Collected by Randy Engel – with permission of the author
An Interview with Miguel Fisac
Seventeen years ago, Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN) produced a remarkable interview with the award-winning Spanish architect Miguel Fisac, one of the early members of Opus Dei and an intimate of its founder, Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer for almost two decades (1936-1955).
Logically speaking, Mr. Fisac would have been a natural and key witness to testify at the Cause of beatification of Msgr. Escrivá, but his request was rejected by the tribunal in charge of the case on the basis that he (Fisac) was “psychologically unbalanced” and demonstrated “pathological scruples with obsessive manifestations, permanent anxiety and (a) persecution complex.” In other words, Mr. Eisac’s truthful testimony along with that of other rejected testimonies by Maria del Carmen Tapia, Dr. John Roche and other critics of Opus Dei would probably have sunk the Cause.
The Early Years with Escrivá
Miguel Fisac is the only living person who belonged to Opus Dei before the Spanish Civil War. He met Father José María Escrivá through a mutual friend at a student residency in Madrid and joined Opus Dei on February 27, 1936, shortly before the civil war broke out.
Although he knew he did not have a religious vocation, the young Fisac was attracted and held bound by the fellowship he shared with other members. As a young architect dedicated to his profession, he managed to retain a measure of independence. He did not actively proselytize, and he remained aloof from the internal affairs of the organization. He did, however, turn over his hefty salary to Opus Dei. And, by choice, he lived apart from his own natural family.
The Decision to Leave Opus Dei
In 1955, nineteen years and eight months after he said yes to Escrivá, Fisac informed the General Secretary, Antonio Pérez that he wanted to leave Opus Dei, but was persuaded to first consult Escrivá, and later Alvaro Portillo, who became the founder’s successor. Naturally, both tried to convince him to remain a member, but the 42-year old Fisac remained adamant. When he was approached to become a supernumerary or cooperator he refused.
Why did Miguel Fisac leave Opus Dei? For many reasons.
Over the years, it appears that Fisac’s initial attraction to the charismatic Escrivá lost its luster upon a longer and closer acquaintance. Differences regarding artistic and cultural concepts later extended to Escrivá’s theological and supernatural ideas.
Regarding Escrivá’s personality, Fisac stated that the more the founder grew in importance the greater became his conceit. Except for Portillo, he (Escrivá) never spoke well of any one especially ecclesiastics, friars and monks.
Fisac was also critical of how Escrivá “capriciously” selected priests for Opus Dei from its pool of numeraries “as if it were a game…” Members who desired to answer the call to the priesthood were systematically refused, while others, without any such desire or call, were ordained, Fisac said.
Fisac also observed that the precept of love of one’s neighbor was non-existent “in the spirit and conduct of its members.”
In his ODAN interview, Fisac said “During the time I knew him, I never saw him with any poor people.” However, Fisac does note Escrivá’s “great affection for the members of the aristocracy,” and his affinity for material luxuries:
For many years, the construction of the central house in Rome was a matter of maximum importance for Monsignor Escrivá. He demanded the general mobilization of all members to secure the money needed. Millions and millions of pesetas were invested in luxuries of low artistic quality, but in the Renaissance manner, because all of these frivolous details were of the greatest importance to him.
In the end, Opus Dei became “a machine for generating power,” Fisac said. “The numerary members of Opus Dei were living with many secrets and lies, with an indigestion of rules and prayers that were cramping their lives.”
The Persecution Begins and Never Ends
Three months after he left Opus Dei, Fisac met his future wife Ana Maria Badell. They were happily married in 1957, and remained so, despite Escrivá’s prediction that Fisac would be “wretched.”
Although Fisac had secured a promise from Portillo that there would be no reprisals against him when he left Opus Dei, there were reprisals never-the-less.
One of the cruelest occurred when Miguel and Ana’s six-year-old daughter died of an adverse reaction to a polio vaccination. No word of sympathy came from either Escrivá or Portillo. On the day of the funeral, two Opus Dei members, Paco Botella, Fisac’s former confessor, and Antonio Pérez, came to their home, like two Mafia hit men, to deliver the not-so-subtle message that their daughter’s death was a punishment for having left Opus Dei.
From a professional perspective, Fisac discovered he was losing clients and work due to Opus Dei pressure. Opus Dei replied that people no longer liked his work. Opus Dei never relented.
At the end of his interview, Miguel Fisac concludes:
It saddens me to see, today, from afar, such a powerful and fearsome organization, which has absorbed so many generous young people who came to it with the intention of serving God.
And I pray to God, every day, for Monsignor Escrivá, for the salvation of his soul.
[ The complete text of An Interview with Miguel Fisac – An Insight into the Early Years of Opus Dei is available for $7.00 from ODAN at http://www.odan.org/ or Box 4333, Pittsfield, MA, USA, 01202-4333.]
Opus Dei Guidebook
This comprehensive website has the best translations of heretofore secret Opus Dei internal and external documents and Vatican documents related to the Prelature.
- The 200-page section titled Code of Opus Dei includes “Code of Canon Law” which briefly defines the Prelature and its relationship with the laity and bishops; UT SIT which is the 1982 Apostolic Constitution that created the Prelature of Opus Dei; the 1950 Constitutions which is the main governing document with important details not found in the 1982 Statutes; and the 1982 Statues which were revised but did not replace parts of the 1950
- The Opus Dei Codes of Secrecy is one of the most informative and important sections of the Guidebook as it answers questions related to many of the objectionable practices of Opus Dei as “a secret society by statute,” and the secrecy concerning membership.
- Centers is the section dealing with Opus Dei’s canonically erected centers versus its autonomous/dependent centers. The slide-show is a valuable asset.
- Opus Dei’s Purpose is a short section dealing with Opus Dei’s reason for existence.
- How Opus Dei Works is a technical section dealing with the structure of the prelature from top to bottom. It makes clear that while the members of Opus Dei can act individually or through associations which may be cultural, artistic or economic etc., and which are called Auxiliary Societies, never-the-less all these apostolates “are subject in their activities to the authority of the hierarchy of the Prelature. This means that no Opus Dei apostolate acts independently of the Prelature even though the Opus Dei numerary or supernumerary or cooperator footed the bill, in whole or in part, for the apostolate.
- Member Vows and Life explains the difference between traditional religious public vows and those required by the Prelature for its members. One of the most important points the Guidebook makes is that while religious orders are required by Canon Law to care for their members for life, the Prelature has no such canonical or legal obligation to its members. This section should be required reading for anyone contemplating membership in Opus Dei.
- The section titled Membership provides a visual view of the structure of Opus Dei. It also contains insights into how Opus Dei uses information about its members as an instrument of power over those same members. We are reminded that: —39 Before admitting someone, the Counselor should not fail to seek, through the local Director, reports, including confidential ones, regarding the aspirant’s talents, his culture, his piety, his aptitude for the activities of the Institute, his family, his studies and other things which can provide a more intimate knowledge of his personality. The most profound silence and secrecy should be kept about this (emphasis added).
- Opus Dei News, the last section of the Guidebook is somewhat dated and needs refreshing.
Leopards in the Temple
By John Martin
Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry. This happens again and again, repeatedly. Finally, it can be counted on beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony
-Franz Kafka, Parables
One of the most lasting and profound critiques about the inordinate ordination of Escrivá in particular, and Opus Dei in general, is John Martin’s “Leopards in the Temple: Opus Dei, Escriva, and John Paul II’s Rome” which appeared in The Remnant newspaper on June 30, 2002, and is an attachment to this mailing. Here are some excerpts from this literary masterpiece:
It’s not simply that Escriva and Opus Dei have a legion of critics and a history of dubious practices, it’s the startling pace John Paul II has followed in exalting this mysterious shepherd and his multinational flock through a series of breathtakingly honorific 10-year milestones — granting Opus Dei personal prelature status (1982), beatifying Escriva (1992), and now (2002) declaring this dynamic but disturbing son of Spain worthy to rub elbows with such giants as John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Therese of Lisieux, and Christina the Astonishing. …
To be sure, Escriva and Opus Dei represent a leopard with a very different pattern of spots and manner of operating. Whereas the others have generally been diluters of the sacrificial chalices — adding the pale water of liberalism to the good wine of orthodoxy — Escriva and Opus Dei have brought an additive of unmistakable potency: Serviam, the spirit of true believers. Here are people who look, act, and sound like the solid old Catholics of yesteryear — in fact, more so. And that’s just the problem: in their scrupulous adherence to the fierce and narrow demands of their humorless and superorthodox prelature, Opus Dei members inevitably become more “Catholic” than Catholicism — especially in the respective matters of self-discipline, spiritual direction, and reverence for authority. And nowhere is that reverence more evident than in the unthinking, uncritical, and virtually Maoist way they praise and quote the man variously called “the Father,” “Our Father,” and “the Founder. …”
Yet papally blessed or not, both Escriva and Opus Dei continue to attract bristling criticism from journalists, disenchanted former members, and the often embittered parents of children “lost” to an organization they see as a Catholic version of a mind control sect as cultic in its way as Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, or the Falun Gong. …
Whatever their different experiences, a common thread runs through every tale told of life in Opus Dei — an emphasis on recruiting so intense as to be compared only to the round-the-clock efforts of the coaches at America’s big-time football factories. According to author Jean-Jacques Thierry, all Opus Dei schools, clubs, cultural centers, residences, universities, publishing houses, and special events have as their principal goal just one thing — more members. …
Still, it’s Opus Dei’s financial situation that gets most of the journalistic ink and paper. In the absence of an annual report, of course, one can only speculate about what reserves of treasure are to be found in the organization’s well-hidden coffers. …
But while Opus money, with its labyrinthine travels, its eager suitors, and its inevitable influence, may open doors for the organization and positively cries out for an investigation by any financially competent and personally uncompromised clerics who may still exist in today’s Rome, it’s the closing of doors that needs to be looked at even more earnestly. For it’s behind those elegant doors in those glistening numerary residences, and in some family ones as well, that the deeper mischief is going on — the control, the conditioning, the cultifying. …
Secretive, elusive, shrewd — whether outside the temple hunting, or inside it eyeing the chalices, the leopard called Opus Dei has made its presence known and feared. Now, even as the unsuspecting John Paul prepares for it a crown of glory, it more than ever threatens to become part of the ceremony — this dangerous and relentless predator that comes in, like the fog, on little cat feet.
From the Oldies but Baddies Department
On April 9, 1997, the international media had a field day in exposing a statement by Bishop Javier Echevarría Rodríguez, the Prelate of Opus Dei, regarding his claim that most disabled children were offspring of “impure parents.”
According to the Italian newspaper Giornale de Sicila, Bishop Echevarria was addressing a meeting of 1,500 Opus Dei members and followers in Sicily when he was quoted as saying that “according to scientific research,” most handicapped people had been born to people who had “not entered into marriage in a pure state.”
Opus Dei responded that the bishop was not aware that any members of the press corps were in attendance at what he believed to be a closed meeting, and that he doesn’t speak Italian well.
In response to press criticism and complaints from organization representing special needs children and their families, the bishop said, “I remember having criticized the phenomena, unfortunately not uncommon today, of sexual abuse, violence against women, pornography, etcetera, and the risk of unhappy consequences of all kinds in a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. I did no more than reiterate the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject.”
But as Mary Jane Owen, head of the National Catholic Office of Persons with Disabilities said of Bishop Echevarria’s remarks, “I had to make it clear that this was not the position of the Catholic Church, the pope or the National Conference of Catholic Bishops – R.E.