The Ethics of Opus Dei

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By Ruth Bertels

In his scholarly work, Saints and Schemers, Joan Estruch offers readers a unique insight into the basic philosophy of Opus Dei, rife with contradictions, which may account for the misunderstanding between Blessed Josemaria Escriva and Pope Paul VI, leading to a stormy relationship.

On January 24, 1964, six months after his election as pope, Pope Paul had an audience with Escriva, who related that the pope "said things to him that even his mother never said."

At about the same time, the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar published an article in which he addressed Escriva directly, possibly mirroring the pope's sentiments.

"That you have a great deal of money, many political and cultural positions; that you use intelligent and discreet tactics toward the end of attaining these positions by the fastest and most direct route, there is nothing to say. In itself, power is not evil. The whole question is this: why do you want power? What do you mean to do with it? What is the spirit you are attempting to propagate with these methods?"

Pope Paul VI refused Escriva's petition for a prelature status, and Opus Dei remained a secular institute for eighteen more years, when Pope John Paul II made it a Personal Prelature.

Far removed from Rome, and of no consequence to Opus Dei, I pose this question to the present prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria: Why are you so insistent upon going ahead with Escriva's canonization when you know what problems arose with his beatification? Are you worried that the next pope will not only refuse to favor his canonization, but will deprive Opus Dei of its present prelature status?

Joan Estruch, on p. 278, wrote that at Escriva's beatification, Opus representatives, off the record, maintained that Escriva would be canonized in two years. According to some Vatican officials, also speaking off the record, John Paul II was well aware of the controversy spawned by the beatification, and made it clear that Escriva's canonization could not take place during his pontificate, but would have to wait for his successor.

After considering the delicate state of John Paul II's health, and of the pressures the certain added controversy will place upon him, I would have thought that simple compassion would have prompted Opus Dei to put aside the effort to have Escriva canonized. Yet, the leaders appear to possess neither compassion for the pope, nor shame for the questionable practices in which they have been involved that will raise scandal in Vatican Square.

On p. 263, Estruch, introduces us to Max Weber's philosophy formed in the last years of his life regarding two types of rational action: the distinction between the "ethics of conviction" and the "ethics of responsibility," developed in his lecture "Politics as Vocation," delivered in Munich in 1919.

Estruch explains: "The ethics of conviction is an absolute ethic, based on absolute fidelity to certain principles and on defending them at all costs, without taking into account the possible consequences. The ethics of responsibility, on the contrary, obliges one to be very aware of the possible consequences of action, to such an extent that the individual, faced with a choice, might on occasion consider it preferable to temporarily sacrifice his principles in order to avoid the greater evil of the foreseeable undesirable consequences of an action exclusively guided by convictions."

Weber is quoted as saying that the ethics of conviction are the ethics of the saint - (Jesus, the Apostles, Saint Francis), and that in the mature individual, the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility are integrated in his attitude and behavior.

A member of Opus, Gomez Perez is quoted on p. 265 as saying that "ethics pays," "ethics is profitable." However, he will justify bribery when it is apparent that otherwise a business would fail, and he condones tax evasion when the "state does not satisfy the common good" and when the tax evader contributes "those funds to the defense of the common good." (Gomez Perez, 1990)

Estruch raises this question: "When an author who is a member of Opus presents such arguments in a book entitled Business Ethics published by a press closely connected with Opus, can we accuse the person of evil thoughts if he sees it as a legitimation of the possible diversion of funds toward the "corporate works" of Opus Dei?" (p.266)

On matters of sexuality, procreation, and family life, Estruch asserts that Opus uses a system of ethics based solely on the ethics of conviction - no concessions of any kind. When we find the Vatican's unwavering stand on exclusive language, the denial of the priesthood to women, the Latin Mass, etc., we see the heavy hand of Opus Dei.

Male pronouns and female pronouns walking hand in hand through the New Catechism would threaten the purity of every First Communicant, to say nothing of feminine pronouns being included in the Liturgy and destroying the piety of the entire congregation!

Recently, we've seen Opus Dei's heavy hand once more in the new direction that little girls can be denied the privilege of serving at the altar of God if such is the wish of a priest or bishop. Little girls would distract little boys from thinking about priestly vocations. Of course, the fact is that little boys at the altar of God may well be more distracted with thoughts of bacon and eggs or an after-school baseball game, not of girls or the priesthood.

The problem is one the ultra conservatives refuse to see, much less acknowledge - that such contempt for women is costing the church thousands (yes, thousands) of vocations a year.

When was the last time you overheard mothers or aunts or grandmothers, friends or teachers encouraging a boy or young man to think about the priesthood?

It's the strangest phenomena I've ever come across, this refusal on the part of women across the nation to encourage vocations. They didn't discuss it among themselves, didn't march in parades, didn't write articles - they simply looked at the situation, decided the priesthood was not a healthy place for their young men and refused to pretend otherwise.

In his excellent book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Father Donald B. Cozzens, with years of experience in working with seminarians, has this to say about the priest shortage and women: (p. 134)

"The shortage of priests is not going to be solved by gritting our teeth and praying for more vocations. Women are the ones who identify and nurture vocations, and they are not doing it anymore, and they are not going to do it, and all the preaching in the world is not going to change their minds. If you don't believe me, talk to them. I've interviewed them. They say, 'A church that won't accept my daughters isn't going to get my son.' 'I know my son has a vocation to the priesthood but he won't accept celibacy.' 'I don't want my sons to go through what you and other priests have had to go through since the pedophilia issue surfaced.' "

These are manly words from a man of God, who is not afraid to listen to women and to learn from them the reality of the priesthood today. Many won't listen, of course. Too busy keeping little girls from the altar of God.