THEIR KINGDOM COME -- INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF OPUS DEI
THE POPE'S SECRET WARRIORS
IN FEBRUARY 1993, POPE JOHN PAUL II PAID A NINE-HOUR VISIT TO Khartoum, capital of Sudan, Africa's largest country, of which almost 80 per cent of the population -- some 26 million souls -- follow the Islamic faith. The Pope was on the last lap of his tenth African tour. After stooping to kiss the ground, he delivered a message to his Arab hosts that was starkly void of diplomacy: they must stop 'the terrible harvest of suffering' caused through their persecution of the Christian minority, and end the ten-year-old civil war that was turning the south of the country into a wasteland. Later, outside Khartoum Cathedral, where he celebrated Mass, he compared the plight of the Sudanese Christians to that of Jesus on the Cross: 'in this part of Africa, I see clearly a particular reproduction of Calvary in the lives of the majority of the Christian people." 
His admonishments were directed at the Sudanese president, General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had seized power in a military coup almost four years before, and Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, the regime's chief ideologist and real power behind the military council. As the secretary general of the National Islamic Front, Dr. Turabi was one of the architects of a modern alliance between extremist Sunni and Shiite forces that had not been seen since the first centuries of Islam, when the followers of the Prophet conquered an empire that stretched from the Pamirs to the Pyrenees.
But who had counselled the Pope to make such a bold move, or, as some would call it, a 'no-win encounter'?
John Paul II's closest advisers were the men of Opus Dei -- God's Work -- a spiritual organization, which, through his help, had become the Church's only Personal Prelature, that is to say, a privileged bishopric without a territory. The confrontation between John Paul II and the leaders of radical Islam was part of Opus Dei's latest step in its twentieth-century Crusade. It was a double-handed strategy that was both cunning and simple: offer an olive branch, and strike with the rod. In other words, have dialogue with the more open face of Islam -- an Islam that the West can live with and respect -- while meeting radical Islam's militancy with an appropriate measure of Christian militancy, because to do otherwise would be to condemn Christendom to a sorry fate. It was a flexible strategy, and by the same measure more aggressive than any other branch of the Catholic Church was prepared to recommend. And it was high-risk.
If no modus vivendi was possible, Opus Dei wanted the West to be morally prepared for a showdown with Islam. Now we are not talking about Opus Dei as some fringe group, but a powerful organization that, since the mid-1980s, has been at the heart of the Vatican power structure -- an organization every bit as fundamentalist on the Christian side of the Spiritual Curtain as Turabi and his followers are on the Islamic side. Its members include the Pope's personal secretary, his spokesman and certain of his ministers. Behind them stand the ranks of political and moral strategists at the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome, and behind them stand 80,000 members worldwide, all but 2 per cent of them successful, specially indoctrinated lay people.
If the casual pedestrian in the secular city has never heard of Opus Dei it is not surprising, for it really does operate like a religious Fifth Column. Its members are everywhere, and yet nowhere. They are a contradiction in terms and methodology. They assert that their aims are purely spiritual but they labour with the Pope in elaborating his political agenda. And while they are masters of modern technology, Opus Dei's roots are most assuredly medieval.
I first heard of Opus Dei in the 1960s when a Swiss banker friend informed me that it was one of the major players in the Eurodollar market. A religious association speculating in overnight francs and next week's dollars? That did not sound right at all. Since then a number of books have been written about the organization, most of them from the inside. None, however, disclose that Opus Dei has established itself as the praetorian guard of traditional Catholic doctrines and that today it is the strongest pressure group within the Roman Curia, which runs the Catholic Church. Although Opus Dei's precise goals remain hidden, this book will suggest that the movement has been deeply concerned not only with 'providing spiritual assistance to its faithful' but also with infiltrating into the political, financial and educational infrastructures of numerous countries, with gaining control of the Vatican's own finances and in turn of its policies, with crusading against Liberation Theology in Latin America, against Marxism in Europe and reshaping the post-Perestroika world, and, of late, focusing its main concern on countering the emergence of an 'eastern axis' -- more precisely a central Islamic axis -- that includes North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the six Islamic republics of the ex-Soviet Union.  Turkey, whether it likes it or not, being the hinge of this axis.
Father Vladimir Felzmann, a close aide to Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, maintains that Opus Dei is the closest the Roman Catholic Church has come to recreating the Military Orders of the Middle Ages. Indeed, in terms of accumulated wealth and power, Opus Dei is the most successful Catholic association since the Knights Templar. By the thirteenth century, the Templars had become the leading bankers of Europe. But the worldly resources of the Knights Templar sparked the envy of European princes until finally the Templars were crushed. Having studied and even imitated the Templars, Opus Dei would be careful to avoid a similar fate.
In spite of its current prominence inside the Church, the origins of Opus Dei are recent and modest. In a corporate sense, it is younger than General Motors, though its assets are said to be much larger. Its wealth, derived from its secular activities, has given rise to jealousies and its traditionalist practices make it hotly contested by the progressives within the Roman Curia. But Opus Dei's dedication and determination in carrying out its apostolic activities has also brought it strong allies.
Opus Dei professes bewilderment when accused of running a vast earthly empire with tentacles extending in many countries to the highest level of government. It claims its sole mission is 'to remind all people that they are called to holiness, especially through work and ordinary life'.
One is left to conclude that Opus Dei does not want the world to know what it is really up to. On the other hand, it does maintain certain showcase projects -- the so-called collective works -- which it publicly vaunts. These are mainly related to education and social assistance. It operates, for example, eight universities and eight institutes of higher learning worldwide and controls an interlocking complex of broadcast networks and publishing houses that makes it a media giant on a par with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Of course the notion that Opus Dei might singlehandedly take on a newly emerging Islamic alliance is on the face of it ludicrous. But the fact remains that Opus Dei does not read like an open book. Its leadership prefers to remain in the shadows. Members are possessed of great spiritual singlemindedness. And they adhere to the word of the Scriptures and of their Founder with the same unbending orthodoxy that Islamic fundamentalists reserve for the Koran.
Getting to know Opus Dei has not been easy. It covers its activities with a mantle of religious arrogance which, one might think, is opposed to the earliest precepts of Christian faith. But it should also be noted that many fine and impressive people belong to the Prelature. Nonetheless, they are programmed not to question the intentions of the internal hierarchy, and to obey their superiors rigorously. To the non-initiated, this might seem unsettling. But Opus Dei seeks to reassure doubters by stressing, 'We have no aims outside the pastoral or doctrinal sphere. Specifically, we have no political or economic agenda, or any means of carrying one out.' 
In all objectivity I intend to demonstrate that this is not an accurate affirmation. But first let us trace the development of Opus Dei from its founding in 1928 to the present and seek to place the organization in a historical and social context, formulated without bias and free of the hagiography and admiring subjectivity of the 'official' documentation promoted by the Prelature.
One of the things that surprised me while researching this book was the fear expressed by some ex-members and their families when talking about 'the Work'. I was warned that by pushing my own enquiries too far I might place myself in jeopardy. Never, however, was I conscious of being menaced, and my relations with the Prelature remained courteous though distant. Nevertheless, I found myself wandering through a world of deceit and dissimulation, crowded with holy manipulators and regulated by unscrupulous interests. As the story unravelled, I found it punctuated by a score of sudden, untimely and often violent deaths: a Spanish Nationalist official who wanted to bring a charge of treason against one of the Founder's first disciples, a Swiss priest who threatened to expose the Vatican's financial misdealings, a former Spanish foreign minister, six bankers, a shadowy London antiques dealer, a Russian metropolitan suspected of being a KGB agent, a cardinal who opposed Opus Dei's transformation into a Personal Prelature and a pope who favoured artificial birth control. Some were apparently explainable, others not at all.
Now I am not a public prosecutor, and there are limits to which private citizens can pursue complex investigations. But I have heard the stories of families torn apart by the Prelature's recruiting practices and of former members who were harassed after leaving the organization and who suffered severe 'withdrawal' problems. The organization's attempts to explain away these cases were frankly unconvincing and frequently lacked compassion. The evidence and affidavits made available to me have left me with an uneasy feeling that Opus Dei, because it operates with lack of oversight and engages in activities not commonly associated with religious organizations, constitutes a danger to the Church. People driven by fundamentalism have never been 'led by responsibility, by responsible love', but by strong, deeply felt emotions and a singleminded belief that they possess all the answers.
1. Alan Cowell, 'The Pope's Plea to Sudan', New York Times Service, International Herald Tribune, 11 February 1993.
2. They are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tadjikistan, Turkmenia and Uzbekistan.
3. Andrew Soane, Director, Opus Dei Information Office UK, 24 March 1995.