The Response of the Opus Dei to the Priestly Sex Abuse Scandal

by Lee Penn



NOTE: The following is an excerpt from an article by Lee Penn, "Opus Dei & the Da Vinci Code, part II", published in the Journal of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project [SCP] (Vol. 29:4-30:1, 2006, pp. 42-67.)  (*) (**)


Second, there is the Opus Dei response to the revelation of priestly sex abuse (and hierarchical cover-up) in the Catholic Church.  It’s true that activists and researchers who investigate the scandal have found little evidence that Opus Dei members have sexually abused children and teenagers.[1]  That’s a remarkable finding – and is in contrast with the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Catholic “new ecclesial movement” whose founder has been publicly accused of molesting seminarians.[2]  When Bishop Kurt Krenn of Austria became embroiled in scandal in 2004 after it was revealed that his seminary students were hoarding child pornography and groping each other for the camera, it was an Opus Dei bishop, Klaus Küng, whom John Paul II sent to the diocese to clean up the mess.[3]

Nevertheless, the response of several Opus Dei spokesmen to the victims could be summarized as “let them eat cake.”  The mind-set that Opus Dei brings to Vatican policy-makers would ensure the continuation of the cover-up into the indefinite future.

In August 2002, the conservative Catholic journalist Rod Dreher wrote in a column for the Wall Street Journal that unless John Paul II took “dramatic action to restore the church to holiness – starting with deposing this legion of bad bishops – his [the Pope’s] criticism of modern society will ring hollow in the heart of this faithful American Catholic.”[4]  The prominent Opus Dei priest Fr. John McCloskey replied to the Journal that a “minuscule proportion” of “Catholic priests and bishops” were implicated in the scandal, and that “remedies are already being put into effect. I would hope that Mr. Dreher would be more patient in terms of the remedy. The church has a pretty good track record. Check in again in about another thousand years.”[5] 

Other Opus Dei members and supporters have said likewise.  In March 2002, an Italian priest, Fr. Vimpari, relied on Escrivá’s maxims to attack “Diogenes,” a Catholic World News columnist, for his criticism  of scandal-tainted priests.  The priest also blamed parents for not teaching children to respect the Church hierarchy: “Unfortunately not all priests live in full harmony with the Church and with their sacred commitments. One of the prominent figures of the Church of the last century, Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, reminds us accurately of the fact that any priest—whoever he might be—is however always another Christ (The Way, 66).    Yes, there is a crisis in the Church in many countries. And yes, many priests continue to contribute to it, but this should inspire us to pray more for the priests and for their sanctification, rather than to publicly ridicule them as a group or even under pseudonyms. After all, even more responsible for the present crises are those parents who educate their children to all, but not Gospel values, including the lack of respect and devotion to the hierarchical structure given to the Church by Our Lord.”[6]

Fr. Vimpari’s Escrivá-inspired admonition is the opposite of what Christ taught.  Far from assigning privileges and “devotion to the hierarchical structure” to His apostles, Christ called the leaders of his Church to accountability and to childlike humility.  When the apostles asked Christ, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” He replied, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:1-6)  After another squabble among the disciples, as they vied for position, Jesus rebuked them: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)


In April 2002, Cardinal Julián Herranz, an Opus Dei member whom Vatican reporter John Allen has described as “the Vatican’s attorney general,” criticized “a climate of ‘exaggeration, financial exploitation and nervousness’ in the United States. Herranz also complained of a ‘tenacious scandalistic style’ in the American press.”[7]  He denounced requirements to report abuse allegations to civil authorities, saying: “The rapport of trust and the secrecy of the office inherent to the relationship between the bishop and his priest collaborators, and between priests and the faithful, must be respected.    We must oppose efforts to impede the necessary pastoral work of priests with young children and adolescents, or to discourage vocations or entrance into seminaries that have been generically and unjustly defamed.”[8]  In 2003, the Cardinal said, “pedophilia is only minimally identified with the Church, touching scarcely one percent of priests. Meanwhile for other categories of persons, the percentages are much higher.”[9]


Ratzinger, who is now Pope, said the same in December 2002.[10]  Reality soon intervened.  A research report issued in early 2004 at the behest of the Catholic bishops in the US found 4% of Catholic priests serving since 1950 in the US have been accused of sexually molesting minors.[11]

At a March 2004 conference on “Justice and Penal Processes in the Church,” sponsored by Santa Croce University (an Opus Dei institution in Rome), a Spanish Opus Dei priest set out the party line: more leniency for priests accused of abuse, and more rigor against artificial contraception and abortion.[12]  Fr. Joaquín Llobell, a professor of canon law and a member of a Vatican appeals court, criticized the U. S. Catholic bishops’ “one strike and you’re out” policy adopted in 2002.  He said that that “canon law has a bias in favor of rehabilitation of the offender, and that it seeks proportionality between offense and punishment – meaning that ‘one size fits all’ penalties are foreign to canonical tradition.”  Additionally, he “criticized the American Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for asking bishops to inform civil authorities of any accusation against a priest, ‘perhaps without distinguishing sufficiently the origin of the report and its credibility’.”  Llobell also criticized the Vatican for “revisions to sex abuse norms … approved by John Paul II in February 2003, which removed the statute of limitations, allowed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] to defrock a priest using non-judicial means, and prevented appeal” of a CDF decision.  The Opus Dei canon lawyer opposed recent reforms in the US and in Rome that aim to root out abusive priests – but “wonders aloud why bishops don’t prosecute priests who tolerate birth control in the confessional, and he applauds American Archbishop Raymond Burke’s denial of communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians.”


For some leading Catholics – including Opus Dei members – Americans’ public outrage at the abuse scandal heralds the beginning of a persecution of the Catholic Church and (as a deserved consequence of persecuting the Church) the downfall of the US.  In 2002, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who is not a member of Opus Dei, decried “media ‘persecution’ of the Catholic church in the United States, comparing it to the times of Nero and Diocletian, and more recently, Stalin and Hitler.”[13]  Another non-Opus Dei cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera (from Mexico City) supported Maradiaga, saying that Rodriguez “expresses well in this regard the common sentiment of many of us, cardinals and bishops, in Latin America, in the context of what appears to us to be a generalized and ungenerous attack on the U.S. Church.    Reviewing church history, one can see that many persecutions started precisely with the moral delegitimization of its members and of its hierarchy, with the aim of disqualifying the Church and dismantling its prestige. This is what happened in the early centuries of Christian history, with Nero for example. This is what happened in the past century with the persecutions in Mexico, in Spain, in Nazi Germany and in communist countries. It is this that seems to be happening today in the United States.”[14]  That same year, a lay canon lawyer associated with Opus Dei said (in response to the then-emerging abuse scandal in Boston), “something will happen to America to protect the Church.  This is tried and true historically. … any country that has historically persecuted the Church at the height of its power collapsed.”[15]  Such is the voice of “God’s mafia” to America: lay off the priests and bishops, or “God” will ensure that America takes a long walk off a short pier.


Third, there is one instance that has come to light so far of sexual allegations against an Opus Dei bishop – charges made by Alberto Jaimes Berti, a Caracas lawyer (and critic of Opus Dei) who had been legal counsel for the Apostolic Nunciature (the Vatican embassy) in that country.  As reported in Their Kingdom Come, in 1970, “the nuncio in Caracas received a complaint from the parents of two teenaged boys in the diocese of Margarita, a group of islands off the Venezuelan coast.  The parents were threatening criminal action against the local bishop for molesting their sons and the nuncio feared a scandal.  He asked Berti to intervene.  The Bishop of Margarita was Francisco de Guruceaga, Opus Dei’s first vocation in Venezuela.  Berti flew to La Asunción on the Isla de Margarita and through the help of a woman prosecutor in the sexual offences department got hold of and shredded the Guruceaga file.  He then negotiated a $160,000 payment for the parents.  The nuncio sent Guruceaga to London on an extended sabbatical, where he lived a secular existence for the next three years, traveling extensively.  In 1973 the new nuncio, Monsignor Antonio del Giudice, gave Guruceaga another chance and appointed him Bishop of La Guaira, a small diocese and port city in the federal district of Caracas.  According to Berti, Guruceaga considered himself a mercantile prelate, licensed to make money for God’s work.  One of Guruceaga’s deals had been the 1975 sale for $2.5 million of a tract of land belonging to the diocese of La Guaira.  The money disappeared.”[16]  The next nuncio asked Berti to investigate – which was done, and the documentation went to Rome.  Nothing happened thereafter; he retained his post until 2001, when he resigned at age 73.  In this Opus Dei bishop’s case, the lust for boys seemed to go with the lust for money – and he benefited from the usual ecclesiastical cover-up.


_______________________________________

(*) The entire article, which describes the track record of Opus Dei and its members, is available to those who order a copy of this magazine.  To do so, visit the magazine's web site at http://www.scp-inc.org, or call their office in Berkeley,California at 510-540-0300, between 9am and 5pm, Pacific time.

(**) The full text of Part 1 of Lee Penn's article about Opus Dei is now available on-line, courtesy of SCP. To read the article go to http://www.scp-inc.org/publications/journals/J2902/index.php.



[1] Based on correspondence in 2005 between Lee Penn and activists associated with SNAP, LINKUP, and Bishop Accountability.

[2] For details of these allegations, see Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, 2004, Free Press, pp. 209-221, 253, 290, 294-300.

[3] John Allen, “The Word From Rome,” National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 2004, http://nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word073004.htm, printed 09/26/05.

[4] Rod Dreher, “The Pope Has Let Us Down,” The Wall Street Journal, editorial page, August 25, 2002, http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110002177, printed 06/08/04.

[5] Letter from Fr. McCloskey to the Wall Street Journal, as quoted in Amy Welborn’s blog, at http://www.amywelborn.blogspot.com/2002_08_01_amywelborn_archive.html, viewed 06/08/04.

[6] Fr. Tuomo Vimpari, Letters to the Editor, “Criticizing priests,” Catholic World Report, March 2003, http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Igpress/2002-03/letters.html, printed 06/09/04.

[7] John Allen, “The Word From Rome,” “A Look at the New Cardinals,” National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003, http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word100303.htm, viewed 06/09/04.

[8] John Allen, “Curia official blasts U.S. media coverage,” National Catholic Reporter, May 17, 2002, http://www.natcath.com/crisis/051702e.htm, printed 09/14/05.

[9] John Allen, “Vatican official comments on Geoghan murder,” National Catholic Reporter, August 25, 2003, http://nationalcatholicreporter.org/update/bn082503.htm, viewed 06/09/03.

[10] Cardinal Ratzinger said, “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower. …  Less than 1% of priests are guilty of acts of this type.    Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the Church.”  (Zenit News Agency, “Cardinal Ratzinger Sees a Media Campaign Against Church,” December 3, 2002, http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=28487, printed 09/06/05.

[11] Agostino Bono, “John Jay Study Reveals Extent of Abuse Problem,” Catholic News Service, http://www.americancatholic.org/News/ClergySexAbuse, printed 09/06/05.

[12] Information in this paragraph is from John Allen, “The Word From Rome,” National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 2004, http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word032604.htm, printed 09/06/05.

[13] John Allen, “The Word From Rome,” “Cardinal Schotte’s views on Dallas,” National Catholic Reporter, June 14, 2002, http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word0614.htm, viewed 06/09/04.

[14] John Allen, “U.S. media in anti-church plot says Mexican prelate,” National Catholic Reporter, July 19, 2002, http://www.natcath.com/crisis/071902g.htm, printed 09/24/04.

[15] From the printout of an on-line conversation between Lee Penn and an Opus Dei cooperator (and a canon lawyer), 02/04/02. 

[16] Robert Hutchison, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei, St. Martin’s Press, 1997, pp. 313-314.

 

Document Published on leepenn.org on October 13, 2007

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