Opus Dei leaves liberals worried
by Deborah Kovach, Staff Writer
From The Trenton Times
October 22, 1989
PRINCETON BUROUGH – A simple white clapboard home at 34 Mercer
Street is the symbol of what has become an increasingly divided
house in Princeton’s Roman Catholic community.
weeks ago officials of Opus Dei, a worldwide, doctrinally conservative
Roman Catholic lay organization, confirmed they would pay $600,000
for Emily “Cissy” Stuart’s home on Mercer Street,
where Stuart was stabbed to death last April. The murder has not
yet been solved.
Dei members say it will be a residence for four group members, two
of them students. The organization emphasizes forming an intensely
spiritual relationship with God and promoting excellence in professional
a group of Catholics, most of whom are connected with Princeton
University, say the purchase is a threatening sign that Opus Dei
is moving to create two Catholic chaplaincies and the basis for
an intellectually closed and authoritarian Catholic community. The
Catholic chaplaincy, which is housed in the Aquinas Institute on
Stockton Street has for decades been the refuge for Princeton's
liberal and progressive Catholics both on campus and in town.
overt pitch is they want to encourage people to take their religion
seriously," said Walter Murphy, a renowned professor of constitutional
law at Princeton and a Catholic who has written about his church.
"How can any person oppose that? But it's the specific kind
of teaching and how they gravitate politically."
ITS founding in 1928 in Spain, Opus Dei (Latin for Work of God)
has become one of the most influential, controversial and mysterious
movements in Roman Catholicism according to a number of articles
printed in periodicals during the past decade.
1982, Pope John Paul II granted Opus Dei a new status called a personal
prelature. The prelature, a position achieved by no other church
group until now, gives Opus Dei autonomy as a worldwide, nonterritorial
jurisdiction. Opus Dei is not a religious order, as are the Jesuits
(Society of Jesus) for instance, but like religious orders, the
group reports directly to the Pope. However, Opus Dei says in its
own statutes say it will not establish itself in any diocese without
the express permission of that diocese's bishop.
to the recently published book, People of God, by award-winning
journalist Penny Lernoux and a 1984 article in Time magazine, Opus
Dei members were among those who supported the Central Intelligence
Agency-backed coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende
and who are now linked to the right-wing dictatorship of General
to the same sources, Opus Dei is also particularly known for its
ties to the government of the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco,
whose Cabinet included many devout Opus Dei members.
Luis Tellez, a regional director for Opus Dei in New York who spends
some of his time at Princeton, denied those charges. He said that
though some Opus Dei members were Cabinet members, there were other
Opus Dei members who opposed Franco, at least one of them a prominent
Spanish journalist who was exiled by the dictator.
a 15-page rebuttal to Lernoux's book, Opus Dei communications director
William Schmitt wrote of the allegations concerning the Chilean
government. "The facts contradict the author's allegation that
members or sympathizers supported an illegal criminal coup that
was widely condemned by international public opinion. No member
of Opus Dei has ever worked as a minister or adviser in the Pinochet
government nor occupied any high-level directive function during
the Pinochet regime."
FORMER Opus Dei members have charged that the group is cult-like
in its adoration of founder Monsignor Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer
y Albas, a Spaniard who died in 1975, according to Lernoux's book,
1983 articles in the National Catholic Reporter and a 1984 article
in The New York Times magazine.
to the rebuttal, Opus Dei "is no more of a 'cult' than any
other lawfully established part of the Catholic Church -- such as,
for example, the Archdiocese of New York or any religious order
or congregation. The exercise of any form of 'worship of the founder'
by Opus Dei or any of its members, which does not exist, would immediately
result in the most serious form of disciplinary action on the part
of the church.
former Opus Dei members also charge that Opus Dei is sexist. According
to the National Catholic Reporter piece, The New York Times magazine
and Lernoux's book, men and women are separated in Opus Dei facilities,
and women sleep on boards so that they will not have sexual fantasies.
said he does not know whether or not women sleep on boards, but
he said of the charge, "I find that totally preposterous and
outrageous." [See former
member's testimony of sleeping on boards.]
said, however, that Opus Dei does have two branches that separate
women and men. "The reason there are two separate branches
is this is how God wanted it from the beginning and Escriva saw
that it works. It gives women, in fact, greater ability to lead
on their own. They address women's issues much more effectively."
also pointed out that about 30 percent of Opus Dei members are celibate,
making the separation of the sexes a practical matter.
to The New York Times magazine and Time articles, some members worldwide
practice self-flagellation, and Escriva was known to flagellate
himself with a whip to such a point that he drew blood.
SAID that though Escriva did practice such self-mortification, he
later decided this was not what God wanted for the members of Opus
Dei and he forbade members from those practices. [See
former member's testimony of practicing corporal mortification.]
Dei members, who reportedly number about 4,000 in this country and
80,000 worldwide, vehemently deny they have any political leanings.
the notable members, Tellez said, is Russell Shaw, the former press
secretary for the National Catholic Conference of Bishops and now
the director of communications for the Knights of Columbus.
said there are about 40 Opus Dei members in the Princeton area.
Dei's aims are strictly spiritual," Tellez said. "Members
are free to hold their own political and economic views as long
as they do not go against what the Church teaches. . . We have the
permission of the bishop to be here. We want to foster unity. We
want to be part of the community.
we have done since we got here is buy a house. Is that a crime?"
said Tellez, who will be one of the occupants of the house.
Murphy said: "They have this earned (right-wing) reputation,
and they will not admit it and they will not deny it. To say that
a group that will support military dictatorships is only concerned
with religion is absurd."
Rev. Charles Weiser, who was chaplain at the Aquinas Institute for
18 years prior to June 1988, sees Opus Dei's arrival in Princeton
as less menacing.
you have is an internal strain between different sorts of Catholics,"
said Weiser, who is now serving a parish in Long Branch. He said
he left Aquinas because diocesan authorities told him he had been
at Aquinas too long. "Most people who attend the Aquinas Institute
hold dissenting views (from those of the Vatican). I found it funny
that those who held the dissenting views were so intolerant of orthodox
current chaplain at Aquinas, the Rev. Vincent Keane, did not return
phone calls last week. Bishop John Reiss of the Diocese of Trenton,
under whose jurisdiction the Aquinas Institute falls and who has
been asked by Catholics opposed to Opus Dei to mediate the dispute,
declined the comment on the matter.
said Opus Dei first came to town from New York in 1985, with the
arrival of the Rev. C. John McCloskey III, now the associate chaplain
I learned they'd be in town I decided the best way to deal with
them was to watch them," Weiser remembered last week. "I
was more than skeptical. Our first meeting was very heated. The
diplomats would call it a frank exchange of views."
said his parishioners -- students, professors and townspeople --
also were immediately nervous.
guy was coming down three times a week and people are paralyzed
by anxiety," Weiser said. "The immediate feeling I had
was that they were acting like an elephant jumping on a chair trying
to get away from this mouse. People were afraid Opus Dei was going
to take over."
McCloskey made visits to Princeton to meet with interested Catholic
students. But Weiser, wishing to avoid dividing the chaplaincy,
said he decided to bring McCloskey under the Aquinas umbrella and
later made him an associate chaplain.
soon after that, conflicts developed, according to several professors
and students opposed to Opus Dei.
INDIVIDUAL interviews over the last two weeks, at least five Catholics
who are opposed to Opus Dei said McCloskey used aggressive, intimidating
tactics in his drive to recruit Catholic students as members. They
said he asked sexually explicit and embarrassing questions during
professor Michael Jimenez, a Catholic who has opposed Opus Dei because
of its ideology and tactics, is among those who contend that McCloskey
told students not to take courses with certain professors because
they were "dangerous," and told professors he would advise
students not to read philosophers such as Nietzsche and Hume because
they were also "dangerous" to young minds.
Dei is to intellectual Catholics what Jimmy Swaggart is to intellectual
Protestants, " said Murphy, the constitutional law professor.
an interview last week, McCloskey refused to discuss the specific
charges and the controversy at Aquinas last year.
of this is a closed episode and to talk about it would be divisive,"
he said. "If you're proclaiming the word of the church in any
university community, it's not surprising there might be problems.
Universities are hotbeds of secularism."
said, "It's no secret there are people who have problems with
the basic teachings of the church. It's no surprise they have trouble
with Opus Dei because they have trouble with the basic teachings
of the church. It shows an ignorance that is abysmal. . . All we
ask for is fairness and unfortunately many times we don't find that."
the controversy, he added, "It's been remarkable the great
welcome we've received in Princeton among the Catholic community."
SAID those who oppose Opus Dei "are going to have to learn
that Opus Dei is not going away. We're here to satisfy the needs
(of Catholics) and serve in the diocese. We bring peace, not a sword."
situation at Aquinas culminated last February in what turned out
to be an explosive two-hour meeting of about 100 people, half students
and half townspeople, at the Aquinas Institute.
to senior Robert Taliercio, a group of students who were disgruntled
with Opus Dei composed a two-page statement they read during the
meeting. Among the statement's five points was a call to remove
McCloskey from the staff of the Aquinas Institute.
of a pattern of actual, documented problems with Father John McCloskey,
we insist on his disassociation from the Aquinas Institute,"
the statement read. "These problems fall under the following
categories his partisanship prevents him from ministering to all
members of the community, and which in fact has fostered divisiveness.
Father McCloskey has questioned students' Catholicism and asked
inappropriate questions that have offended and alienated persons
from the community; and he has embarrassed some members of the community
and has contributed to Aquinas a bad reputation in various sectors
of the university."
said, "That opened up a huge debate, as you can imagine. It
was a very important meeting. For the first time the community came
to the students' call for McCloskey's removal were 12 signed letters
from students complaining about McCloskey that were collected by
several students and presented to Keane, Reiss and the Rev. Sue
Anne Steffy-Morrow, acting dean of the chapel.
TO university sources, who preferred to remain anonymous because
they were frightened that Opus Dei would take legal action against
them, the letters described intense questioning by McCloskey about
their sex lives, their parents' marital status and their parents'
religion. The questioning often sent students crying from McCloskey's
office, the sources said.
Tellez, the Opus Dei regional director, said of the controversy:
"It's blown up way out of proportion. As far as I know there
is a handful of people who are disgruntled. I would deny the characterization
of Father McCloskey's way of dealing with people to the point of
calling (the accusations) libelous."
said of the letters: "To my knowledge none of the allegations
reflected what was found in those few cases." And he said that
none of McCloskey's questions were "beyond the scope of what
a priest can ask. (A priest) should never make a person feel guilty.
That's along the lines I would characterize Father McCloskey's way
of dealing with people. He made the suggestion, 'Would you like
to go to confession?' I would never say his view was 'You must go
to confession.' Never."
Taliercio said he opposes Opus Dei because he has personal experience
with it. In July 1987, he went on an Opus Dei retreat in Spain,
where he taught English to Spaniards.
CALLED the Opus Dei center in Madrid "very luxurious,"
a situation he felt was "hypocritical" because of the
Catholic Church's call to help the impoverished in the world.
addition, Taliercio said, men were separated from women, who did
all the housework, including cleaning up after the men.
that, I came back and said this is not for me," Taliercio said.
said he was initially attracted to Opus Dei because "it provided
security and it makes complicated lives very simple. Everything
is black and white. You don't have to think."
said, "Opus Dei is dangerous in the sense that this reactionary
Catholicism can take over what is really mainline Catholicism and
stamp out those who do not agree."
said worried Catholics took their concerns to Keane and Reiss, but
no decision has been made yet.
new house changes the situation," Taliercio said. "The
house has been a divisive move on their part. It looks like another
Catholic chaplaincy is being formed."
there is going to be some kind of engagement," said Taliercio.
"The issue is not over. We are still pursuing the agenda of
last semester, especially disassociating McCloskey and the re-examination
of Opus Dei's role at Aquinas, especially in light of the purchase
of the house."
house is now vacant, but Tellez, McCloskey and two students plan
to move in later this month.
are some individuals whose personalities don't mesh, and McCloskey
has a personality that take a while to get to know him and where
he's coming from," said Sharon Fraser, a Princeton University
senior who is active in Opus Dei activities.
I came to Princeton I considered myself a Catholic but I never received
adequate religious instruction," she said. "You arrive
at Princeton and you have to make up your mind about things very
quickly. I just had the desire to know what the church teaches and
why it teaches what it teaches."
EMPHASIZED that "Opus Dei has the right to proselytize. But
it is very problematic for me that Opus Dei should be officially
represented on the university's Catholic chaplaincy, especially
in the position of associate chaplain. Their definition of Catholicism
and style preclude open inquiry, which any Catholic chaplaincy needs
to be respectful of and indeed promote.
was a Catholic community that was liberal and had a pastor that
provided support for broad views," Jimenez said. "I think
we got lazy in defending what Catholicism meant. I think we became
a complacent community of liberal Catholics. . . I believe Opus
Dei is the Good Lord testing us to see if we can remain a people