The Catholic Right Part Three: Rev. John McCloskey, the Face of an Opus Dei Agenda.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:29:35 AM EST
"They got to hate the Church because they hated the friends of the Church, who exploited them and whom the Church did nothing to rebuke or correct."  --Rev. Wilfrid Parsons, S.J., circa 1936


And now the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the faith to which I belong, is not only embracing questionable friends, she is allowing them into positions of power -- and increasingly letting them set official doctrine. After being denied requests for greater power by both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, wary of its intentions, the more orthodox-leaning Pope John II elevated Opus Dei to the status of being the Church's only  Personal prelature and had made many known members bishops and cardinals. Pope Benedict XVI has continued this embrace.  

This struggle for the heart and soul of the Catholic faith extends to America. And to a very large extent, what eventually transpires within the Church in Rome may well determine the fate of religious liberty in our own country.  

The Catholic Church is now at a crossroads. Will she lead by following the religious tolerance of a Sister Rose Thering, the progressive nature of a Pope John XXIII, the humility of Catholic Worker founder Peter Maurin, the empathy of distributive justice advocate Monsignor John A. Ryan? Or will control return to Church Plutocrats who allign themselves with the true agents of apostasy, the practitioners of "trickle-down" faith?  

In the wake of the release of the film The DaVinci Code, Opus Dei has opened a charm offensive. Engaging in puff-piece interviews with pundits who will not ask the penetrating questions about questionable political agendas--Chris Matthews being a perfect example. The organization has been parading out what the organization claims is its real face--average individuals with no real political power or superfluous wealth. This is nothing more than a slick PR move designed to deflect the spotlight away from those members whose comments and action deserve close scrutiny. The public faces of the charm offensive, are not, however, the ones who control the organization's purse strings, discuss relations with the Vatican or meet with Karl Rove to discuss Bush administration policy on stem cell research and US Supreme Court nominees. Instead they are the followers who hand their paychecks over to "the Work," have their mail monitored and often do as they are instructed by Opus Dei superiors.

One of those in Opus Dei's American leadership who deserves closer examination is the Rev. John McCloskey.John McCloskey National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen may chastise liberal Catholics for criticizing Opus Dei, defending the organization as "misunderstood." But a simple review of Rev, McCloskey's words and deeds will illustrate the why there is valid concern.  

An August 2002 piece described Rev. John McCloskey as " Ivy Leaguer who graduated from Columbia and a former Wall Streeter who worked at Citibank and Merrill Lynch." Its writer Chris Suellentrop further noted, "As a result, he travels comfortably in elite circles, and his ministry is focused on them: on young priests and seminarians (the intellectual elite in many Catholic communities), on college students at elite universities and "strong countercultural" Catholic institutions, and on "opinion-makers and people of influence." The self-described supply-sider has a top-down strategy to transform the culture, too. He wants to turn Blue America into Red." i

McCloskey described his ideal believer: "A good Catholic isn't worried about going deep into these theological levels...You say, 'I believe." ii Suellentrop adroitly summarized this "leave-the-thinking-to-us" view of religion, "It's an anti-intellectual approach: All members of the church take a leap of faith, but McCloskey wants them to do it with their eyes closed and their hands over their ears." iii  It also flies in the face of the dissident, intellectual nature of a Jesus who ministered heavily to the disempowered living on the margins of society, while warning that "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."  

A review of some of Rev. McCloskey's statements reflects a very reactionary view of the world. In a book review of one of his converts, CNBC supply-side economic analyst Lawrence Kudlow, McCloskey simplistically divided all Americans as "...two Americas. One group in America is made up of Bible Christians and faithful Catholics who possess standards and convictions based on the natural law, the Bible, and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church and strive to live accordingly." Then, in language reminiscent of Inquisitors past, he characterized "The other group in America, whatever its religious affiliation" as not believing "... in a normative moral truth or in a God to whom they are accountable in this life and in the next according to their actions here," ultimately describing them as "...culture of death."

This is a very troubling statement from a man who is often a panelist on many reputable television political roundtables and who maintains power within the Church. He was until recently the director of the Opus Dei-run the Catholic Information Center of Washington, D. C. What do these comments say about him or some of his well known converts such as Senator Sam Brownback or journalist Robert Novak? Do they believe that other good people of faith such as mainstream Protestants and Jews have no morality? Do they believe such people are fostering "a culture of death" simply because their creeds may differ from that of the right reverend of Opus Dei? McCloskey's insulting words clearly indicate that they believe such nonsense.

Such a view of society "as it ought to be" arises from a historical misconception Reinhold Niebuhr keenly identified in 1944. Back then he wrote, "Modern bourgeois civilization is not, as Catholic philosophers and medievalists generally assert, a rebellion against universal law, or a defiance of universal standards of justice, or a war against the historic institutions which sought to achieve and preserve some general social and international harmony. On the contrary the social idealism which informs our democratic civilization had a touching faith in the possibility of achieving a simple harmony between self-interest and the general welfare on every level."

McCloskey's grave error is that he views any increase in individual liberty as a rebellion against order and legitimate authority. A reflection of this belief found in he, and his Opus Dei following's, longing for the return to the Tridentine (Latin) Mass where the celebrant keeps his back turned to his congregants. It is not difficult to see the elitism of a Mass where the vast majority of the congregants do not understand the language of the priest. And unlike Pope John XXIII's approval of disagreement among the Bishops and refreshing openness, McCloskey wants a rubber stamp for a pope who he sees as infallible. In short, he wants a return to tradition -- Middle-Ages tradition.

Rev. McCloskey once declared, "The definition of a person who disagrees with what the Catholic Church's teaching is called a Protestant." iv Yet McCloskey himself is very selective in applying his own admonition as evidenced by his close association with George Weigel, Michael Novak and other Catholic "Theocons" who argued vociferously for an Iraq war that Pope John II clearly disapproved of.

An article in the Houston Catholic Worker put it succinctly: "The problem with Michael Novak and fellow neoconservatives George Weigel, Fr. John Neuhaus and Fr. Robert Sirico is this: They use Catholicism as window dressing to promote an economic system based solely on self-interest, a system that has nothing to do with the Gospel or Catholic social teaching. They replace the heart of Catholicism with Adam Smith and Max Weber (virtue comes to society only through self-interest; the Gospel is a private affair)." v

This hypocrisy is not only visible to critics on the Left, but to others on the Right. As old-school conservative commentator Daniel McCarthy observed, "Writing in National Review Online--a venue not explicitly Catholic or neoconservative but colored by both--shortly after the death of John Paul II, University of Reading philosophy professor David Oderberg put the neocon line bluntly. 'When it comes to applying tradition to life-and-death moral issues'--such as the Iraq War--'Bush 43 wins hands down over John Paul II.' George Weigel or Michael Novak would never write such a thing, but the conclusion is on which their arguments readily lead. Where foreign policy is concerned, for the Catholic neoconservative, it is Bush si, Benedict no." vi

Self-appointed philosopher-kings such as Opus Dei's Rev. John McCloskey and other wealthy elites often associated with the lay organizations are attempting to seize control of Church institutions from the inside. An objective reading of the circumstantial evidence clearly suggests that they are doing so in order to influence secular policy from a position of moral authority and to do so without accountability. The primary means of doing so for those in high places of Opus Dei power appears to be the reintroduction of pre-Vatican II traditions. It is a convenient cover for furthering an agenda of unrestrained economic self-interest. It follows that individuals who can be marginalized for dissenting on religious issues will also be less likely to dissent on political issues.  

McCloskey is actively involved in several staunchly neoconservative think tanks and policy institutes that seek to bring about the triumph of orthodoxy within America's mainstream Christian denominations. These groups are engaged in a war on progressive faith, that Joe Conason keenly observed as having"...overlapping personnel and total reliance on the largesse of conservative foundations and corporations."  

Such overlaps in the pursuit of this agenda are epitomized by the Institute for Religion and Democracy ("IRD"). The names of its advisors and directors , as well as its sources of funding , appear over and over again on many of the New Right's political agent organizations (McCloskey sits on the IRD's Board of Advisors. As Media Transparency observed, "IRD directors are on the boards and actively involved in other ultra-conservative groups including the Project for the New American Century, Institute on Religion and Public Life, Ethics and Public Policy Center, and American Enterprise Institute." The IRD's links to Kristol and other PNAC operators just are too numerous and strategically placed to be merely coincidental.  

The overlap is extraordinary. vii It includes Catholic traditionalists such as Mary Ellen Bork, Brent Bozell III, Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Rev. John McCloskey, Michael Novak, William Simon Jr. and George Weigel. And the overlap continues directly to William Kristol's PNAC and the IRD's common financial sources: the Bradley, the Coors' funded Castle Rock Foundation, and four Scaife sister foundations. More importantly, all these actors make it their interest to meddle in the affairs of social justice-oriented religious denominations for the purpose of imposing upon them an orthodox political agenda  

All of the above also share a common agenda of seeking a smaller, less powerful federal government. As the liberal economist Monsignor John A. Ryan observed, government exists to safeguard the common good so that each individual will be able to lead a reasonable life through self-development. Such a scenario requires proportional contribution and reasonable behavior by all of its citizens. Yet contrary to Monsignor Ryan, Rev. McCloskey and his cohorts allign themselves with those who do not want a government that restrains activity that could adversely affect the common good. Instead they seek weaken the federal government to allow them to pursue their various economic self-interests, especially when they clash with the common good -- and even with Church teaching. But while political power is economic power, Rev. McCloskey understands that the power to threaten the soul with damnation is perhaps the greatest means to stifling dissent.

These self-appointed pessimists want a Church that is less concerned with the Golden Rule than one that is more concerned in instilling an order in society too reminiscent of the days of feudalism.  Rev. McCloskey and company, along with their financial backers are trying to fundamentally reshape American society so that divisive factions of superfluous wealth can refute the common goals of  Rerum Novarum and The Bishops Plan of 1919 both of which called for retirement insurance, living wages and labor's right to organize. They desire a universal institution that ultimately brought on much of its own schism not by the secular moral relativism of it congregants, but more by an inflexible orthodox hierarchy further stiffened by its reliance upon unyielding economic friends--nefarious friends as Rev. Wilfrid Parsons so aptly put it. Rev. McCloskey and those on the Catholic Right who sit on the IRD's board of directors seek to accomplish this task first by stifling in the more progressive elements of Catholic Social Justice teachings and then by infiltrating the mainstream Protestant denominations in an attempt to crush the spirit of the Social Gospel movement.  

For all Americans, especially those of us in the Catholic Church who view our faith as spiritual expression instead of being a mere political tool, this is a troubling development. It is time for liberal Catholics to stop leaving the Church, but to stay and fight the good fight. Bullies need to be confronted.  

Ultra-orthodox Catholics often believe liberal Catholics to be "cafeteria" in nature.  But in doing so, they misconstrue loyal dissent for convenient selectiveness. Yet if convenient selectiveness be the standard for hypocrisy then let us now introduce you to the original smorgasbord Catholic, the man who arbitrarily picks and chooses which teachings to accept and which to ignore on much grander scale than the typical liberal Catholic, the Rev. John McCloskey.  


i.Sullentrop, Chris, The Rev. John McCloskey: The Catholic Church's K Street Lobbyist, posted August 9, 2002

ii.  Ibid
iii. Ibid

iv. Ibid. Suellentrop.
v. Mark and Louise Zwick, "The Economic Religion of Michael Novak: Wealth Creation vs. the Gospel, as in Using Catholicism to Prop up Neoconservatism," Houston Catholic Worker, May-June 1999. Link:

vi. Daniel McCarthy, "Bush vs. Benedict: Catholic neoconservatives grapple with their church's Just War tradition;" The American Conservative, August 29, 2005. Link:

vii. Media Transparency has posted an on-line graph that instantly illustrates IRD's extraordinary reach and connections. Link: /storyprinterfriendly.php?storyID=43

I wish to emphaisze that the Catholics involved in the IRD are ultra-traditionalists and not reflective of mainstream American Catholic thought.

With that said, how do you think the average American, Catholic as well as non-Catholic, will react to Rev. McCloskey's interference in the internal affairs of other religious denominations?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue May 23, 2006 at 11:45:05 AM EST

I've been waiting for someone to help sort out the Catholic players in the Religious Right.

There are so many that it is hard for someone outside the denomination to identify all of them.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed May 24, 2006 at 12:09:19 AM EST

I think that's true of all of the denominations, which can seem like alien planets to outsiders. For folks outside of Christianity, the experience can be more like alien galaxies.


by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 02:31:26 AM EST

As an American Catholic I wonder if these IRD/OD folks realize that they may be playing with fire. It was not so long ago Catholics were in a position of sufference. In short, there is common interest among mainstream Catholics, mainstream Protestants and others to check the secular power of men such as Rev. McCloskey.

It is important to articulate the players not only for outsiders, but for Catholics too. They too are getting treated likes rubes by these folks with their less than dishonest self-presentation.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed May 24, 2006 at 07:08:54 AM EST

But, Frank, did you happen to notice that the picture of McCloskey featured in your piece was associated ( in a Googe image search on McCloskey ) with what appears to be an Opus Dei dating service ?

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 09:09:16 AM EST
Or...... it would be except that good Opus Dei Catholics DO NOT "date".

They court and exchange letters. Then, they exchange marriage vows.

After the wedding, they may kiss.

It's all funded by Tom Monaghan, the Dominoes pizza baron.

There's even a book about it w/a forward by McCloskey

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 09:29:59 AM EST

Yeah, I got a kick out of that!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed May 24, 2006 at 12:08:37 PM EST
Opus Deiting

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 12:11:34 PM EST

That last one wasn't nice.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Jun 09, 2006 at 07:21:13 PM EST

I was raised a Catholic. For a variety of reasons I'm now a liberal Protestant.
I'm one of those who felt "something wrong" in the Church a number of years ago. I wanted to fight. But as a woman, with few financial resources, I had no voice. I could speak out all I liked, but who would listen? Finally I left.
Part of me still wishes I could return and share with my children the spiritual treasures I once knew. But my heart would still bleed over the injustices, with no way to fight.
And I have a handsome young son. He is innocent, and I want him to remain that way just a while longer. So there is no going back. 

by mkerby on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 12:31:22 AM EST

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