“Opus Dei priest loses campus job”
by Deborah Kovach, April 10, 1990, The Trenton Times
PRINCETON BUROUGH – The Rev. C. John McCloskey III, the Opus Dei priest whose presence at Princeton University has created strife among campus Catholics, has been removed as associate chaplain and will not be replaced by another Opus Dei priest, university officials said yesterday.
The Rev. Vincent Keane, director of the Aquinas Center where the Catholic chaplaincy at Princeton is housed, told McCloskey on Dec. 8 that he would be dismissed, McCloskey said yesterday. McCloskey said he will stay on as associate chaplain until commencement on June 12.
Keane reportedly made the announcement at the Aquinas Center Sunday Mass. He did not return phone calls yesterday.
McCloskey, who has worked at Princeton since 1985 amid a swirl of student and faculty protest, said Keane told him he wanted to hire a full-time nun or laywoman to fill the associate chaplain’s position. McCloskey said his position was part time and without pay or contract.
BUT MCCLOSKEY will remain in Princeton as priest of Opus Dei, which is Latin for Work of God. Opus Dei is a worldwide doctrinally conservative Catholic lay organization that has been dogged with controversy since its founding in Spain in 1928. Some former Opus Dei members have charged, among other things, that the group is cult like in its adoration of founder Monsignor Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas, a Spaniard who died in 1975. Opus Dei officials vehemently deny that charge.
McCloskey, who will continue to live at Opus Dei’s house on Mercer Street, said he will hear confession, lead retreats and celebrate Mass, among other activities.
As for his relationship with Aquinas, he said, “hopefully it will be just a friendly relationship. That’s up to Father Keane.”
The Rev. Joseph Williamson, dean of the chapel at Princeton, said, “Father Keane and I have been in conversation about this over several months, and the overriding concern for both of us is the welfare of Catholic ministry on campus. . . Father Keane made the decision that he felt the ministry would be better served without Father McCloskey.”
The announcement came after a group of students and faculty opposed to Opus Dei circulated a petition last week calling for McCloskey to step down. The petition accused McCloskey of, among other things, violating academic freedom by counseling students not to take courses given by professors who are “anti-Christian.”
MCCLOSKEY DECLINED to discuss the issue. But in a letter printed yesterday in the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, McCloskey wrote, “I deny the charges of infringement on academic freedom. I consider it my right and duty to give advice to students regarding course selection. . . I would be derelict in my pastoral role if I did not proffer that advice.”
Controversy has surrounded McCloskey since his arrival on campus and particularly since he was made an associate chaplain at the university in 1986. The problems became more intense last fall, when Opus Dei and some of the group’s supporters purchased a house on Mercer Street for $600,000.
A group of Princeton Catholics, who call themselves “liberal” or “progressive,” say that Opus Dei is moving to create two Catholic chaplaincies and the basis for an authoritarian Catholic community. The Aquinas Institute on Stockton Street has ministered for decades to Princeton’s liberal Catholics.
Central to their call for McCloskey’s removal last year were 12 signed letters from students complaining about McCloskey that were collected and presented to Keane. The letters described upsetting encounters between students and McCloskey. Opus Dei officials have strongly denied the allegations in the letters.
Robert Taliercio, a senior who has been a leader in the movement to oust McCloskey, said yesterday, “I think it’s the best situation for all parties involved. It was really about the resolution of a problem in our own community. I don’t want to look at it as a win-or-lose situation.”
HE SAID the recent petition, signed by 12 faculty members as well as a number of students, did not influence Keane’s decision, but Taliercio said, “It strengthened our hand.”
Freshman Mary Meaney, however, said she is upset that McCloskey is stepping down.
“I’m very disappointed by it,” she said. “I think very highly of Father John. I know people look up to him.”
Meaney, who said she only occasionally attends Opus Dei activities, said the allegations that McCloskey has infringed on academic freedom are “untrue” and fraught with “misinformation.”
But Luis Tellez, the director of Opus Dei activities at Princeton, said McCloskey’s dismissal “does not preclude our activities here.”
“In a way, it frees him to devote more time to Opus Dei,” Tellez said. “There is no break here. It is just a change in relationship.”
“I think in some ways it’s a relief,” Tellez said. “It was a sacrifice to be devoting time to things that were not associated with our work.”
Tellez said he is not angry with the group that pressured for McCloskey’s ouster.
“I just pray for them,” he said. “I don’t think there is room for anger on this. That’s not what a Christian ought to respond with. I’d just like to move on.”