The trouble with this Work of God is that nobody can tell you exactly what its work is or how it does it. The arrest of accused master F.B.I. spy Robert Hanssen opened the door a crack on this international organization that supposedly counts 80,000 members at various levels of commitment to whatever its work is.
According to the Encyclopedia of Associations, its function is to "spread throughout society a profound awareness of the universal call to holiness and apostolate through one's professional work carried out with freedom and responsibility."
According to some who have had experience with this extraordinary group, its masters' idea of "freedom and responsibility" is to do exactly what you are told exactly the way we want it done. Nonetheless, one can hardly criticize an organization that is out to do good in God's name, if, in fact, that is what they do.
That one of the nation's seemingly most dangerous and damaging spies qualified for membership should alarm its leaders and motivate them, in the examination of conscience that is a staple of their routine, to ask themselves: What is it about us that we attracted a man deep in disloyalty and deception to join and find support for his secret life in the depths of our own secret life?
How, in short, could a man be a member of a Catholic group that emphasizes unquestioning loyalty to the Holy Father and, at the same time, be unscrupulously disloyal to his fatherland?
This intersection of secret group and secret agent, however, demands that Opus Dei either reveal itself and its operations more fully or find that questions and doubts about it will multiply in the future.
What, in fact, justifies any professedly Catholic group's being a secret organization in the first place? There is no secret about being a Catholic. Catholicism believes in revelation not concealment. Why else would we speak about Jesus' public life?
Indeed, Jesus always spoke of doing things "in the light," and Catholicism's richest spiritual vocabulary includes "preaching from the rooftops" and "letting your light shine before others." Jesus, John tells us, was the Light who came into the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.
That darkness may have spoken to Hanssen and may continue to attract other people to join because of the cloak it throws over their lives. It lives in the Dark Ages if, as reported on a Web site devoted to it, it allows women as "assistants ... who pledge celibacy, and are responsible for the care and cleaning of all Opus Dei residences."
Hanssen was a counterintelligence specialist, a man working in but against the bureau and the country, a man who made himself superior to his nation by finding a perch from which to spy on it. The word spy is instructive for, as we examine its family of meanings, we find that it is related to the Latin spex, "one who sees." This, in turn, is the core of despicari, "to look down on," "to despise."
The word secret leads us back to roots that mean "to set apart," to "be separate."
Here, then, the spy who separates himself from and looks down on his fellow Americans pledges himself to an organization in which he separates himself from and looks down on his fellow Catholics. It is not too much to suggest that, as with reported self-styled elites in seminaries, he despises them.
Pope John Paul II has spoken, in the context of social justice, of the "preferential option for the poor" but he has actually given it to the well-funded Opus Dei, granting it extraterritorial canonical status, making its members independent of bishops. He gave them a choice Roman location for their training house. He wants to endorse the good they may do but may not see how much they separate themselves from and look down on the Catholics who constitute the church as a People of God.
The secret spy and the hidden organization were made for each other. This case means that Opus Dei must give up looking down on us, open its books and its practices, and cleanse itself of habits that endanger it by attracting darkness-adapted spies to join.
The biggest flaw in this self-presenting diamond of an organization is basic: it misunderstands the church. Catholicism is a Mystery, but it can never be a secret.