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An Opus Dei Supreme Court

On July 1, the Supreme Court decided two major cases. In both, the 6-3 majority – of whom 5 of the 6 are Catholic – dealt a grievous blow against democracy by increasing the power of the Republican minority and the plutocracy. This is a reminder that Opus Dei has a malevolent influence over the judicial branch of our government.

Increasing the Power of the Republican Minority

One Supreme Court decision “essentially gutted what’s left of the Voting Rights Act,” Nina Totenberg said on NPR.

“I think it’s fair to say that all of the major paths to challenging voting rules in federal court have been severely cut back,” said Richard Hasen, a leading expert on voting rights and law professor at University of California Irvine. “As the Republican Party becomes more reliant on white voters, it has less of an incentive to support any renewed voting rights protections,” he stated.

Writing for the dissent, “Justice Elena Kagan accused the majority of ‘yet again’ rewriting the Voting Rights Act, a law, she noted, designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting.’ “Never before has a statute done more to advance the nation’s highest ideals. Few laws are more vital in the current moment. Yet in the last decade this Court has treated no statute worse,'” she wrote as reported by NPR.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act had “confronted one of this country’s most enduring wrongs; pledged to give every American, of every race, an equal chance to participate in our democracy,” stated Kagan. “That law, of all laws, should not be diminished by this court.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 majority, “gutted the law’s key provision, which until then required state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get federal approval prior to making any changes in voting procedures,” Totenberg explained. That 5-4 majority was composed of all Catholics: Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

The landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act had been “widely hailed as the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history. [But] for all practical purposes, all that is left of it [after the July 1 decision] are only the most egregious forms of discrimination,” Totenberg stated.

Protecting the Power of the Plutocracy

Also on July 1, the Supreme Court – by the same 6-3 majority – “sided with rich donors and their desire to remain anonymous against a state law aimed at policing the finances of charities and other nonprofits,” Totenberg said on another NPR broadcast.

“The key point is that it will be much harder to sustain campaign finance disclosure laws going forward,” Rick Hasen, the University of California law professor, wrote. The court “subtly opened the door” to challenge these laws wrote Lloyd Mayer, a law professor at Notre Dame. “Such challenges could easily lead to major donors and groups they support being able to even more easily hide donor identities, sharply increasing the flow of dark money supporting candidates and advocacy efforts,” Mayer stated.

“Dark money is election-related spending where the source is secret. Citizens United contributed to a major jump in this type of spending, which often comes from nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors,” explained Tim Lau writing for the Brennan Center for Justice.

The 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission “reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections. While wealthy donors, corporations, and special interest groups have long had an outsized influence in elections, that sway has dramatically expanded since the Citizens United decision, with negative repercussions for American democracy and the fight against political corruption,” Lau wrote.

The 5–4 majority in favor of Citizens United were the same Catholic justices who gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito.

The 2021 case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, was brought by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit founded by the Koch brothers, as well as the Thomas More Law Center, also a tax-exempt nonprofit. Donations to both are tax deductible and donor names are secret.

The Thomas More Law Center was named after the Catholic saint beheaded for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. According to its website, their mission is to “protect the sanctity of human life. restore time-honored moral and family values.” That’s right-wing code for denying women’s and LGBTQ person’s human rights. They are the “moral values” carefully chosen by the neoconservative founders of the Religious Right to energize conservative Christians to get-out-the-vote and political activism.

The law center also states its mission is to “defend the religious freedom of Christians.” “Religious freedom” or “religious liberty,” are code words for discrimination, intolerance, sexism and homophobia, explained Martin R. Castro, former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

A Brennan Center report by Daniel I. Weiner stated: “Perhaps the most troubling result of Citizens United [is that] in a time of historic wealth inequality, the decision helped reinforce the growing sense that our democracy primarily serves the interests of the wealthy few, and that democratic participation for the vast majority of citizens is of relatively little value …. An election system that is skewed heavily toward wealthy donors also sustains racial bias and reinforces the racial wealth gap. Citizens United also unleashed political spending from special interest groups,” Weiner noted.

“Finally, because they can hide the identities of their donors, dark money groups also provide a way for foreign countries to hide their activity from U.S. voters and law enforcement agencies. This increases the vulnerability of U.S. elections to international interference,” Lau warned.

An Opus Dei Court

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., called July 1 a “dark, dark day for democracy. The Court That Dark Money Built just built dark money a home in our Constitution,” he said on Twitter.

Whitehouse was referring to the fact that “dark money donors invest in a Supreme Court nominee in order to reduce the regulatory power of the state by placing limits on what Congress and judges can do” wrote Nancy LeTourneau in the Washington Monthly

The Supreme Court was “built” by the Federalist Society, Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) and other “interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives generating public support for conservative judges,” all coordinated by Leonard Leo, according to a report in the Washington Post.

“Leo’s efforts to ensure that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were confirmed engaged the dark money spending power of JCN. It has spent millions across the country to influence the elections of judges and attorneys general as well as judicial appointment and confirmation processes. In 2005 and 2006, Leo and the Federalist Society worked with JCN to coordinate radio and online ads as well as on grassroots efforts to support the confirmation of the right-wing justices,” according to sourcewatch.org.

“The Federalist Society is a hugely powerful, nationwide organization,” said Amanda Hollis-Brusky, author of Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution on NPR.

“The only Supreme Court nominee put forward by a Republican president since the 1990s who wasn’t tied to the Federalist Society was Harriet Miers, and we all know what happened to her. There were many things that upended the Miers nomination, but the fact that she didn’t have the Federalist Society in her corner when the criticisms started meant that she was on her own and doomed from the start,” wrote Nancy LeTourneau in the Washington Monthly.

Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Society, “has shepherded the confirmation process” for Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett noted LeTourneau. “But what is less known about Leo is how his religious views have had an impact on the courts,” she stated. “Leo is Catholic and all of the Supreme Court justices he has been involved with since the 1990s have been Catholic – with the exception of Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but attended an Episcopal church after he married an Anglican,” noted LeTourneau. 

Gorsuch, however, “has an excellent record” said Carrie Severino, JCN president. She cited as an example of Gorsuch’s pro-Catholic bona fides his decision in favor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “which was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor,” both restricting Obamacare’s contraception coverage. After his first year on the Supreme Court, “Gorsuch confirms conservatives’ hopes, liberals’ fears …. His willingness to speak at Trump International Hotel sparked objections from some ethics experts who noted a case involving foreign payments that could one day reach the high court,” Erin Matson wrote in USA Today.

“Leo currently serves on the board of the Catholic Information Center – as have Bill Barr and Trump’s White House Counsel Pat Cipollone,” LeTourneau stated.

Run by Opus Dei, the CIC “advances a hard-right political agenda” and is “a rallying point for ultra-conservative Catholics eager for a voice in the secular halls of government power,” stated Church and State, the magazine for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Located on K Street just two blocks from the White House, the center is “a bustling gathering place for conservative academics, politicians, journalists and young professionals.” The CIC’s “members and leaders continue to have an outsize impact on policy and politics. Its influence is felt in all of Washington’s corridors of power,” wrote Joe Heim in the Washington Post.

Opus Dei is an official arm of the Catholic Church. It is a secret society – member’s names are unknown unless self-disclosed or they are listed as officials of Opus Dei organizations.

Non-Catholics are welcomed as “cooperators.” Robert George, a Princeton law professor with connections to Opus Dei, endorsed Gorsuch.  

Martin A. Lee, author and activist who has written books and articles on far-right movements, noted that Opus Dei is international, powerful and “politically committed.” “Opus Dei is mostly businessmen, professionals, military personnel and government officials …. Its members control a large number of banks and financial institutions,” Lee wrote. Its roots are in fascist Spain. “In the latter stages of the Franco regime, ten out of 19 cabinet officers belonged to or were closely allied with Opus Dei,” Lee stated.

At the top, Opus Dei “is an efficient machine run to achieve world power,” investigative reporter Penny Lernoux wrote in her book People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism.

“Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power …. Its members form a transnational elite. They seek to colonize the summits of power. They work with stealth – ‘holy discretion’ – and practice ‘divine deception,’” Robert Hutchison wrote in the introduction to his book, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei.

Opus Dei controls the Vatican, a Foreign Country

The notorious 1980’s Vatican Bank scandal revealed the Vatican “had moved money around the [Italian bank] Ambrosiano’s accounts to allow banks and companies to pass financial inspection,” Stephanie Yang wrote for the Business Insider.  In 1984, the Vatican had to pay $244 million to settle claims by Ambrosiano’s creditors.

It has often been only presumed – because the vast majority of Vatican finance was and remains secret – that Opus Dei paid the fine. In return, Pope John Paul II gave the organization autonomy to operate as it chose with no oversight save that of the pontiff. This also gave Opus Dei plutocrats entrée into Vatican finance and increasing power.

Control of the Vatican is worth the effort. The sovereignty of the Holy See – the name of the government of both the Vatican City State and the worldwide Church – provides criminal and civil immunity from any other authority to Vatican residents and officials. 

The Vatican has immense wealth. How it is earned, how it is spent, who profits remain hidden – shielded by self-rule. Vatican plutocrats’ access to global financial markets is facilitated by its status as a sovereign city/state.  

As officials of an independent nation, a pope and his appointees also have access to, and some influence in, many international organizations.

Additionally, the Church has roughly 5,000 prelates around the world who are heads of dioceses. Each one has the capacity for hidden bank accounts, investments, slush funds named for some phony charity or foundation. Under the guise of “freedom of religion,” those prelates in industrialized countries operate with no governmental oversight.

In the U.S., there are 195 dioceses. Additionally, the bishops control around 40,000 organizations, agencies and foundations each with a 501(c)(3) tax code. That means they pay no taxes, provide a tax deduction to their donors, and are have no legal obligation to produce financial statements showing truthfully where their money comes from or where it goes.

While Americans deservedly worry over the Koch brothers, Citizens United, “dark money” SuperPACs, et al, the Catholic Church can move unlimited funds – foreign and domestic – to think-tanks, media, voter suppression efforts, every means available to the plutocracy to subvert our democracy. Which was another compelling reason for the intentional creation of the Religious Right by neoconservatives in the late 1970s.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in American.

Related blogs include:

Opus Dei Influence Rises to the Top in the Vatican

Vatican Finances Now Controlled by the Company Men

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