Rick Santorum's Opus Dei Catholicism
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 07:47:06 AM EST
In a recent post I explored the influence of the teachings of  Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer on GOP Presidential contender Rick Santorum. I warned that circumstantial evidence and the candidate's own past statements suggested a strong identification with the secretive, ultra-traditionalist sect, Opus Dei, which Escriva founded.

The Washington Post now confirms much - and a great deal more - of what many of us have suspected all along.

I recently posted about Santorum's connection to Opus Dei and some of Escriva's teachings.  He is apparently not a member, but a "cooperator" -- a designation for someone who supports the secretive organization's goals of a more theocratic society built upon a foundation of ultra-orthodox Catholic notions of morality.  I wondered, how far does Santorum's admiration for Opus Dei's founder extend to his vision for America?

The Post suggests that the answer is very far indeed. The paper reported, for example, that Opus Dei paid for Santorum's 2002 trip to Rome for a celebration of Escriva's 100th birthday. He was accompanied by none other than Opus Dei evangelist, Rev. C. John McCloskey.  The future presidential contender used the occasion to launch his first attack on JFK's 1960 campaign speech on the separation of church and state.

The Post also surfaces other important aspects of McCloskey's relationship with the ambitious pol.  For example, "McCloskey enlisted Santorum's help in converting then-Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to Catholicism."   The relationship has continued, as Santorum also met with McCloskey the day before last week's Illinois presidential primary.

In a previous post (here and in The Public Eye , I've discussed McCloskey's divisive nature. He pines for a Church that has eliminated moderate and liberal faithful, who would be replaced by former conservative protestant converts. He further envisions a United States torn asunder by a secessionist movement bent on creating a separate theocracy.

The Post portrays a man who is deeply influenced by the Opus Dei founder:

During Senate debates about abortion, Santorum told the audience in Rome, he hears Escriva telling him that "it is not true that there is opposition between being a good Catholic and serving civil society faithfully." In his public fight to uphold "absolute truths," Santorum said, "blessed Josemaria guides my way."

"'As long as you are making straight for your goal, head and heart intoxicated with God, why worry... ?'" Santorum said, quoting Escriva, according to a transcript of the speech.

In my last post on this subject, I reviewed several of Escriva's more troubling teachings - his condescending view of public education; his distrust of liberty and his call for his followers to be secretive about their dealings with Opus Dei.  Perhaps of greatest concern was his admonition that his followers should "Get rid of those scruples that deprive you of peace" - especially in light of Santorum's gross mischaracterizations of President Obama's call for Americans to pursue some form of higher education. And then there are Santorum's repeated attempts to disingenuously paint JFK as a president who had no tolerance for people of faith in the public square.

Santorum is not stupid. He had to have known that president wasn't being "a snob" about higher education or that the first Catholic president did want to exclude religious principles from public debate.

These are acts of demagoguery, perhaps  made in accordance with Escriva's admonition to "put aside those scruples."

Now the Good News

The New York Times reports that Santorum is losing the Republican Catholic vote to the more ideologically amorphous Mitt Romney.

Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has trailed Mr. Romney among Catholics in 10 of the 12 states in which Edison Research conducted exit polls that asked about religion.

With two exceptions, he has lost the Catholic vote by a minimum of 7 percentage points (in Michigan, where Mr. Romney grew up) and by as much as 53 percentage points in Massachusetts, where Mr. Romney was governor. He has even lost among Catholics in the South, although he was nearly tied with Mr. Romney among Catholics in Tennessee and won decisively among Catholics in Louisiana.

Why is that? I suspect that even many socially conservative Catholics are put off by Santorum's often-strident tone. As one Maryland primary voter told Times  reporter Katherine Seelye, "I feel Governor Romney is more willing to tolerate different views and values, and the president of the United States has to accept and respect the right of every American to believe as they will."  Perhaps some are put off by Santorum's rejection of certain Catholic principles. Santorum embraces, for example,  the evangelical notion of creationism, a teaching that the Vatican rejects in favor of evolution.

But while Santorum's path to the Republican presidential nomination is questionable, he may gain enough support to land a spot on the GOP ticket, or play a role in a Romney administration.

It is, therefore, more than reasonable for voters to ask themselves if they want an Opus Dei cooperator to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Apparently, most Republican Catholic voters, the Catholics who know Santorum and Opus Dei best, have already answered that question for themselves. How the conservative evangelical element of the electorate answers the question, may be different.

As of late, some of the mainstream press's articles of Santorum's Opus Dei links have been getting better. The Washington Post piece was, however, a breakthrough of sorts. Its the first time a major journal focused on this issue. And for that, the reporters should take a bow.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 07:52:16 AM EST
Thanks for the hard work and excellent analysis.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 09:01:35 AM EST
Frank - you, Chip, Frederick... everyone here has blazed the trail and I often felt that we (and the walkaway community) were thin whispers in the blowing wind.  That this has come out is great news... maybe the media will start being more critical of the things they should.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 10:31:09 AM EST

The personal prelatures have done a lot to push institutional Catholicism into retreat from Vatican II. One thing I'll note is that some of the commenters took Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" seriously. There are real problems with Opus Dei, but the "Da Vinci Code" is pure fiction and not even well-written fiction at that. Bart Ehrman did a good job picking apart the flaws of the "Da Vinci Code" premise. The sad part is that the real problems with Opus Dei get conflated with fiction.

by khughes1963 on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 12:40:45 PM EST
people learn that there is a real Opus Dei and that it's a problem, and think that maybe there is something to the  "Da Vinci Code" after all.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 10:03:03 PM EST

It might be a good idea to keep an eye on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who, like Santorum, is a conservative neo-Catholic and very cozy with the same cast of characters that hosted Santorum here a little over a week ago.

As I've said here before, despite his bad speech a few years back, Jindal is an extremely savvy politician, rules Louisiana with an iron hand, and has gotten almost all his ALEC-penned education agenda passed.  Public higher education in our state was decimated a few years ago (and it will only get worse as GRAD Act is fully implemented) and this year K-12 is on the agenda... it will likely be passed.  Parochial schools will come out winners.

I fear that Jindal will end up being a more attractive national GOP candidate, maybe VP, in 2016, once he is out of office and he can point to what a great success his administration has been.  It will take decades if not longer to recover from what he has done here, and since most of the voters of our state seem to love the guy (notice I said VOTERS, not people, since a lot of our population is progressively being marginalized, silenced, etc., and there is a gradual exodus now of progressive academics from our state that I predicted 2 years ago) few will say boo about it unlike in Wisconsin.

His agenda is indeed theocratic and I wonder if there is any evidence that Jindal is an Opus Dei cooperator or member.

by ulyankee on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 01:38:12 PM EST

It wouldn't surprise me if Jindal is an OD cooperator.

by khughes1963 on Thu Mar 29, 2012 at 04:02:32 PM EST

I found Santorum's outburst about his saying that Romney was the worst Republican candidate ever being distorted extremely hypocritical given the fact that he has distorted his opponents views numerous times.  It was good to see him get a taste of his own medicine.  If he were genuinely a moral person he should learn that such tactics are not acceptable.

by RasSteve on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 08:15:42 PM EST

last comment that I must have posted some politically incorrect questions and observations.

So I will simply ask- Is Opus Dei a legitimately accepted part of the Catholic Church? Does Pope Benedict support the work of Opus Dei? If so, then why is it a problem that Rick Santorum or any other Catholic subscribes to the teachings of this group?

To be clear- I am not a fan at all of Rick Santorum's positions on anything and he scares the youknowwhat out of me, but either he is acting upon the church's accepted teachings or he is not.  Can anyone here clear that up for me?

by monarchmom on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 01:17:28 PM EST

I'm a Protestant looking in from the outside, but I've worked with many Catholics on social justice and peace issues over the years, so I'll try an answer to your question. The Roman Catholic church is a huge, sprawling, wildly diverse organization. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups within the church ~ some officially recognized, some not. And even the ones that are officially recognized represent a wide range of understanding and practice in working out what it means to be Catholic.

So while Opus Dei is officially recognized by the church, it's particular beliefs and practices sit on the extreme right edge. Its members are viewed with suspicion and distrust by many, if not most, active Catholics who resonate more with the Dorothy Day/Daniel Berrigan/Rosemary Radford Reuther stream of thought. I recall when Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas died and was replaced by Opus Dei member Fernando Lacalle as Archbishop of El Salvador, many of my friends were deeply dismayed. But what we heard from some of the catechists and rights workers among the campesinos was that "the people converted Romero and we can convert this man, also." Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to have happened.

John Paul II and Benedict have taken the RC hierarchy in an increasingly reactionary direction. Many believers have gone along with them; many more have not. Opus Dei represents an extremist thread within a rightward-leaning hierarchy. It appears to me that those who are deeply concerned about its influence on US politicians are quite justified to be worried.

by MLouise on Sat Mar 31, 2012 at 10:10:07 AM EST
I couldn't have said it better.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Mar 31, 2012 at 04:09:09 PM EST
http://web.archive.org/web/20110612093610/http://www.odan.org/ind ex.htm - various testimonies about the cult that is Opus Dei

by zowie on Sun Apr 01, 2012 at 02:24:33 AM EST
Opus Dei is a "cult", albeit one that is sanctioned by the Vatican?

by monarchmom on Sun Apr 01, 2012 at 11:40:44 AM EST
That about pretty much sums them up.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Apr 01, 2012 at 04:39:27 PM EST
Opus Dei is against Vatican II on several points.

by zowie on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 06:02:19 PM EST
of what is considered "Church teaching" it actually has never stayed in one form. It only reflects the interpretations of whoever is in power. There is nothing that guarantees that Opus Dei's views will never become main church teachings, especially if the Vatican continues to move in a progression towards more conservative views.

by monarchmom on Tue Apr 03, 2012 at 09:51:37 AM EST

"The Roman Catholic church is a huge, sprawling, wildly diverse organization. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups within the church ~ some officially recognized, some not. And even the ones that are officially recognized represent a wide range of understanding and practice in working out what it means to be Catholic."

I say it's amazing because the world deals with this institution as if it is a coherent entity. And those who operate within it and support it with their presence (identification) and money seem to hold out the hope that one side of it, or a faction of it, will "convince" the whole hierarchy to make a massive change towards a certain set of views and/or behaviors.  This, in spite of the evidence of its history.

It seems to me that the most reasonable response and remedy to the taking of this institution "in an increasingly reactionary direction" is to decrease its power. And the only way to do that is to either leave the institution as a member and/or cut off its funding.  Many Catholics have done that and some have formed alternative Catholic congregations which do not feed into the main institution.

If we want the Catholic hierarchy in the US to lose its power over our politics and government, then we have to render that institution powerless by lowering the numbers of people it represents and lowering the numbers of dollars it has to play with in the political arena.

Only Catholics can do that.

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