The Rising Spectre of Opus Dei

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By Clive Gillis, from BRITISH CHURCH NEWSPAPER 1 & 8 November 2002

Opus Dei (‘Work of God’) is short for "The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei".

Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, was canonised on October 6. The ceremony passed quietly enough but the process which led to it had been pushed through at break neck speed.

The media celebrated the occasion by republishing past revelations concerning St. Escriva’s fascism, secrecy, elitism and accumulation of vast wealth, beneath headlines tactfully referring to him as "controversial". But there was a deafening silence concerning the menace posed by Escriva’s huge, shadowy organisation which originated in obscurity in Spain in the 1930s and blossomed in the Spanish Civil War.

Storm of controversy

The present writer well remembers the storm of controversy which surrounded the beatification of Escriva in May 1992. The Jesuits, world over, cried foul as the ghost of Escriva arose from nowhere to overtake the Jesuit causes for sainthood of Newman and Pope Pius XII (The holocaust Pope). Shock –horror media reports and TV documentaries exposed the major part played by filthy lucre in the process of Roman saint making.

However, when the day for Escriva’s canonisation came, 250,000 pilgrims attended an orderly, ticket-only ceremony at St Peter’s, Rome. The BBC caught the angry reaction of latecomers refused entry to St Peters Square, but the cultic orderliness of the pilgrims kneeling on the cobbles, with priests distributing wafers, attended by minions sheltering them under white umbrellas, seemed anything but controversial. Rather it conveyed the haughty detachment of Opus.

Dr Ian Paisley intends publishing some old articles by the present writer under the title, Contemporary Rome Viewed Through History. Chapter 4 deals with the origins of Opus Dei. Little reliable information about Opus has appeared since 1992, despite increasingly aggressive media enquiries.

Cult of Founder

The present leader of Opus is Madrid-born Bishop Xavier Echevarria, 70. He is only the third leader in Opus 74-year history. Echevarria was Escriva’s former private secretary from 1953 until 1975. A leader for life, he replaced his predecessor bishop Alvaro Portillo on Portillo’s death in 1994. This slow succession serves to preserves the sinister personality cult of the founder and safeguards the deadly ethos of the organisation for the future.

Pope John Paul II, who is anti-Jesuit, "granted it (Opus) the status of ‘personal prelature’ in 1982, meaning that its members’ activities fall under Opus Dei jurisdiction rather than directly under their local bishop". It is amazing that Opus should have been granted such a lofty status even by a pro-Opus Pope. It is the key to the organisation’s power. Opus does as it wishes, and an ambitious Bishop who crosses Opus does so at his own peril.

Reliable estimates of the membership have grown from between 75,000 and 80,000 in 1992 to between 80,000 and 85,000 today. It is well over three times the size of the Society of Jesus. Escriva once said, "I would prefer a million times that a daughter of mine die without the Last Sacraments than that they be administered to her by a Jesuit," yet he wept when the Jesuits had him to dinner.

Fabulous wealth

The organisation’s Spanish roots led naturally to its spread in Latin America and other colonial Spanish regions. However its current growth in the USA shows that it has widened its non-Latin appeal in recent years.

The opening of a new 17-storey skyscraper headquarters in Manhattan, variously quoted as costing between 42 million and 54 million dollars, demonstrates the fabulous wealth of Opus.

The Opus business empire was built up by recruiting company directors while they were still at Business School. It was originally dubbed the "Holy Octopus" in Spain, but now its tentacles extend around the world. Research into Opus affiliated organisations suggests assets of half a billion dollars in the USA alone. There are known Opus business affiliates in over 20 countries and no doubt there are many more not known.

London headquarters

The London head quarters are at 5 Orme Court, London W2 4RL. Opus still recruits bright, idealistic and well connected children through education at sixth form or University level. Repressed Escriva always maintained total separation of the sexes. The UK London colleges are Netherhall House in Hamstead for men and Ashwell House in Islington for women. The rigid own-room policy, with a heavy educational programme, suits the agenda both of Opus and of fee-paying parents. Each college advertises separately and is run by a different charity. Ashwell is at present concentrating on medical education which is always popular with ambitious parents and children. The publicity now contains a small Opus disclosure: "The spiritual dimension of life," at Netherhall House/Ashwell House, "is entrusted to Opus Dei, a personal Prelature of the Catholic Church. There is a Chapel and a full-time Chaplain".


The last 10 years have not been scandal free. Louis Freeh, Director of the FBI from 1993 to 2001 was exposed as an Opus member after the department was heavily pruned and allegations had surfaced that pyrotechnic devices were used to speed the end of the Waco Adventist siege.

The disgraced FBA agent, Robert Hansen, who was jailed for life in 2001 for spying for the Russians over a 15-year period in return for payment of almost a million pounds, was exposed as a devout Opus Dei member. It surfaced that "Hansen’s brother-in-law was an Opus Dei priest in Rome whose office is mere steps away from the pope. One of their daughters is an Opus Dei numerary, a woman who has taken a vow of celibacy while remaining a layperson".

Hansen’s motive for his treachery was a desire to afford the Opus Dei lifestyle, and send his children to Opus schools. He justified his actions by the maxim of the old Jesuit moral theology of the greater or lesser good. Other psychological explanations are probably just Opus disinformation. Roman Catholics have held many of the top posts in the CIA for some decades and it seems reasonable to conjecture that this is how Opus gained entrance.

‘Pope’s Secret Army’

Opus can apparently take direct action on occasions. In September 1994, the popular Portuguese magazine VISAO carried an article entitled, The Pope’s Secret Army which was critical of Opus. VISAO was subsequently bombarded with unending Opus correspondence. This raised the cry that Opus only look after its own, for the magazine was renowned for criticising Rome in general and not publishing Roman Catholic responses. We are informed that, "Curiously enough, the offices of VISAO went up in flames shortly thereafter and since then VISAO has lost their appetite to criticize Opus Dei".

The alleged Opus connection with the extreme right wing and pro-Nazi movements in Europe keeps surfacing. So far the organisation has kept the lid on any evidence. Opus does this by lauding and only advancing those demonstrating fanatical devotion to secrecy. This is termed "holy discretion". However The Belgian Government were not fooled for a Belgian Parliamentary Commission Report on April 28, 1997 officially classified Opus as a sect.

The necessary miracle for Escriva’s beatification was the overnight healing in 1976 of a Carmelite nun who was suffering from swellings. The miraculous cure was authenticated "in part" by Opus doctors. The second miracle, which was necessary for Canonisation, was the healing of Dr. Manuel Nevado Rey’s skin condition. Here Opus has denied any complicity, but according to Jesuit Fr Reese’s scholarly book, Inside the Vatican, it is understood that there are "members (of Opus) in every (Vatican) department", which renders Opus assurance valueless. Doctors know how "intractable" skin conditions can suddenly heal. As for Opus purchasing Escriva’s sainthood, Father Esser a chief Vatican Saintmaker, has confirmed that Opus money eased the passage of the cause.

Illegal canonisation

The Canonisation of Escriva transgressed canon law. Kenneth Woodward, a journalist and an insider, has proved that the ‘Devil’s advocate’ system was bypassed and witnesses hostile to Opus were not called.

Opus claims that eleven critics of Escriva’s canonisation were heard, but Woodward says there was only one. The "consultors" were mainly Italian and members of Opus. This prevented Escriva’s many critical Spanish peers upsetting the procedure. But it broke the convention that "consultors" should be the fellow countrymen of the proposed saint. Opus argues that Escriva was too "international" to need this.

What is more, it was out of order for forty per cent of the testimony to come from Escriva’s two henchmen, both of whom have since become Opus leaders. Wealthy Opus is alleged to have pressurised "hundreds" of Bishops, especially from the cash hungry third world, to send favourable reports to Rome’s saintmakers. It is alleged that 1300 Bishops sent in glowing reports. Yet of these only 128 had personally met Escriva. Furthermore, it appears that Opus have tightly restricted the Canonisation material even within the Vatican.

The De-humanising, anti-Christian spirit hidden within Opus, has recently been exposed by several courageous women who have left the movement. Escriva now faces damming charges that disqualify him from being regarded as a gentleman amongst natural men, let alone a saint and a type of God the "Father." The most complete of these accounts comes from founder member and former Opus high-flyer Maria del Carmen Tapia, who has now left the movement in disgust. Her manuscript entitled Beyond the Threshold was published in the face of massive Opus opposition, particularly to the English edition.

There are still anti-Opus websites clandestinely putting out snippets of the book in English, dating from when the book was secret and hot property.

Holy discretion

Opus met Tapia’s accusations with total public silence ("holy discretion"). At the same time Opus secretly engaged a prominent Romanist who was too important to ignore, namely the Pope himself, to put his name to a refutation of Tapia which had been written for him by Opus top men. This is an ancient Jesuit tactic. Thus it was that while VISAO had lost its appetite for anti-Opus material and Maria del Carmen Tapia was struggling to get the English edition of Beyond the Threshold published, an enormously well publicised book by Pope John Paul II entitled Crossing the Threshold of Hope was published simultaneously in 38 countries and in 21 languages.

Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Vatican Director of the Public Relations Office of the Holy See, the highest profile member of Opus, was at a loss to explain why "neither the style of prose nor the central philosophies of this book are coherent with all other writings and words attributed to Pope John Paul II". Neither had he any credible defence against the charge that well-known chronological facts demonstrated beyond doubt "from a logistics and mechanical point of view,…(that John Paul II) would not have written the said book".

Tapia’s expose has all the marks of genuineness. It is written in a gentle tone of sadness rather than anger. It is unique in that it gives not just appalling facts but more importantly, the deadly spiritual atmosphere of Opus. Tapia is revealed as a well-qualified and scholarly woman writing in her maturity. She realised that information on Opus is "scarce and unreliable" and simply asks that Escriva be more "justly appraised". Her book deserves wide distribution as the only recent major expose of Opus itself rather than of Opus scandals.

Certainly someone who had the time could use it to refute point by point, the official, saintly picture of Escriva as found in his official biography by German Professor Peter Berglar and published by Opus publisher Scepter.

Make her talk

Irascible Escriva is found to be continually raging over trivialities, particularly amongst the junior women who cold not respond. His pride and vanity are all too clear to see. "Filiation towards the Father," far from being a relationship with God, is an exaltation of the man himself.

Escriva’s true character is particularly vividly portrayed in the events of Tapia’s final departure. Words cannot describe the harrowing scene in those pages as the Father demotes Tapia and her colleagues. "Monsignor Escriva breathed deeply…. You will no longer work for the Central Advisory… When Gladys left the sessions chamber Monsignor Escriva told the central directress .. in the presence of the priests… (what follows is not fit to print) …until she talks. MAKE HER TALK".

May the judgement of the Whore of Babylon be soon.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.