With his criticism of excessive capitalism and of climate change, Pope Francis has become the target of the far-right, and especially of the secretive Opus Dei sect within the Catholic Church, explains former priest Matthew Fox. This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced August 20, 2019.
PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Berkeley, California.
Matthew Fox is a former Catholic priest. He’s now an Episcopal priest. But when Pope Francis became pope, he wrote a book called Letters to Pope Francis and here’s a small excerpt from that: “Will you too break,” Matthew addresses to the pope. “Will you too break with the fathers of Wall Street and titans of power who espoused an oligarchy of wealth and power to dominate others by means of economic and political injustice the world over? Those who are hiding $32 trillion in secret offshore accounts to guarantee they and their corporations pay no income taxes.” That book, Letters to Pope Francis, is a series of letters where Matthew challenges the pope to, I guess, rise to the occasion. And now joining us to talk about whether he thinks the pope has, is Matthew Fox. Thanks for joining us.
MATTHEW FOX: Thank you. Good to be here, Paul.
PAUL JAY: How has the pope done in terms of your expectations? I said earlier in our interviews, you and I interviewed just after he became pope and you didn’t have a lot of expectations for what came. How’s he been doing in terms of standing up to the fathers of Wall Street as you put it? Then let’s talk about those in the church who aren’t very happy with the way he is doing some of that.
MATTHEW FOX: Well, I think that his standing up to what he calls “the idolatry of money” has been strong, and you know it’s been strong because of the enemies he’s made like Rush Limbaugh saying he’s a Marxist. As you say, the fire in the right wing to shut him up. I think he’s made many an appeal on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, and of course he comes from a Third World continent, so he knows about that pretty much firsthand. So you really give him credit for that I think.
I think his encyclical Laudato Si on the environment is a marvelous bit of work. I think it’s very important. That too has angered the right people, I think. But I think he really lays out a—He doesn’t just talk about the problem, but I think he lays out in a very positive way how we can find our way through this number one moral issue really of our time.
I did an article on that encyclical, and one thing I learned was he uses the word beauty like 27 times. So, he’s really developing – it’s a very, to me it’s a very creation spirituality encyclical. One fellow who’s in his eighties, a very wise man, said to me, “Well, this is a coming of age of creation spirituality.” I say, “Yes, true. The previous two popes called my work dangerous and deviant for 34 years, and this pope is plagiarizing my work, so I’ve lived to pretty [crosstalk]—
PAUL JAY: He hasn’t reached to you at all, has he?
MATTHEW FOX: Not explicitly, but the fellow who wrote that encyclical, 85% of it, is a former student of mine, actually, so he certainly knows what we’ve been about, so I like that. Now, I would give very bad grades on his Canonizing of Junípero Serra, the Franciscan missionary out here in California who set up the mission system, which was really nothing but concentration camps and slave camps for the Indigenous people. This is proven. There’ve been a lot of scholarly studies the last 10 or 15 years, laying out what really went on in the missions. I worked with California Indians here to stop that canonization of Serra, and we failed at that. One of them, a leader in the Native American community, said that if he goes through with this, canonize Serra, he’ll be making war on Indigenous people all over the world. So that was a terrible mistake on his part.
But, you know, we’ve all got clay feet. He’s a human being like the rest of us and he’s made mistakes, but I think that I would give him good grades. Now, I see his role today as a lot like the Dalai Lama. I don’t see his role really as so much saving the Catholic church. I think it’s beyond redemption today. I think it’s dying in front of our faces and there’s too much weight of dogmas— such as the sexual teachings that we alluded to earlier— that just aren’t going to go away, or the dogma that women can’t be ordained and so forth, you know? I don’t think he’s really here to do that. I think he’s here to do what the Dalai Lama is doing, to try to get human beings to start thinking in more ways together again and debating.
In fact, I told him, I think in my book there, why don’t you and the Dalai Lama go on a tour together to five different continents and talk about five important issues like work, and education, and women, and youth, and of course economics that works for everyone—by everyone I mean all the species on the planet, not just the human species— and of course the climate. So I think that would be a very good use of his time actually.
PAUL JAY: He’s been pretty strong on economic inequalities.
MATTHEW FOX: Definitely.
PAUL JAY: He condemns the excesses of capitalism.
MATTHEW FOX: Yes.
PAUL JAY: Like a lot of people imagines, there could be a capitalism without the excessism. I personally think that horse has left the barn. But he’s taken a lot of flak for it, and both on climate and his issues of inequality have aroused the opposition of people like Steve Bannon, who was in the White House until recently and is still, I think a lot of people think, in Trump’s ear.
Opus Dei, the essentially fascist organization within the Catholic Church and represents a lot of bishops and a lot of the hierarchy. If they’re not directly Opus Dei, and maybe they are, but as you’ve pointed out earlier, they’re secret, so it’s hard to know who is and who isn’t, but the American Cardinal Burke, who now claims apparently not to have met Bannon, which I find beyond belief. Yeah, he said this. There’s a New York Times piece about Burke and Bannon, and Burke says he’s never met Bannon, which I don’t understand because Bannon did a Skype speech to a meeting at the Vatican. I forget the name of the organization, but it’s some institute of the family of some kind, which seems to have Opus Dei connections.
Burke is on the — he’s a Rameritas or is on the board of advisors of that group that Bannon spoke to, and Bannon’s picture was up on their website for the longest time. So there is a cabal of the far right that sees—I mean, I should add, there’s 1.2 at least billion Catholics in the world. And the moral authority of the church, maybe it wasn’t what it was, but it’s still significant in many parts of the world, so it matters. And to have a pope that comes out quite strongly in many ways, against the Opus Dei, Bannon, Trump, and others’ agenda they don’t like. Talk about who Opus Dei is, and this real fascist trend with in the church and what it means in terms of Pope Francis.
MATTHEW FOX: Well, the founder of Opus Dei was a Spanish priest named Escrivá. In the 1920s, he founded it.
PAUL JAY: In Spain?
MATTHEW FOX: In Spain, yes. It played very much into Franco’s hands. So much so that Franco, the dictator of Spain, had Opus Dei members on his cabinet for generations. So, they played a tremendous role in the right-wing, fascist politics under Franco. Of course, there was a lot of division in Spain. When Franco was finally overturned, and the socialists took over, of course our Opus Dei was diminished, but they had had a tremendous impact through religion, but also through politics. They have their own university and so forth. Of course, they found a lot of followers, if you will, in America, both South and North America.
The greatest, actually the greatest treason subject in America was this fellow. He’s in my book. He gave away more secrets than any other of our spies in our history, and he got lots and lots of our spies murdered and so forth because he was giving – he was a counterintelligence guy working with the FBI for over 20 years until they found him. In fact the head of FBI at the time was Opus Dei and there’s been a movie done on Hannon as well by Hollywood. He’s now in jail, but it took them so long to catch him, et cetera. He was this rigorous Catholic, went to Mass every morning and sold his country out every afternoon. It’s not pretty. Opus Dei has these tentacles to go where their power is. So they’re very big in the media and they’re very big in finance.
I was in Germany several years ago. I was with a journalist there in downtown Frankfurt. He said, “What do you see looking out the window?” We were having tea. I said, “Well, I see a lot of skyscrapers going up.” He said, “Yes,” and he said, “All those skyscrapers are about finance, because—Because of the Euro, finance is moving from Switzerland to Frankfurt,” and he said “The top of every one of those skyscrapers will be Opus Dei. They are the final word on most of the finance in Europe.”
It amazed me, but they go where the power is, so they go to financing. They could go to the media for sure, at the university, journalism is one of their biggest majors. Of course, they go to the Supreme Court. They go to the Pentagon and the CIA. I think it’s one reason you have so many far-right Catholics on the Supreme Court since the first President Bush.
Remember he was in the CIA. He was the head of the CIA, and I think he got to know a lot of Opus Dei, far right-wing Catholics there, and they can be relied on for certain things, certain notions of loyalty. It’s important to blow the whistle on these things. Now, Pope Francis, I don’t see him really combating Opus Dei head on. He’s hired some of them for his journalistic purposes and so forth, but I’m sure he’s somewhat wary because he comes from South America, and down there, of course, things are less subtle.
There are not so many layers of subterfuge down there. Things are just clearer. Certainly he knows, for example, how the previous two popes in effect fired liberation bishops and cardinals and started making all those Opus Dei bishops and cardinals. Now, in San Francisco, you have an Opus Dei Archbishop, and you have an Opus Dei Archbishop in Los Angeles. So here are the two biggest dioceses on the West coast and one of them is the biggest dioceses traps in the country run by an Opus Dei bishop. These, of course, were appointed by previous popes. I don’t think Pope Francis has appointed any Opus Dei cardinals or bishops since he’s come out.
PAUL JAY: How would you describe the Opus Dei belief system? What do they advocate?
MATTHEW FOX: It’s all about obedience, and it’s very rigid and very strict, and it’s very patriarchal. Women play very subservient roles. Escrivá himself was an absolute sexist. He would scream at women and when his eggs weren’t cooked right or something like that. Now, another dimension of this is that they canonized Escrivá in the fastest canonization ever in history.
PAUL JAY: That was JP II.
MATTHEW FOX: They rushed him through under JP II. Obviously, a lot of money was involved in that. They actually changed the entire canonization process. Beginning with Escrivá, they throw out the devil’s advocate. At his canonization process, no one was allowed to speak who knew his dark side, and he had these tremendous dark sides, like the way he treated women, but other things too.
PAUL JAY: A fascist.
MATTHEW FOX: Right. It’s fascism. It’s about power and control. It’s very secretive. That’s why it’s very hard to find out who is and isn’t Opus Dei. I know one quick story about Opus Dei. Sergeant Shriver, who was a very practicing Catholic, as you may know from Notre Dame. After Notre Dame. He went to mass almost daily. He was invited into Opus Dei, and he actually stepped in, joined for a little bit, and then he got the hell out of this real – as soon as he figured it all out, but it’s interesting, see.
They’ve now, they’ve set up camps if you will, or recruits, on a lot of Catholic college campuses in this country. They go after the younger generation and they say, “You know, we can promise you a sense of community and look at how much success our people have. They’re hard workers and they get good degrees and they make it in journalism, they make it in banking, they make it in politics, they make it in the church. We have a lot to offer you,” kind of a thing. They’ve done this not just in North America, but in Europe too. I know in England they’ve done this too.
PAUL JAY: How much do we know about whether Steve Bannon is directly Opus Dei, or just shares values with Opus Dei?
MATTHEW FOX: I don’t know the answer to that. I would guess he’s not Opus Dei because there’s nothing particularly religious about him except that he hangs onto this mythology and ideology of the Christian. He likes to talk about Christian Europe.
PAUL JAY: Well, that’s his mission. He says, “In defense of Western Christian civilization.”
MATTHEW FOX: Right.
PAUL JAY: Anti-Islam, anti-China.
MATTHEW FOX: Exactly. Yeah, he’s taken that upon himself.
PAUL JAY: Comes from finance.
MATTHEW FOX: Right. He’s taken that upon himself. Yeah, sometimes our media leaves us ignorant of how the right-wing movement that you have embodied in Trump and Bannon is alive and well in many parts of the world today. What’s happened in Hungary, what’s happened in Poland, of course, what’s happening in Russia, and other places, including some countries in Africa. There’s this bigger thing going on and we should realize that we can over obsess, I think, about Trump. Of course, Trump didn’t just drop out of the sky. Trump really represents, I think, the dark side of the Republican Party in the last 30 years. The whole Southern strategy and so forth is—And the whole Koch thing. The whole Koch ideology began in Virginia with—
PAUL JAY: Which ideology?
MATTHEW FOX: The Koch brothers.
PAUL JAY: Koch.
MATTHEW FOX: Yeah, the Koch brothers. It began in Virginia with the rejection of the Brown v. Education decision. So it’s about racism at its origins and all these dog whistles are about that. Then finally getting a current Secretary of Education, who wants to cut money for public schools and put it all in private schools, that goes way, way back. The Koch brothers themselves said this is amazing phrase they use, that our capitalism has to trump democracy. That’s their goal. You have to admit they’ve been very successful. They’ve been training judges in this country for decades. All these right-wing judges that now Trump is appointing at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, they come out of these Koch schools. They did a lot of training of lawyers to get them to think in this particular way.
PAUL JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, we’re going to talk about American Cardinal Burke, targeting not only Pope Francis, but trying to encourage a rise of far-right movements in Europe and here, and right into the White House. Please join us for the continuation of Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.