An illuminating exposé of Opus Dei, the secretive sect operating at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church.
To the outside world, Opus Dei claims that its only goal is “to remind all people that they are called to holiness, especially through work and ordinary life.” But with an elite membership of 90,000 and influences reaching around the globe, Opus Dei has far greater potential power than its leaders are willing to reveal.
Investigative journalist Robert Hutchison charts the seemingly unstoppable growth of this shadow government behind the Vatican. Hutchison demonstrates how Opus Dei has forged an unholy alliance with the Mafia, secular powerbrokers, and highly placed prelates, with the result that Christian values are being threatened by the malign influences of power politics and big money.
In this updated edition, Hutchison sheds light on the future of Opus Dei, its ties to the new pope, and the details of its preparations for what the organization regards as Christendom’s inevitable showdown with radical Islam.
A Work of Fiction
An Eastern fable recounts how a king once summoned three blind men and placed them in front of an elephant. One touched his trunk, the other his feet, the other his tail. He asked them what type of animal it was. They began to describe a monstrous creature...
The book, 'Their Kingdom Come', authored by Robert Hutchison and published by Doubleday (a division of Transworld) is billed as "explosive exposé of Opus Dei". Like the elephant in the fable, Opus Dei is described as a monstrous creature. However, the story could only be applied in part to this book because the blind men at least made the effort to touch something of what they wanted to know about. In contrast, much of what is portrayed in this book is pure invention. Starting with a distorted account of the history of Opus Dei and biography of its founder, Blessed Josemaría Escrivá (beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992), the narrative continues in a manner reminiscent of conspiracy theory literature; Opus Dei is claimed to be operating secretly on the world stage, running the Vatican, working with the CIA and masterminding a crusade against Islam.
The writer is the author of several other works. Among them is 'In the Tracks of the Yeti' (Macdonald, 1989), in which the author states that this beast (which he has encountered) is alive and well, in the tall Himalayan mountains. Doubleday, a publisher of some prestige, should have realized that this new book, 'Their Kingdom Come', independently of the author's intentions, is but one more in the same series, mixing stories with a certain verisimilitude — no more than the appearance of fact — with others that are pure fiction.
For much of the early part of the text, Opus Dei members are depicted as rather innocent weak-minded types inveigled into joining the organisation by Fr Escrivá, who is portrayed as unoriginal and authoritarian; a priest with a provincial mindset. Yet by the end of the book the same people are devilishly able criminal masterminds; the Mafia would be proud to have them. At first this seems odd; one presumes that the book was meant to be a unified whole, and that when he submitted the first 200 pages the writer had some idea of what he would be saying by page 400. However, even a quick perusal reveals that 'Their Kingdom Come' is no serious work, but a superficial attempt at "journalism-fiction", with a strong dose of conspiracy theory. No serious researcher could use it as a reliable source.
At times scientific rigor is discarded with an abandon that is not necessary even in this genre. A number of conspiracy theories are presented, including the death of Pope John Paul I, the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano and the so-called "Tenth Crusade" against Islam. The process by which they are developed might be summarized by saying that the narrative moves effortlessly from suspicion to speculation to working hypothesis to established fact, on which it piles further suspicions to repeat the process. Once this method is seen for what it is, the results are actually rather hilarious. The conflict in the Balkans, for example, is blamed in large measure on a priest of Opus Dei who works with university students in Pittsburgh, USA (pp.407-408).
Superficiality of Research
The history of Opus Dei and its founder is presented in such a way that one immediately suspects the quality of the research. It begins with his beatification, which it is claimed was "another political job" (p. 2), and then follows a travesty of a "history" of Escrivá and the first members of the organisation he founded. Escrivá is made out to be at once mystical (p.44) and superficial (p.84), feeble-minded (p.78) and a master strategist (p.89), a leader of leaders (p.85) and a coward (p.75), worldly (p.91), pious (p.21), dynamic (p.48), depressive (p.67), charismatic (p.40), ambitious (p.53), and — to cap it all — of doubtful veracity (eg, p.89). Such a contradictory character could exist only in the imagination.
Examples of poor research recur throughout the narrative, and to compound matters they are frequently made the basis for sweeping judgements. For example, it is alleged that Escrivá used false pretences to ask for financial help from the Teresians, whose founder had been martyred: "He (Escrivá) spoke of his last conversation with Father Poveda a few days before (he) was martyred... Escrivá appears to have taken considerable liberty with the truth... We know from his biographers that once the Civil War broke out he never saw Father Poveda again... Poveda was killed by the milicianos on 27 July 1936" (p.80). The crucial piece of information that the war started on 18 July, just nine days before Poveda's death, is somehow overlooked.
A Catalogue of Errors
Leaving aside the multitude of totally unfounded allegations, the book is, full of factual errors and mistakes, which could quite easily have been avoided with a little more research. To list and expose all of these would require an appendix of over 25 pages. One example occurs on p. 188, when the narrative asserts that Opus Dei members attend Vespers before morning Mass. Vespers in the morning would be a contradiction in terms (Vespers is part of the evening liturgy, as its name indicates in Latin), and moreover the timetable of a member does not include them.
Superficiality of Comprehension
One would have thought that a book about Opus Dei would reveal something about what it is that attracts people of all ages to join it, if the narrative had succeeded in getting beyond superficialities. This book seems to have nothing to say on this topic. On p. 107 it is asserted that Opus Dei has links with the CIA. The start of this "working relationship" is pinpointed to the Italian General Election campaign of 1948 (no source is given for this aberration, and the charge is not specified). Does the author really believe that people go to all the effort of joining Opus Dei so they can work for the CIA? This is not an isolated sentence; the spy network theory is developed in detail throughout the narrative. One gets the impression that the writer could tell us very little about the real nature of the attraction of Opus Dei, or any religious purpose for that matter.
Lack of Seriousness
From the very beginning balance and objectivity are thrown to the wind. We read on p. 14: "Opus Dei employed every trick in the book including trampling over people's reputations, to steamroller the beatification through."
This sort of language, which recurs not infrequently in the book, speaks for itself, at times it is hardly suited to a serious book. Here are some further examples (italics added):
"His [Escrivá's] mother, a religious hysteric, had chosen as his tutor an ultratraditionalist priest, anti-Liberal to the hilt." (p.37)
"To claim Escrivá was only interested in the spiritual well-being of his disciples would be nonsense. Escrivá was interested in power. He was a schemer. God's schemer." (p.87)
"One of the troubles about citing anything by Escrivá is that he was a master of double talk and dual standards." (p. 89)
"It also taught him that when it came to promoting God's Work some holy hi-jinx might be needed." (p. 103)
And so on, throughout the 442 pages of narrative. In fairness, Escrivá is not the only person given the treatment; of others the text employs language so robust at times, and in such graphic detail, that to quote extracts here would be forsaking the high ground. The writings of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá are of a much greater level and depth than anything in 'Their Kingdom Come'. Besides, even a cursory reading of some of them would soon dispel the idea that Opus Dei had any aims other than spiritual and apostolic ones.
In his published homily, "Passionately Loving the World", Escrivá explains: "St Paul wrote: 'in eating, in drinking, do everything for God's glory'. This doctrine of Holy Scripture, as you know, is to be found in the very nucleus of the spirit of Opus Dei. It leads you to do your work perfectly, to love God and mankind by putting love in the little things of everyday life, and discovering that divine something which is hidden in small details."
As regards the accusation of Opus Dei trying to "steamroller through" the beatification of its founder, a serious book would not have failed to present the other side of the story. In fact the Pope was very aware of insinuations in the media, and to make sure they were false took the exceptional step of appointing a special Commission to investigate them. On 12 May 1992, five days before the beatification, it declared that the procedures had been carefully and scrupulously followed on all points.
Lack of Scientific rigor
The narrative purports to show that Opus Dei, far from being an institution of the Catholic Church with purely spiritual and apostolic aims, "functions like a compact tenacious mercantile state" (p.342), and is "out to build an earthly empire" (p. 137), using "devilish tactics" (p. 117).
The pattern the text follows is, to describe some incident, such as a business fraud, and then suggest that some of the people on the spot were members of Opus Dei. By furnishing an extraordinary detail of names, places, dates and enterprises, the text conveys an impression of thorough and well-founded research. Much of this, however, is in fact a re-hash of well-known material published and refuted over the last twenty years or so.
Sometimes the re-heated meal is garnished with a few fresh morsels picked up from a conversation here, an "unpublished" document there (why unpublished?), an unsourced rumour or some newspaper cutting.
In most of the presented material there is only the most remote and entirely speculative connection with Opus Dei and sometimes no connection whatsoever. Someone involved in fraudulent trading is said to have attended a course at a university run by Opus Dei (p. 127). One might ask, when were Oxford or Harvard last blamed for Wall Street scandals involving former students? Elsewhere the link is that a person's brother-in-law was a member (p. 134) or simply that he had Opus Dei connections (p. 156) or was "linked to Opus Dei" (p. 157).
There are tens of thousands of Opus Dei members working in every kind of profession, and many times that number attending spiritual and doctrinal activities organised by Opus Dei. To infer, as the narrative does repeatedly, that Opus Dei has infiltrated and taken control of all the enterprises where these people end up is not unlike arguing that the Vatican has infiltrated and taken over the United Kingdom because the new Prime Minister is married to a Catholic. If one refuses to accept the fundamental principle that members are as free as anyone else and not responsible to Opus Dei in their work, then literally millions of conspiracy theories become plausible.
Non-serious Hearsay and Gossip
The "journalism-fiction" approach can be perfectly respectable when carried out seriously. Sadly, in this case it degenerates into sensationalism, leading to the inclusion of hearsay or gossip about Opus Dei, presented as undoubted fact.
It is not easy to imagine another investigative text being centered on statements like, "There is little doubt, though no actual proof, that at the June 1973 audience, Opus Dei's two senior prelates tabled a proposition... to assist the Vatican with its financial problems ... According to some sources, a deal was finally struck whereby Opus Dei would be elevated to a personal prelature in return for taking in hand the Vatican finances" (p.221). This is equivalent to an accusation of simony, the selling of ecclesiastical preferment. It is truly extraordinary that the text accuses Pope Paul VI of this most serious offence without a shred of evidence, as if the author were unaware of the seriousness of the charges he is making.
The narrative continues: "One theory we shall now explore is that Opus Dei wanted to control, imagined it controlled, or actually did control Milan's Banco Ambrosiano" (p.239). That appears to amount to three different theories. Indeed all that needed to be added to the text was the truth, namely that Opus Dei had nothing to do with it, in order to cover every option for the reader.
In similar non-serious vein one finds allegations and innuendo surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I (p.254ff); the financing of the Polish underground and Solidarity labour movement in amounts ranging from $40 million to $1 billion (p.358ff); the so-called "Tenth Crusade" against Islam (p.395ff), and much more. If a book is going to contain serious accusations of this kind, justice requires it to provide at least some sustainable evidence. If there is none to present then the text is clearly not worthy of serious attention.
It is worth pointing out that scandals like the Banco Ambrosiano, or indeed Rumasa or Matesa (also mentioned in the text), were formally investigated by criminal courts and responsible government agencies in highly publicised and drawn out court cases, giving rise to indictments, trials and convictions. At no time in the course of these public investigations was Opus Dei implicated, or even mentioned. Neither the Prelature nor any of its directors was ever accused, charged, or brought to trial, because there were no grounds for such. It is a pity the book does not report those serious official investigations and legal proceedings instead of bringing together a pot-pourri of gossip and speculation.
To say the final third of the book is preoccupied with conspiracy theories is an understatement. In the last chapters of Their Kingdom Come (pp.355-442) Opus Dei has conspired to overthrow a government, to wage a military war in Bosnia, to re-define Catholic teaching, and to take control of the holy sites in Jerusalem. The purpose of this frenzy of activity, we are told, is to conduct a sacred crusade against Islam. Yet no evidence is ever offered of this wrongdoing, aside from wild conjectures on the part of the author and persons with a hostile animus to the Prelature and/or the Church.
But this is not even the half of it. The text repeatedly states as fact the author's own conspiracy theories and wild imaginings (e.g. that the Prelature's centre in Jerusalem positions it to take control of the holy sites; p.396). Many times a single, innocent connection is ipso facto evidence of the most grand conspiracy (e.g., a priest of Opus Dei, Rev. Ronald Gillis, begins apostolic activities in Pittsburgh and the arming of the Croatians in the Bosnian War, p.407-408). These fantastic theories are elaborated on the back of information that is simply incorrect (e.g., confusing a ruling by the Swiss Supreme Court with an overturned lower Swiss court decision; p.372). Even worse, the narrative often simply invents things to embellish these homespun conspiracy theories (e.g., Opus Dei priests illegally travel to Saudi Arabia incognito; p. 389). No sources are ever cited for these and several other charges. This is so because they exist only in the imagination.
On other occasions a terribly complicated web of events is held together with the loosest of connections to construct a grand conspiracy theory. These conjectures, including the grandest of them all, the Tenth Crusade against Islam, nearly always hinge on a single "fact" which is somehow omitted. Time and again, small factual errors completely undo the grandest schemes.
This is perhaps most evident in the narrative's bizarre rendering of a trip the Prelate of Opus Dei made to Pittsburgh (p.407 ff). The text says the trip was several weeks long and occurred in 1993. Its true purpose, according to the book, was not to visit with the members of Opus Dei and encourage them in their apostolic efforts, but to supply the Croatians with arms in the Bosnian war.
Two coincidences are essential to the argument. A Croatian life insurance association happens to be located in Pittsburgh and Louis Freeh was sworn in as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in September of 1993. By linking the name of the FBI director with the Prelate's visit (the text claims that Louis Freeh is a member of Opus Dei), the narrative implies that this government agency is somehow involved in this wild scheme.
The entire fantasy crumbles mightily, however, with a single fact. The Prelate spent only one night in Pittsburgh (not several weeks), in 1988 (not 1993). A news account of the visit appeared at the time in the Pittsburgh Catholic. This was over five years before Louis Freeh was sworn in, and some time before the crisis in the Balkans.
As if all of this were not enough, several people in the narrative are falsely identified as members of the Prelature, adding undeserved weight to the conspiracy theories. As well as the above-mentioned FBI director, among them are an Austrian Archduke, an EU Commissioner, the Pope's personal secretary, and the President of the International Olympic Committee.
One is left to conclude that checking out these facts would have killed more than one conspiracy theory. Therefore it was convenient not to. Left unanswered is how the publisher could have let it pass.
Given the superficiality of the research, the narrative's fixation on conspiracy theories, and the absurdity of many of the allegations, it is clear that this is not a book to be taken as a reliable work of reference. It eventually goes beyond the absurd with the wild charge that Opus Dei's true mission is to purge the world of Islam — to carry out the Tenth Crusade. The book is lightweight, largely fictional, and should not be taken seriously.