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A Catholic 'Times' op-ed page

I'll try to comment on these later, but be sure to read Commonweal contributor Charles R. Morris on "Freakoutonomics" and Opus Dei numerary Paul Fortunato on "Opus Dei's Box-Office Triumph." Comments are open.

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I have just finished looking at the pieces you mention. I did not know that Morris was a contributor to Commonweal, but I was at once struck by the piece. The comparison of the 1870s with the current situation was instructive. We tend to think that whatever happens to us is like nothing that has ever happened before. If we knew more history, we might all be better balanced in our judgments, perhaps even to that extent better off.As for the piece by Paul Fortunato, I was again impressed. He makes a good case.One can see how someone might be attracted. (This is not an endorsement, and I am not now and never have been a member of Opus Dei.)

While I don't doubt Paul Fortunato's religious devotion and credibility, I admit to ongoing uneasiness about the secretive aspects of the organization, aspects that are likely controlled from the supernumerary level and not at Furtunato's numerary level. Also, his comment that he has answered questions about "why Opus Dei has been associated with right-wing groups, particularly in Latin America" is ambiguous. Is it that Opus Dei has in fact had such associations and he's answered questions about the associations, or is it that non-members have mistakenly asserted associations and he's set them straight? For an organization that prides itself on searching for God in the commonplace and ordinary of everyday life--a very admirable goal--Opus Dei has this shadowy dimension that is difficult for me to ignore.

What Fortunato forgets is that many of us have been asking Opus Dei for years to explain what they are about. Not coy public relations maneuvers.OD has always primarily sought people with money which has raised suspicions. There are legitimate questions as to what they do with their prodigious finances and what causes they back etc. It would be a paradigm change if OD is truly willing to explain what they are about. I have written to Paul Fortunato asking him some questions. We shall see how forthcoming he is.

Here is Fortunato's email address.fortunatop@uhd.edu

"Where there's smoke,....."The rather quick canonization of a man who enjoyed title and relative luxury, a man whose behaviors have been described as fascist, sexist, crude, etc. An organization that subjugates women to this day. An organization that gravitates toward those with temporal power: the elites, the monied, etc. An organization with a costly U.S. headquarters situated on prime real estate. An organization noted for secrecy. An organization so questionable in its practices that web sites are devoted to "exposing" its ways. Etc.As one clerical friend suggested, "If you see an Opus Dei guy coming toward you, turn around and run away as fast as you can. And don't look back!"I think I'll pass.......

Opus Dei has evidently been grooming some of its more attractive members as spokespersons focused on the challenge/ opportunity offered by the teachable moment of the Da Vinci Code. They present themselves as agreeable, harmless, well-meaning, not so different from the rest of us, but as they deliver their spin on Opus Dei and its ways, they take care to let us know how good they are at what they do, and especially, what good company men they can be, and how very employable that makes them. Jack Valero in the Tablet last week described his fifteen minutes of fame as a member of the group of responders to the film with intense relish in his own skill at handling interviews with the media. His piece showed not only that that a numerary can be witty and ingratiating, but that he can be counted on to do a good, competitive public relations job. Paul Fortunato asks Can one be totally focused on God, praying meditatively for hours a day, and also be totally focused on the worldmaking money, competing or collaborating with colleagues, going out with drinking buddies? His answer for himself is yes, and though the precise way in which he sees himself to be totally focused on the world might give us pause, he has already begun his campaign to win allies among his liberal academic co-workers by behaving as collegially as any tenure committee might wish. Now what can they be up to?

Some people who belong to secret organizations develop a sense of pride and empowerment, a sense of being closer to Something Big than the rest of the uninitiated.I learned something about this when my dad sought a demit from the Masons. Lodge members showed up unexpectedly in the dark of night, made clandestine phone calls, and told my mother (in her own living room) that she should make herself scarce so they could talk to my dad.In my view, Catholics are windows from which the light of Christ shines through. Our job is to make the windows as transparent as possible, not draw curtains over them. So I don't get why Opus Dei has to be a secret. Mr. Fortunato, while he speaks earnestly, does nothing to shed any light on this issue.

For what its worth, below is Fortunato's innocuous reply to my letter.The answers to most of your questions are in John Allen's meticulously researched book on Opus Dei. He probably knows more than I do (and he's not a member).Yours truly,Paul L. Fortunato, Assistant ProfessorUniversity of Houston-DowntownOne Main St.Houston, TX 77002(o) 713-221-8132-----Original Message-----From: Bill Mazzella [mailto:hevean@optonline.net]Sent: Fri 6/2/2006 4:56 PMTo: Fortunato, PaulSubject: Your Op-Ed article in today's TimesDear Paul,I am happy to read in today's Times that you welcome the opportunity to explain what Opus Dei is all about. I presume there are no qualifications to your offer.I would first like to know if Opus Dei owns EWTN or any other newspaper, magazine or radio or tv station?2. Does Opus Dei mainly recruit among the wealthy and professional people?3. Does Opus Dei approve of the way the new bishop (opus Dei member) of Kansas City is dismantling that diocese.4. Is opus Dei willing to give a full financial disclosure of its assets and expenses.There are more questions but this is perhaps enough for now for someone who is eager to explain what Opus Dei is all about.Hoping to hear from you soon.Bill Mazzella

1. Does Opus Dei own EWTN? Who cares? Honestly.2. Does Opus Dei mainly recruit among professional types? Mainly, yes. Entirely, absolutely not. Are Commonweal readers mostly wealthy, white liberals? Mostly, yes. Entirely, no.3.Does Opus Dei approve of the way the new bishop of Kansas City is "dismantling" that diocese? Many people would disupute your characterization. I myself might use the word "invigorating."4. Is opus Dei willing to give a full financial disclosure of its assets and expenses? Opus Dei money basically comes from the money of its lay members. It's really none of your business. Is this a requirement you would place on any active, lay Catholic?mlj

On any lay Catholic organization, yes. Of course, the bishops should be just as transparent. EWTN? Many care. That station is a prodigious insult to one's intelligence as well as one's faith.

I like EWTN now and then. But maybe I'm not smart enough to find it prodigously insulting.

Opus Dei's stated goals on its Web site are to encourage Catholics to interweave work and faith--to live what the Church teaches--and who can argue with that?Moreover, the OD Web site doesn't say anything about recruiting anyone. As I read it, you have to apply and wait at least six months for approval as a numerary.However, if, as the shadowy mlj@noemail.com says, OD IS recruiting from among wealthy and influential Catholics, then they are using a strategy that many Protestant evangelical groups do--a strategy that is largely self-limiting.Take, for example, Campus Crusade for Christ. CCC teaches adherents to focus their efforts on the "key group" (most influential) members at a given location. The idea is that once the key group members have been drawn in, everyone else will follow suit. The problem with CCC's strategy (and OD's, if that's what they're going for), is that members often make themselves obnoxious to others who might otherwise be interested in the group's aims. It also presumes that anyone not in the key group is simply a brainless ass who will blindly follow money and influence. People just aren't that stupid.

So I'm confused. On one hand we are informed that OD is an elitist outfit who seeks out only the smart and successful. On the other hand we are informed that OD may be responisble for insulting the intelligence of Thinking Catholics with EWTN programming. Is there room in the church catholic for a charism like that of OD? If so, the under-handed insults should probably stop. If not, please say so.

About the Morris article: Interesting, but I found this line very weird:"Before the Civil War, America was perhaps the most egalitarian society in the world."What?! Before the Civil War was precisely the time when America practiced slavery. (Actually, after the Civil War, many blacks were held in peonage that might as well have been slavery.) Compare this to Britain, which abolished slavery in 1833. Did it occur to Mr. Morris that at least one country was more egalitarian than America prior to the Civil War? (Probably more countries as well; there had to have been other places in the world that didn't practice slavery.)

" It also presumes that anyone not in the key group is simply a brainless ass who will blindly follow money and influence. People just aren't that stupid. "Then how did we get so many politicians?

Recent Harper's had a review of John Allen's book about Opus Dei. Recommend it.

Jimmy Mac, I stand corrected.Hee haw.