NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D. – Recent sex abuse scandals involving Opus Dei have placed the order under closer scrutiny. Known for its orthodoxy and promotion of sanctity among laity in the workplace and family life, the order has also been surrounded by controversy, its critics claiming it engages in aggressive recruiting tactics, targets the wealthy and professionally successful, is overly secretive in its operations and exercises too much control over its members.
Opus Dei has rebuffed each of these charges, insisting it functions in a transparent manner and does not single out wealthy elites for recruitment, nor does it engage in aggressive recruiting tactics. Even so, 1981 guidelines issued by Cdl. Basil Hume of Westminster — published in response to concerns expressed about the order — prohibited the group from recruiting minors; required that Opus Dei ensure that young people wishing to join first discuss the decision with their parents; cautioned against “undue pressure being exerted” on members to remain in the group and insisted that the “freedom of the individual be respected”; and ordered that any of Opus Dei’s activities in the diocese have “a clear indication of their sponsorship and management.”
The Associated Press reported in February that Fr. Patricio Astorquiza, an Opus Dei priest serving in Chile, is being investigated for alleged sex abuse of two male minors. The allegations involve harassment “with possible sexual connotation.”
Astorquiza is currently forbidden from publicly offering the sacraments. Once the investigation is complete, results will be sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Jose Maria Martinez Sanz and the Gaztuleuta School
Another recent case, this time in Spain, resulted in an 11-year prison sentence for a member of Opus Dei. Jose Maria Martinez Sanz, who taught at the Opus Dei-run Gaztelueta School in Leioa, was convicted in November of raping a male student repeatedly between the years 2008-2010, when the student was 11–13 years of age.
The allegation first came to light in 2010, but an internal investigation by the school resulted in clearing Martinez’ name. The CDF also conducted its own investigation, closing the case in 2015 after the allegations could not be proven. The victim’s family claims, however, that they had never been notified of the Vatican investigation, nor were they given a chance to present evidence on the victim’s behalf.
The victim sought justice in the secular courts, receiving vindication on Nov. 15, 2018, when the Provincial Court of Bizkaia handed down its sentence of 11 years’ prison time for Martinez. Martinez is appealing his verdict before Spain’s Supreme Court, and in late March the prosecutor issued a strongly worded denunciation against the professor in a petition to uphold the verdict and sentence.
In an interview from October, Juan Cuatrecasas Asua, father of the victim, expressed regret over his decision to place his son in the Gaztelueta School.
“We have been humiliated, mistreated and harassed by Opus Dei officials and have suffered from their inhuman treatment of my son and our family,” Cuatrecasas said. “Unlike the traditional wooden Catholic crucifix, Opus Dei reminds me of a pure crystal cross without a corpus. It is hard and brittle. It has no heart. It shows no mercy.”
Although Cuatrecasas remains a Catholic, his view of the Church has changed.
“[G]iven the Catholic Church’s poor track record with regard to helping victims of sexual abuse and its failure to bring the perpetrators of these horrific crimes to justice,” he said, “I simply no longer see the Church with the same eyes I once did. I do not think there is any room for cowardice, infamy, and lies in the Church that Christ Himself established.”
Fr. C. John McCloskey
Opus Dei’s most high-profile case involved celebrity priest Fr. C. John McCloskey, accused of sexual misconduct with a woman he was counseling. Recent news revealed Opus Dei had paid nearly $1 million to settle his case in 2005, quietly ordering the priest to withdraw from public life. His disappearance caused a number of people to wonder what had happened to the popular priest.
McCloskey was a well-known figure among Washington elites, the priest responsible for the conversion of famous conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Sam Brownback and Larry Kudlow, among others. His accuser claims he sexually groped her during spiritual counseling sessions, at a time when she was struggling with depression as she was going through a divorce.
“I love Opus Dei but I was caught up in this cover-up,” the woman said. “I went to confession, thinking I did something to tempt this holy man to cross boundaries.”
Opus Dei is investigating two other allegations of misconduct against McCloskey, one of them potentially “serious,” according to Brian Finnerty, an Opus Dei spokesman.
After the settlement, Opus Dei had ordered McCloskey to lead a more private life, and he was sent to England, Chicago and California, working at various assignments with Opus Dei. He was prohibited from offering spiritual direction to women except in the confessional, where there was a barrier.
McCloskey’s case is reportedly the only settlement paid by Opus Dei in the United States for a claim of sexual misconduct.
Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano and Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity
Five years ago, Pope Francis abruptly removed an Opus Dei bishop, the late Rogelio Livieres Plano, from his see in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Critics claim the removal was unjust and that Livieres was targeted for his orthodoxy. He had often clashed with his more liberal brother bishops, and his supporters claim that, although he had enjoyed the support of Pope Benedict, once Francis came to power he was arbitrarily removed.
But others claim the removal had much to do with scandal surrounding his vicar general, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, tainted with sex abuse allegations from the United States and Argentina. The priest had been kicked out of the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2004 over multiple accusations that he had fondled male teens at St. Gregory Academy, a school run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
Bishop Joseph Martino, former head of Scranton, had called the priest a “serious threat to young people,” while Urrutigoity, a priest who offered the Traditional Latin Mass, proclaimed his innocence. The Scranton diocese settled a lawsuit against the visiting Argentine priest for $400,000, and he was prohibited from exercising priestly ministry. Urrutigoity left Scranton for South America, where Livieres welcomed him into his diocese and eventually made him vicar general.
Livieres did not believe the allegations, calling them “slander.”
“Just as I have not hesitated to convict the guilty, neither will I punish a innocent victim of slander,” Livieres said in 2008, after public outcry over Urrutigoity’s appointment as vicar general.
Opus Dei, the only personal prelature in the Catholic Church, is among the wealthiest faith-based communities in the world, with a value estimated at $2.8 billion. In addition to donations, much of its wealth comes from Opus Dei members, called numeraries and supernumeraries, who pledge to give all or a portion of their salary to Opus Dei. According to its website, there are approximately 85,000 members of Opus Dei worldwide.
EDITORS NOTE: This Church Militant column is republished with permission.