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The Papal Chill, Part 2 Warming up the Work: Ratzinger and Opus Dei

Last week Dr Vacy Vlazna explored the freezing out of theological freedoms by Cardinal Ratzinger during his tenure as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This week, Dr Vlazna looks at the remaining voices - and what they stand for.

by Vacy Vlazna

1. Curia of the Ice Age
We may have hoped for a new pope of Christlike compassion but, given Vatican realpolitik, Ratzinger's election was inevitable. Since 1979, liberationist and liberal clerics were systematically replaced by handpicked orthodox hardliners. Talk about a stacked conclave of compliant clones. Apropos Paul Collins recent claims, it is naive - or taking apologetics too far - to state that Ratzinger was not close to Opus Dei when the key positions in the Vatican curia and John Paul's inner circle were top heavy with members of Opus Dei or cardinals close to it. An open supporter of Opus Dei, Ratzinger wrote: From all this I have better understood the inner character of Opus Dei, this surprising union of absolute fidelity to the Church's great tradition, to its faith, and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, whether in the academic world, in the field of work, or in matters of the economy, etc. ("Letting God Work")

It appears that the requisites for the most influential and elite jobs in the Vatican are: an holy 'see no evil' in clerical child abuse, magisterial sexism, anti-liberation theology thuggery and homophobic hysteria. Benedict has kept the old curia intact apart from filling the vacuum of his old positions. It is reasonable then to expect the stifling draconian and dictatorial policies will continue.

So what kind of pope will Benedict XVI be? By his former deeds and curia cronies you can know him.

Read and Weep:

· The prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Echevarria has been a consulter of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints since 1981 and for the Congregation for the Clergy since 1995.

· John Paul's and now Benedict's chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, has a sister who is a numerary and a nephew who is a priest in the Opus Dei order.

· Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, long time friend of Ratzinger, who announced Benedict XVI's election was prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 1996-2002. As bishop of Rancagua, Medina became one of the most incisive critics of liberation theology and reputed as Pinochet's favourite priest. As Pro-Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University, he didn't protest the school's military occupation and stood by as students were expelled, tortured and killed. In 1997 he admitted the church was involved in behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at winning Pinochet's release (The papal nuncio to Chile also called for Pinochet's release) In 1998 he supported Pinochet's claim to the prestigious seat as Senator-for-life.

· Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Colombia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family is a sympathizer with Opus Dei promoting reactionary positions on abortion, birth control and homosexuality. In 1972 Trujillo was elected secretary-general of CELAM, and he immediately purged the organization's staff of anyone with ties to liberation theology. In 1985, he was the driving force behind the "Andes Statement" denouncing liberation theology. He is regarded as the protege of Cardinal Baggio, another Opus Dei ally who heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Baggio, in Paul VI's reign was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and listed as a Mason despite the Church's prohibition on Freemasonry and in the early 70s was a friend of Calvi who laundered drug money through the Vatican Bank. One of Trujillo's closest aides is Fr Roger Vekemans, who passed on $5 million from the CIA to anti-Communist organizations in Chile. Recently Trujillo claimed condoms promote promiscuity and are ineffective because the HIV virus is small enough to "easily pass through" latex.

· Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and head of the Ecclesia Dei commission for traditional Catholics, was a fierce opponent of liberation theology. A protege of Lopez Trujillo, Castrillon followed him as secretary general of CELAM from 1983 to 1991, where he wrote to Hans Kung that the bishops were in "complete accord" with Ratzinger's views on liberation theology.

· John Paul's media spokesman was Navarro-Valls, an Opus Dei journalist who had worked for Abc, a fascist Spanish paper that supported Franco.

· Also sympathetic to Opus Dei is Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Italian prelate who runs the Diocese of Rome. Ruini was the principal celebrant of the Mass in honour of the centennial of Blessed Josemaria.

· Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State of the Vatican, was the Vatican's nuncio in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, becoming a close friend and advisor to the dictator. Later, when Pinochet was detained in London, the Vatican, under Sodano's influence, asked the British Government to let Pinochet return to Chile. Sodano had referred to the popular liberation theologian Leonardo Boff as "a traitor to the Church, the Judas of Christ." Sodano has been named by Benedict, dean of the College of Cardinals, the powerful position previously held by Ratzinger.

· Cardinal Pio Laghi, head the Vatican's Congregation of Catholic Education 1990-99 (now Prefect Emeritus) was the Vatican nuncio in Argentina (1974-1980) when the military regime waged its 'dirty war' against political opponents. In 1997, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared) filed formal charges against the cardinal in Rome, but he is covered by diplomatic immunity and by the Lateran accords. They accused Pio Laghi of direct involvement in the atrocities, charging that he even ordered the torture of priests connected with left groups, silenced international protests, falsely stated to relatives that he knew nothing of the fate of victims and expelled from the country priests and religious who protested the "disappearances" and tortures. He was seen regularly at the government's torture centres and could decide on the fate of detainees. The Vatican transferred him to the US with the express mandate to combat the liberal tendencies in the North American church.

· Archbishop Julian Herranz, the highest-ranking Opus Dei member and top canon lawyer in the Roman Curia, heads the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. Downplaying the American clergy child abuse crisis as a "sad situation," Herranz said, "It has created an unjust climate of suspicion and ambivalence toward priests, on account of a tenacious, scandalistic style, which is not merely informative, in which certain `media' give voice to any charges whatsoever."

· Benedict has appointed William J. Levada as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that investigates complaints against priests. As Archbishop of San Francisco, Levada kept secret the names and locations of up to 20 diocesan priests accused of sexual abuse and failed to remove accused paedophiles from active ministry. Levada is known in the United States for having shielded a paedophile in the Diocese of Portland for approximately nine years, which helped lead to the bankruptcy of the diocese has been criticized as "slow to act, harsh to victims, and committed to secrecy".

· Despite the Vatican bank scandal, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus remains one of the most influential Americans in Rome; President of Vatican City State (1981-90) now President Emeritus.

· The highly orthodox Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan who has aligned himself with Opus Dei, heads Europe's largest diocese with 4.8 million Catholics.

· Ratzinger who as 'Dean of the College of Cardinals' was 'acting Pope' approved Cardinal Bernard Law, a member of the Knights of Malta, leading a Mass in honour of the dead John Paul. In Boston, Law had protected child-molesting priests from punishment - and moved them from parish to parish as they brutalized more children. After his resignation he held nine Vatican offices including, incredibly, one that chooses bishops and another that guides the handling of clergy abuse cases. He was elevated to the prestigious Vatican post as archpriest of St Mary Major Basilica; the appointment comes a generous monthly stipend and a palatial apartment next to the basilica. On May 7, Benedict XVI prayed inside the Saint Mary Major pledging to follow the strict line of his predecessor and defend traditional Catholic teachings from 'fashionable' ideas that threaten to destroy the faith.

· Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Peru became the first Opus Dei cardinal in February 2001 in part because of the high concentration of Opus Dei bishops in Peru. He was a long-time opponent of human rights activists and a close collaborator of the former violent dictator Fujimori who held "legal responsibility" for assassinations, abductions and massacres carried out by the feared military death squad known as "Colina." In a 1994 interview with the weekly news magazine Caretas, Cipriani said, "In a situation of violence like the one in Ayacucho, deaths, disappearances and abuses are part of the war. Defenders of human rights will call it a dirty war. I believe the armed forces had to use mechanisms to find out how and where these things happened."

· In Austria, Bishop Klaus Kung was former head of Opus Dei in Austria before being appointed to Feldkirch (where his nomination was so unpopular that people actually lined the path to the cathedral with their bodies during his ordination ceremony). He has spoken against the admittance of homosexuals to seminaries or the priesthood. Kung, who investigated the child pornography scandal in Austria where 40,000 child pornography images were found on seminary computers, replaced Bishop Kurt Krenn, who resigned over the case.

· The ultra-conservative bishop of lower Austria (Kurt Krenn) has close ties to Opus Dei. He is a sympathizer of the extreme right wing party, FPO that has links with neo-nazi activists. After Sept 11, he made catastrophic and inappropriate anti-Islam statements. His friendly terms with Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the private secretary of John Paul did not prevent his resignation which was demanded by Austrian politicians and church leaders for dismissing the sex scandal at his seminary as "a childish prank". Krenn had previously defended Cardinal Groer insisting he was innocent of the paedophilia charges. John Paul, a close friend of Groer, remarked at the time that Christ also had faced "unjust accusations" and allowed him to become prior of an Austrian monastery.

· From the start of his appointment in 1995, Archbishop of San Salvador Fernando Saenz Lacalle set in place the Opus Dei strategy of central control and fundamental religious uniformity. In 1997 Saenz accepted the honorary title of Brigadier General in the same military that admitted its systematic use of torture and massacre of thousands of Salvadorans. After declaring "liberation theology no longer has any place" in El Salvador, he set about systematically annihilating liberation theology endorsed by Archbishop Oscar Romero and in an attempt to weaken Jesuit influence, removed Jesuit Fr Rodolfo Cardenal and 3 nuns from a thriving working-class barrio parish they had served for 14 years. (John Paul II privately reprimanded Romeo and asked him to align himself with the Salvadoran dictatorship.)

· Religious fascism taints Australia's own Cardinal George Pell who is staunchly opposed to gay rights and an open admirer of Opus Dei. "I thank God for the wonderful contribution Opus Dei has made and continues to make throughout the world and more particularly here in Sydney". (4 Jan 2002) Archbishop Pell installed an Opus Dei priest to run St Mary's Star of the Sea parish in West Melbourne. Under the previous archbishop, Frank Little, Opus Dei was unable to get a foothold in the archdiocese. Little had canvassed the opinion of priests on whether the group should operate in Melbourne. The senate of priests, the chief advisory body to the bishops in the archdiocese, voted a resounding 'no'. (ODAN 2001) Pell appointed Opus Dei Fr John Flader as director of Sydney's Catholic Education Centre. He imposed the Neocatechumenal Way on Redfern. In October 2004, Pell directed that the conference of Australian Reforming Catholics was not to take place on any Catholic property in the Sydney archdiocese. He went on to direct Father Gerald Gleeson and Father Peter Maher not to speak at the conference and Bishop Pat Power of Canberra-Goulburn, not to say mass for the group within the archdiocese of Sydney.

2. Glacial Crusaders of Religious Repression The presence of powerful rightwing groups that act as an army of secular mercenaries for Ratzinger's, now Benedict's, War on Relativism is chilling. It is near impossible to reconcile the Sermon on the Mount with the worldly ambitions of some of these conservative illuminati, mainly influential business and political elites, who read like a who's who of corruption, political intrigue and organized crime. The Vatican seems to have taken Jesus' association with thieves a tad extreme.

Communion and Liberation (CL) was established in 1982 by John Paul II as a secular institute under papal jurisdiction. Italy's 1993-94 corruption scandals implicated several members of CL's political arm, MP (Movimento Popolare). CL energetically supported the defence of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who was acquitted of Mafia connections only on grounds of expiration of statutory terms. The court established that Andreotti had indeed had strong ties to the Mafia, and had used them to further his political career, to such an extent of being considered "a component of the Mafia". In February 2005, Ratzinger presided over the funeral mass of Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation which was also attended by Italian Prime Minster Berlusconi.

The Knights of Malta, dubbed the knights of business, headquartered in the Vatican, are connected to the Church hierarchy through Cardinal John O'Connor and Cardinal Bernard Law. Members included former CIA director William Casey, Alexander Haig and the Head of WR Grace, Peter Grace. Grace brought to the US, the Dr Otto Ambros, a Nuremburg convicted war criminal who was production chief of I.G. Farben's poison gas facilities to work as a Grace consultant.

A subsidiary of Farben manufactured Zyklon B, the poison of Auschwitz, (the US Dow Chemicals of the Ghopal tragedy fame supplied Farben with magnesium during WWII). The CIA, via Knights of Malta humanitarian gencies, directed supplies worth millions of dollars to CIA backed forces in the Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatamala.

Opus Dei, stalwart of conservative doctrine and the Church's bulwark against secularization, was formed in 1928 by the Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, a private confessor to the fascist General Franco. Members live a form of personal lay monasticism within society observing daily religious devotions, some practicing corporal mortification and celibacy, evangelising and recruiting elites to their ranks. The organisation is estimated to have between 80,000 and 90,000 members in 80 countries and 1,875 priests worldwide. It has assets worth about $2.8 billion worldwide and $344.4 million in the United States and opened a $42-million, 17-story headquarters in Manhattan (option for the rich). It controls a wide range of media assets (600 newspapers, 52 radio and TV stations, 12 film companies and 38 news agencies) and owns high schools, universities and hospitals.

In 1982, Opus Dei was designated the pope's "personal prelature" - this unique and unprecedented status is the only one of its kind in the church. It operates like religious orders, but is exempt from bishopric supervision answering to the pope alone. It has been suggested that "the decision to upgrade the status of Opus Dei appears to be part of an over-all strategy to counter the influence of Jesuits and other progressive clerics active in the liberation theology movement. Pope John Paul II's feud with the Jesuits came to a head in October 1981, when he suspended the order's constitution and replaced its ailing superior general, Father Pedro Arrupe, with a Jesuit of his own choosing. Many Jesuits have caused turmoil in the Vatican by questioning papal pronouncements on birth control, priestly celibacy, the barring of women from the priesthood and, most significantly, clerical involvement in politics." Escriva's fast-track canonisation by Pope John Paul II in 2002 was criticized for transgressing canon law in that critics were prevented from testifying at the church tribunals.

No doubt, the majority of Opus Dei members are well meaning loyalists of so-called doctrinal purity and strive to lead holy lives. However, the sinister and formidable political machinations incompatible with Christian ideology by some powerful members are cause for grave concern.

Opus Dei members in the U.S. include FBI double-agent Philip Hanssen and former head of the FBI Louis Freeh, as well as Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia who voted to stop the Florida vote recount, ensuring that Bush won the presidency.

The 2002 failed coup against Venezuela's elected president, Hugo Chavez was headed by the wealthy businessman, Pedro Carmona who was supported by Venezuela's conservative Catholics. Carmona's choice for foreign minister, was Opus Dei member, Jose Rodriguez Iturbe. The coup's undoing was the right-wing coup-within-a-coup engineered by a group of military officials and ultra-conservative businessmen and politicians some of whom belong to Opus Dei. The CIA had close ties with the most reactionary wing of the operation, including Opus Dei, and the retired General Ruben Rohas.

Francisco Tudela, an Opus Dei member, served as Vice President of Peru and as Minister of Foreign Affairs after President Fujimori dissolved parliament and seized dictatorial powers. A video shows Presidential Advisor Montesinos informing Tudela he provided the CIA with information on Colombian guerrillas and describing the way his men infiltrated Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and paramilitary groups.

In 1991 Humberto Belli, the Nicaraguan education and Opus Dei member ordered thousands of Sandinista-era textbooks burned while substituting texts paid for by the US government in which a revised version of history celebrated the role of the United States in the region. In 1997, after Nicaraguan Evangelicals' protests, Belli had to remove from the curriculum a variety of traditional Catholic doctrinal statements and pre-Vatican II texts about the Ten Commandments.

The information in this article is the merest tip of the iceberg. If the truth really sets us free, then the Vatican's ideological partnership with oppressors and its complicity in the revival of the religious right, no matter the human or ethical cost, must be scrutinized fully and energetically condemned. Sadly, Catholics in general meekly cower in a culture of perverse silence in which cowardice is dressed up as obedience to a Church that crushes the voice of the voiceless and the voices of dissidence and human rights. We must be emboldened to call the Church to account as we would any offending establishment. Equally we must resurrect the Church's duty (i.e. our duty) to victims of poverty and of economic, political and social oppression which both embraces and exceeds earthly justice. All justice begins with the sacred act of conscience.

Vacy Vlazna, received her PhD from Macquarie university for her thesis God and the Imagination are One: A study of the Mystic Experience in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens. She was convenor of Australia East Timor Association and East Timor Justice Lobby and served as an electoral officer in East Timor with UNAMET during the referendum and later returned to work for two years in Timor with UNTAET re-establishing the university, introducing civic education, training staff in the National Council and as District Field Officer in Same, Manufahi. She is presently convenor of Acheh Papua Maluku Human Rights on Line and was a political advisor to GAM during the second round of the Acheh peace talks in Helsinki in February 2005.

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