As with many other Americans, I was dismayed in watching Attorney General William Barr’s performance two days ago before the U.S. Senate Judicial Committee. When questioned about his famous four page memo and repeated mischaracterization the Mueller Report, time and again, Barr obstructed, bobbed and weaved – all while refusing to answer basic questions put forth by the Democratic Senators.
We now also know that Barr gave misleading testimony before the House Appropriations Committee this past April 9, 2019. When asked by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) if the A.G. knew why members of Mueller’s team were frustrated by his characterization of the Special Counsel’s report, he falsely claimed that he did not. Speaker Pelosi has even accused the A.G. of criminality, saying that he lied to Congress.
But recently, we learned that the current Attorney General has some links with highly secretive, ultra-conservative Catholic group Opus Dei. This relationship may help explain his apparent “ends justifies the means” strategy.
Just to recap, Opus Dei, literally meaning, “The Work of God” was founded in Spain 1928 by the priest Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. He based its mission upon the idea that lay Catholics could achieve holiness without entering a religious order. It is a personal prelature – meaning that, unlike a diocese, is not territorial but is a combination of laity, clergy and prelates who undertake specific pastoral activities. It is known for recruiting very influential members, especially those simpatico with culturally conservative causes. To describe its many wealthy and powerful leaders as economic royalists would be an understatement.
It is no accident that Opus Dei coalesced in Franco’s Spain. Even today rumors and stories persist about its involvement with Francisco Franco’s forces from 1936 through 1939.
As I wrote about the secretive organization in 2006:
The danger that a politically active Opus Dei membership currently represents to liberal democracy is not from assassinations by imaginary albino monks (for the record, there are no Opus Dei monks), but in its very Plutocratic attitude in abhorring dissent. And just as it is with other Church friends that have caused apostasy, Opus Dei is openly more concerned with the economic self-interest of “friends” who already have superfluous wealth and power, often at the expense of the economically less powerful. They are not ashamed of the organization’s wealth, but are actually conspicuous about it as evidenced by its new seventeen-story 243 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York headquarters. When it opened in 2001 The New York Daily News pegged its value at $42 million. It is the antitheses of the Catholic Worker beliefs of Dorothy Day as well as the liberal economics of distributive justice advocate Monsignor John A, Ryan.
As well as:
Despite protestations, wealthier Opus members use politics as the means to further its own financial as well as theological interests. As Damian Thompson, editor-in-chief of the British Catholic Herald correctly noted, “What no one can dismiss (because it is true) is the allegation that Opus Dei seeks the advancement not only of its message but also of its own interests: hence the endless courting of cardinals, bishops and even journalists.”
As Betty Clermont recently reported, “Before the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in January, Barr had completed a questionnaire. On page 4, he listed positions he’s held as director of the Catholic Information Center (2014-1017), director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (2004-2009).”
The CIC is serves as Opus Dei’s de facto Washington, D.C. base of operations. Its staff and board of directors are stocked with members of the personal prelature”s members (as well as members of the Ethics and Public Policy Center). Barr may be a “Supernumerary” (married member) or simply a “cooperator (sympathetic non-member)”; what his exact standing is with the organization is unclear. All the same, it is hard to imagine any director of CIC not having some sort of developed relationship with Opus Dei.
The Attorney General has in the past spoken with language that is in line with the goals of both Opus Dei’s and the EPPC’s overlapping agendas. This past December Americans United’s Rob Boston reminded us of Barr’s past theological screeds. These run the gamut from condemning public schools (they had undergone a “moral lobotomy”); in a 1992 address to Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, he called for the imposition of “God’s law” in America. In that same address he went after contemporary supporters of the separation of church and state (“The secularists of today are clearly fanatics”).
That is precisely why the Attorney General’s Opus Dei links matter. Indeed, it may explain a good deal of his behavior yesterday.
Again, as I noted back in 2006, In two of Escrvia’s books, The Way and In Love with the Church, he urged secrecy in his apostolate (The Way, No. 839), defines compromise as laziness and weakness (The Way, No. 54) demands blind obedience to Church teachings (The Way, No. 617), calls non-Catholic schools, “pagan schools” (The Way, No.866), mocks Voltaire (The Way, No. 849). This is language that is reflected in Barr’s vocal pronouncements recounted above.
But more importantly, Escriva also taught his followers to put away their scruples (The Way, Nos. 258 and 259), seemingly teaching that the ends always justify the means. Perhaps maxims 258 and 259 might explain the Attorney General’s prior misleading House testimony as well his unwillingness to answer questions that merely required a yes or no response. Much of what Escriva preached dovetails nicely with the William Barr’s ideal of a society built upon religious orthodoxy. That being the case, it also seems that Escriva’s means for realizing that goal similarly dovetails.
What is it about Republicans such as William Barr who are willing to destroy the norms of both justice and American democracy; what drives men such as him? To this observer, it seems it is the overwhelming desire to impose both a theocratic cultural agenda coupled with a laissez-faire-tinged brand of capitalism rapidly devolving into a new feudalism.
Whatever relationship William Barr has with Opus Dei, the attorney general’s performance Wednesday, demonstrates that he has followed Escriva’s maxim to put away his scruples.