Letters to the Editor: November 1984
Opus Dei Response Unsatisfactory
I am grateful to Dwight G. Duncan, information director of Opus Dei, for his letter (Jul.-Aug.) replying to my letter (March). However, I wish he had adequately answered the questions I, as a concerned Catholic parent, raised about Opus Dei.
The first question pointed to the serious contrast between the published exhortation by the founder of Opus Dei to use “holy coercion” in pursuit of vocations (recruits) (Maxim 399, “The Way”), and the clear teaching of the Roman Catholic Church which forbids such activity (Canon Law 219: “All Christ’s faithful have the right to immunity from any kind of coercion in choosing a state in life”).
Parents can easily find out the Church’s position, but they cannot seem to get any clear answer as to how closely Opus Dei follows its founder’s contrary directive. Is it ignored? Repudiated? Abridged or reinterpreted? There was no answer or explanation.
The second question: How is the founder’s requirement of “blind obedience to your superior” understood within Opus Dei? Catholic parents are familiar with obedience according to the Rule of St. Benedict and other traditions within the Church, but, again, they cannot get direct answers about what “blind obedience” entails within Opus Dei. Opus leaders have thus far refused to publish (or discuss) any of the statutes that govern the various levels of membership.
The need for such clarification is paramount. Opus Dei encourages flagellation as penitential practice in its spirituality for some, even very young, members. Parents and the newly recruited have a right to know whether this is accompanied by wholesome spiritual and doctrinal preparation.
Students (16, 17, 18 years old) recruited at Opus Dei’s university residences and “catering schools” have all private mail from parents opened, discussed, and monitored without parental knowledge. All monies sent for fees, presents, trips, etc., are appropriated. Again, this is done without notification of the natural family, but in the name of “your new family” and of “personal freedom.” Parents, ever those who are supernumerary members of Opus Dei, discover these practices by accident, if at all.
These questions have more to do with parental notification than with parental approve — an important distinction glossed over by the Opus Dei information director.
It bears repeating that parents are under serious obligation to educate their offspring. Their right and duty to do so is described by Pope John Paul II as “irreplaceable and inalienable…incapable of being usurped by others” (Familiaris Consortio).
It is a very serious thing to come between child and parent in this regard. Opus Dei spokesman James A. Kelly (New York Times, Jan. 8, 1984) repeats the same advice that Opus Dei spokesman Andrew Byrne gave to young people (letter to London’s Daily Mail, Jan. 17, 1981), that they should hide the fact that they were intending to join Opus Dei from their parents by saying instead, “I go to Mass daily. I pray the Rosary regularly.”
This shocks the bonds of loving trust essential to Catholic family existence. It divides child from parents and siblings, and causes a deep wound. Contrary to the Director of Information’s bland assertion, it is not the celibacy, or the vocation itself, or the unusual but not unique physical mortification that upsets parents when they discover that their children have become members of Opus Dei. It is the initial and sometimes ongoing deception.
Addendum: The verbal spiritual directive I quoted, “When God enters the picture, parents’ rights cease,” was given to my child, and to children of close friends, by officials conducting Opus Dei retreats, on several occasions and on at least two continents, and dutifully copied into personal notebooks later given to me.
Michael Di Sales
Brooklyn, New York
The Lot of Mankind
Fredrick Mauney’s indignant reply (Jul.-Aug.) to my letter to the editor on the hellishness of full employment (April) had enough hurt, pain, but also misunderstanding, to need a reply. (I am sorry for anyone out of work; I’ve been there.)
Mauney says, “I think laws forcing the elitist muckitymucks and uppityups to hire the poor, oppressed, and unemployed workers at a living and decent wage is long overdue.” My reply starts with a request for a definition of who those employers are so we may start hiring police to force them to hire people they don’t want to hire, and force the oppressed to be employed by an angry and unwilling employer. It would be an interesting police state to force one of our local elitist ranchers here in Nevada to hire an unemployed engineer from Florida or an unemployed Haitian refugee to take water samples at 5:00 A.M., move irrigation pipe at 6, repair a hay-baler at noon, then do 20 hours of moving onions so they don’t rot because the weather changed. When a government police agency can force someone to hire you, there is also a police agency to make you work and make you stay: this is called slavery, or Soviet socialism.
Regarding Vietnam and ingratitude, my sympathies. But, in World War II, I was married with children, had a totally draft-exempt job in Washington, got stupid, and went down and enlisted in the infantry. I came out with two Purple Hearts and much experience in sleeping in the mud. When I returned home, I did not receive the hostility and abuse Mauney did; instead I received polite brushoffs. No one said, “Hey, take my good job, you deserve it.” This is not a grateful country.
My seminary experience, confirmed by visitors to my church office, and by writers like Mauney, has made me intolerant, angry, even contemptuous. What is the source of the arrogance that assumes that only lefties have worked or had pain or know the world? I went through Dartmouth with a free gravy ride and a silver spoon. But before that I worked at the bottom of a zinc mine as a pit prop boy; before that I pulled an oar and cleaned fish on a schooner on the North Atlantic. I did my grad work at Columbia starting on $700 earned as a logger, waist deep in cold water, trying to avoid the calk boots of French Canadians who kicked you for fun. At Columbia I shoveled coal from 4 A.M. till 7:30 for my board; I did not go to the hospital as did Mauney, but I did go from a muscled 210 pounds down to 170 in two years. Years later, with a wife and three children, I did three years of seminary with no help from a rich Episcopal bishop or a rich parish; I used my savings plus employment at prison, mental hospital, and eventually juvenile hall.
My pension, if Mauney wants to trade, is $401 a month. I sweated till age 67 to get it too.
I get mad at people who make a career out of telling how hard they had it; I am angry at myself for succumbing to this invidious, even evil, comparison. However, scars are the lot of mankind, and freedom has a price that slaves don’t like. In this valley of ranchers and miners, most of the men my age have had lives that make mine a bed of roses by comparison. None of us, and few of our children, will live in a welfare-socialized prison that is full of police to make life risk-free and painless. Again I am sorry for Mr. Mauney and any who need work, but he’s way wrong.
The Rev. Robert G. Pumphrey
I have put together a small collection of original compositions for the Roman Catholic Liturgy. In keeping with the directives of the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” most of the texts are in Latin (article 54) and the music is based both directly and indirectly on Gregorian Chant (article 116). The individual pieces are polyphonic and were composed with small choirs and the congregation in mind (article 121). The pieces include on ordinary of the Mass, five hymns, an Ave Maria, a Pater Noster, and three propers for Christmas.
Anyone interested in receiving a copy of this collection is welcome to contact me.
Derrick to the Rescue
I had decided not to renew my subscription, but then the July-August issue arrived with Christopher Derrick’s “What Will World War III Be About?” Consequently, I am herewith renewing.
Rev. James D.M. Stafford
Holy Family Catholic Church
No Rescue Needed
The New Oxford Review has exceeded every expectation I had when I began my subscription. I don’t know how you’ve managed to produce a magazine which is intellectually honest, open for debate, appreciative of arts and humanities, and all tied together with a gentle love. In my mind, the NOR is a proof of the Spirit’s working in our world.
Not a Neutral Device
Edith Black’s review of Msgr. George Kelly’s The New Biblical Theorists (April) is clearly a thoughtful and well-argued piece; I think, however, that it accepts somewhat uncritically the notion that “historical critical method” is a neutral or value-free device of scholarship that is available to the theologian much as a forge is to a blacksmith. Hardly anyone outside the theological academy still shares this ingenuousness. History consists in a free interpretation of temporal existence; it cannot be encapsulated by a method.
In the end, Kelly’s book is a criticism of historical-critical naïveté; it is not in the least important that it is written by a sociologist rather than a theologian, except insofar as this might explain the author’s freedom from a misapprehension that invalidates a good deal of contemporary theological writing.
Prof. Donald J. Keefe, S.J.
Dept. of Theology, Marquette University
EDITH BLACK REPLIES:
It is not my position that the historical critical method — or any method — is “value free.”
I recognize that the historical critical method puts greater emphasis on the factuality of events than on their symbolic significance.
The use of an exegetical method appropriate to the intellectual climate of one’s age is essential if one is to make Scripture both comprehensible and credible. With any method there lurks the danger of using it to accommodate Scripture to the philosophy behind the method rather than using it to elucidate the message of Scripture in terms of that philosophy. Throughout the history of the Church great Scripture scholars have fallen prey to this danger. But their mistakes do not thereby invalidate a constructive use of the methods they espouse.
The use of the historical critical method goes awry when its user anachronistically tries to establish the historical reliability of a scriptural document solely on the basis of the exacting standards of modern historical writing — standards to which no piece of ancient writing conforms. A proper use of the method would be to make use of the research tools at our disposal to establish the standards by which ancient history was written and then evaluate scriptural documents on that basis.
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