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Rick Santorum’s Opus Dei Vision for America

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The deeper into the GOP primary season we get, the more  former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA) class and culture war rhetoric abandons all pretense of moderation.  More concerning, he has become more heated, snide and resentful as his popularity has grown.

He has demonstrated that he is willing to reach blue-collar voters by fear-mongering. But more importantly, he has shown us how Opus Dei’s teachings inform his vision for society.

When Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the president of a disuniting nation, he attempted to calm the anxieties of his Southern brethren by asking them to appeal to “the better angels of our nature.” One hundred and fifty years later Rick Santorum is headed in the opposite direction.

He is attempting to stoke blue-collar sentiments of feeling ignored — some of which is legitimate — into a frenzy.  But the candidate is not directing that anger and resentment toward oligarchs who do not believe in involuntary unemployment — folks such as the Koch brothers.  Instead, he is misdirecting it towards straw-man educated elites, personified by President Obama.  As The Daily Howler’s Bob Somerby explained, Santorum is doing nothing more than playing off two constant conservative memes:  Big government never did anything right.  Liberal elites think they’re better than you are.

At the same time, the prospective GOP candidate for president is being dishonest about himself and his opponents.  Since this past January, for example, Santorum has claimed:  “Obama says he wants everyone to go to college.”  He pauses and then exclaims:  “What a snob!”  Santorum then begins a diatribe about how the president supposedly looks down on blue-collar work.

Never mind that President Obama never said any such thing.  Indeed, the President was emphasizing any form of higher education to prepare for a wider choice of possible employment, including trade and technical schools.

In an interview with Glenn Beck, the candidate doubled-down with another divisive broadside aimed at the higher educated. This time claimed that a college education encourages anti-religious behavior and that the President is encouraging higher education because college essentially brainwashes the youth of America into becoming neo-atheistic liberals.

Santorum committed the sins of omission by failing to note how various wealthy conservatives are practically buying ideological influence at colleges and universities by their endowments.  And as an example of his own hypocrisy, he did not mention his own efforts at encouraging college attendance.

As Fred Clarkson wrote, Santorum’s latest outrage concerns President Kennedy 1960 assurance to Protestant ministers that he would not impose his personal religious beliefs on non-Catholic citizens. That is a far different thing than his characterization that “…faith is not allowed in the public square.”

But where does a Catholic find the authority to use such mendacity in pursuit of political power?  Perhaps the answer lies in the writings of Opus Dei founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

Santorum is what is known as an Opus Dei cooperator. While not officially a member, being a cooperator offers plausible deniability to those who support the secretive organization’s goals of a more theocratic society built upon a foundation of ultra-orthodox Catholic notions of morality.  It is no accident that Santorum’s first public condemnation of JFK’s Houston speech came in 2002 when the then-junior U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania was at the Vatican attending a Vatican celebration of the birth of Escrivá.  It was while attending that event that Santorum told The National Catholic Reporter that he was “an admirer” of Escrivá.

It was Escrivá who famously said, “Have you ever bothered to think how absurd it is to leave one’s Catholicism aside on entering a university, or a professional association, or a scholarly meeting, or a congress, as if you were checking your hat at the door?”

Santorum has embraced that view, going as far as to comment, that JFK’s promise not take orders from the Vatican as president has caused “much harm in America.”  Indeed, many of the candidate’s more inflammatory comments echo Escrivá.

Many of Santorum’s culture war pronouncements also echo Escrivá.  In the Opus Dei founder’s two primary works, The Way and In Love with the Church, he urged secrecy in his apostolate (The Way, No. 839); condemned modern notions of equality as “injustice” (The Way, No. 46); 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). His book In Love with the Church cites such questionable authorities such as the openly anti-democratic Pope Pius IX.  (This was the same Pius IX who ordered a young Jewish child kidnapped from his parents in Bologna and raised him in the Vatican to become a priest, all against his family’s will).

There are also two passages in The Way that may offer Santorum a justification for his conduct. In No. 258, Escriva preached, “Get rid of those scruples that deprive you of peace. What robs you of your peace of soul cannot come from God.”

“In No. 259, Escriva continues, writing, “Still those scruples!  Talk simply and clearly with your director.  Obey… and don’t belittle the most loving heart of our Lord.”

Oxford Dictionaries Online defines “scruples” as follows:

noun
     1 (usually scruples) a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action:
     I had no scruples about eavesdropping
     [mass noun]:
without scruple, politicians use fear as a persuasion weapon

It is it possible that Santorum has “gotten rid of those scruples” — or at least those that would restrain a more reasonable candidate from angrily mischaracterizing the president’s true intent on higher education?

Santorum who has enjoyed the benefits of elite higher education, is playing a highly cynical political game.  Santorum has an undergraduate degree from Penn State, an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from the Dickinson School of Law — better known as Penn State Law.

Santorum’s other personal philosophy, neo-conservatism also comes into play.  This theory of governance is awash in the concept of neo-platonic society, one where everyone knows “his or her place,” and is likewise at war with modernity. It is also a system where “philosopher-kings” rule over the more “vulgar” members of society.  Such a worldview dovetails neatly with an Opus Dei vision for society.

And what of Opus Dei itself?  Apparently, the lay organization’s history is rife with elitism.”  The organization’s founder was witnessed making statements dismissive of more open-minded popes such as John XXIII and Paul VI.  Indeed, Escriva’s former personal secretary, Maria del Carmen Tapia, described how the organization, “… set its eye on the intellectual elite, the well-to-do, and the socially prominent.”

In a 1997 National Catholic Reporter review of Tapia’s book about her time with the secretive organization, Sister Kaye Ashe wrote, “If they had reason to wonder at the speedy beatification of its founder in 1992, 17 years after his death, their mystification will double as they see him through Tapia’s eyes: a self-preoccupied, authoritarian man given to loud and angry tantrums.”

While it seems that the teachings of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer have left their mark on candidate Santorum, the question to which we deserve an answer is just how far does Santorum’s admiration for Opus Dei’s founder extend to his vision for America?

One Response

  1. Frank, thank you for the reminder of the context of Santorum’s first attack on JFK’s understanding of church-state relationships. I had forgotten the Opus Dei connection there. It’s extremely important.

    Everywhere you turn, there they are, trying to turn the Catholic church into an anti-modernity machine, but at the same time (and this seems their real goal), trying in every way possible to benefit the rich and undermine aspects of modernity (e.g., democracy) that do not serve the needs of wealthy elites.

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