pope has devoted his latter days to nurturing a slew of conservative Catholic movements of which Opus is the best known. With an estimated combined membership of 200 million, they share that organisation's zeal to promote Rome's sexual politics in the secular arena.

When the founder of a Catholic order is declared a saint, his doctrine is sanctioned as divinely inspired and valid for the whole church. In bestowing the church's highest seal of approval on the legacy of Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, John Paul II has safeguarded his own.

Gordon Urquhart is a Catholic author and former priest.

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