Expedited sainthood for Father Jose Maria Escriva is but one theme Robert Hutchison develops in this 486 page work. Less apparent to the reader is the personality of the energetic founder of Opus Dei. The author may have caught a profound and intimate glimpse of him and chose not to convey it. Father Jose as an organizer, religious figure, flagellante and scholar is depicted only briefly. Unfortunately, some aspects of his life and personal qualities, which had to be sizable, if not larger than life, are not fully conveyed here. Apparently, it was not at all easy to be regarded fondly by Father Escriva. Some saints may not be as cordial as one would think.
Of course, the book purports to focus on Opus Dei not its founder. In preparation to read this, one might wish to read at least a primer on the Spanish Civil War.Those with specialized interest and knowledge of this important period of modern European history will best be able to judge if Hutchison got it right! Considerable detail , some tangential, is provided on a very complex piece of Spain's history. Founded in 1928 with direct revelations received by Father Escriva, the organization was born in the fateful years leading up to the Civil War.
Certainly the impact of Opus Dei is being felt in the corridors of the UN and is sometimes seen as unseemly. Its outreach is worldwide. The author provides sparce information about the OD in the United States with a membership of 5,000 reported in 1995. We are told R. Sargent Shriver and wife Eunice of the Kennedy clan "became active Opus Dei operators (sic)." Little else is said by Hutchison about OD in America. He does say the former head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, was an Opus Dei supernumerary. Amazing if true!
Opus Dei interest in the American stock market is known and monies have been invested "anonymously" according to the author. Opus Dei is also said to be a major trader in EuroDollars, making a religious organization founded to do God's work, a significant financial player, at least in Europe. There are many other financial holdings and interests it is claimed. Not the least of these are the church's loss of 100s of millions of dollars in the mid 1970s due to bank Italian failures. Opus Dei stepped in with large amounts of funds to assist the church in its shock and embarrassment.
Hutchison vividly describes the secret and hidden aspects of OD operations. He suggests that it is the most important organization within the Catholic church with special patronage from Pope John Paul. Even as a cardinal, Carol Wojtyla was a supporter. This is a remarkable claim given the power of the Roman Curia, the ever growing college of Cardinals, the various priestly orders and the many apostolates. Opus Dei has been called a "floating diocese" and has the special status of a "Personal Prelature." Interestingly Escriva did not participate in the great modern council of the church, Vatican II, feeling snubbed by Pope John XXIII on several matters not the least of which was a cardinal's hat. He is said to have "dubbed it the council of the Devil."
Released in 1997, Hutchison's book devotes considerable space to the issues separating Islam from Christianity. He highlights some of Opus Dei's activities relative to Islam. He suggests that Dr. Hassan al-Turabi is one of the most dangerous figures in the Islamic world. He notes that Turabi and "his chief of staff, Saudi entrepreneur Osama Binladen, are financing Islamic extremists...". He states, Osama answered the call of jihad in 1985. All of this written prior to printing in 1997!
The crucible for some of this conflict is Africa where the church is losing ground to Islam. Opus Dei is very likely lobbying for a Spanish pope to succeed John Paul. However, to counter the Islamic surge in Africa, the pope that follows will be African.
All of these points are made while providing, as a frame of reference, the goals and activities of those of Opus Dei doing "God's work" in many places. God's work is indeed varied. Father Escriva taught a kind of "Protestant work ethic" but with much greater severe religious discipline and practices.
The final chapter and epilogue do not end on a positive note. Hutchison counsels implicitly throughout this book that Vatican watchers will want to continue to closely observe Opus Dei as the most significant and yet largely unseen force in the Catholic church. It may make serious and dramatic false steps in dealing with Islam. The implications could be widespread and not limited to Catholic church interests.
Charting the many flash points in Africa, Europe and the Philippines, the author quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr. Carey raises doubts that "two missionary religions, seeking holiness and truth, can commit to dialogue". This describes a world stage set for religious conflict.
Opus Dei may be described as modern "Knights Templar" disciplining itself as warriors. Hutchiscon sees Opus Dei as a cult within the Catholic church. Members believe the founder, Jose Maria Scriva, was chosen by God to save the church. The founder taught his followers, "all things are lawful to me, not all things are expedient." There is an intimation that he thought of the papacy for himself in this life. He achieved sainthood in the next instead.
This is an excellent book - superbly researched and written. I would imagine that any previous negative reviews were submitted by Opus Dei sympathizers. That's fine, of course. Everyone has the right to their own opinion. It is therefore my opinion that anyone who is interested in the machinations of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church should buy this book and digest it thoroughly.