God’s “Work” Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta

God’s “Work” Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta

Outside its own doctrinaire circle of followers and fans, Opus Dei, or “God’s Work,” has a dappled reputation, mostly bad. 

A fabulously rich, aggressively right-wing cloak-and-dagger Catholic organization, it wields powers infinitely greater than the imaginary ones the Church ascribes to its favorite scapegoats: Jews, Freemasons, and Socialists. 

Andrew Greeley, the American Catholic priest, sociologist, journalist, and bestselling author, described it as “a devious, antidemocratic, reactionary, semi-fascist institution, desperately famished for absolute dominion in the Church and quite possibly very close now to having that power.” 

Calling the exclusive group “authoritarian and power-mad,” Greeley warns that “Opus Dei is an extremely dangerous organization because it appeals to the love of secrecy and the power lust of certain kinds of religious personalities. 

It may well be the most powerful group in the Church today. It is capable of doing an enormous amount of harm. It ought to be forced out of the shadows or suppressed.” Opus Dei has about one million members worldwide. At least 2,000 are ordained priests. 

With this international cohort of dedicated warriors, Opus Dei has successfully penetrated schools and universities, banks, publishing firms, television and radio stations, ad agencies, and film companies. 

It has been accused of deceptive and aggressive recruitment practices, including “love bombing,” a deliberate and syrupy show of affection by an individual or group as a tool of conscription or conversion, as well as instructing celibate members to form friendships, attend social gatherings, and submit written reports on potential converts. 

The core precept of Opus Dei is “to help shape the world in a Catholic manner.” Helpers include clergy, captains of industry, high-ranking military officers, and government officials. 

The group “comes surrounded by a political miasma,” the British daily The Guardian noted recently. The super-stealthy organization was founded just before the Spanish Civil War and blossomed in the halcyon Catholic days of El Caudillo, fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s “crusade” against the Republican left. 

When Opus Dei came to prominence in the late 1960s, it was because Franco’s cabinet included an inordinate number of Opusdeistas—too many to be the result of coincidence. 

Opus Dei, which strives for the reunification of church and state, arms its members with special and far-reaching powers spurred by the “God-driven” longing to cleanse the world of heretics and deliver sinful, rudderless, humanity—by force if necessary—into Christ’s loving arms

Nine Centuries of History

But Opus Dei pales in comparison with the militant Knights of Malta, a closed fraternity of the Roman Catholic Church whose upper-tier members are fastidiously aristocratic. 

The 900-year-old organization was formerly known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of the Saints John of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and Malta. 

Modeled after an ancient group of soldier monks who massacred “infidels” (Muslims, Jews, and Cathars), the Knights’ ceremonies and rituals “inculcate lessons of chivalry and courage, and inspire a militant spirit in opposition to all non-Christian ideologies and powers.” 

With over 10,000 members in 42 countries, the Knights are influential Vatican surrogates with extensive ties to right-wing intelligence networks. 

Originally trained as ruthless tactical fighters, later adopting a fiercely anti-communist stance, the Knights were instrumental in the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. They also took part in US global “black” (covert) operations. 

The founding fathers of the CIA, William “Wild Bill” Donovan and Allen Dulles, the longest serving CIA director, were Knights, as were many in the CIA hierarchy, including John F. Kennedy’s director, John McCone, and Ronald Reagan’s director, William Casey. 

McCone helped engineer the 1973 military coup against Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. According to journalist Carl Bernstein, Casey gave Pope John Paul II unparalleled access to CIA intelligence, including data on spy satellites and field operatives. 

There is compelling evidence that the Knights of Malta were linked to the “Rat Run,” the post-World War II getaway route to the Americas used by Nazi top brass and death camp “scientists” from defeated Germany. 

These thugs were issued new identities and special credentials that ensured escape from prosecution for crimes against humanity. 

One of them, Major General Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler’s Eastern Front intelligence chief, surrendered to the US Army Counterintelligence Corps in 1945. 

Because of his experience and useful contacts in the Soviet Union, he was freed, as were seven of his senior officers, in exchange for their pledge to gather intelligence for the United States. 

Flown to Washington, Gehlen went to work for Donovan and Dulles and then for the Office of Strategic Services station chief in Switzerland. Gehlen handed over the names of several OSS officers who were members of the US Communist Party. A year later, Gehlen was flown back to Germany where he resumed his spy work, this time as a lackey of the US. 

He set up a dummy organization composed of 350 former German intelligence officers. That number eventually grew to 4,000. 

For many years, the “V-men,” (V-Mann or Vertrauensmann—trusted man) as they were known, were the eyes and ears of the CIA in Western Europe and the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War. 

Recruited among men who had as little culture, common sense, objectivity, or logic as possible, they were used primarily to maintain surveillance of civilian populations in Germany and occupied countries. 

Overall, the Gehlen organization’s performance was at best disappointing. One rare, successful mission infiltrated some 5,000 anti-communists of Eastern European origin into the Soviet Union and its satellites. 

These agents were trained at a facility in Oberammergau, Germany, site of one of Hitler’s favorite diversions, the unambiguously anti-Semitic Passion Play, which is still performed today. 

The organization was severely compromised when it was infiltrated by communist moles—as were the CIA and the British MI6. 

One of the double agents was the illustrious Harold “Kim” Philby, spy extraordinaire who served the communist cause until his death in Moscow in 1988. 

Gehlen employed hundreds of ex-Nazis, among them Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s right-hand man and commander of the Drancy internment camp near Paris. 

Brunner was responsible for the slaughter of 140,000 Jews. His death has never been confirmed; he was believed to be still alive in 2007, perhaps in Syria where he is alleged to have fled as late as 1954. 

The CIA turned a blind eye and, owing to the exigencies of the Cold War, even took part in some of Gehlen’s operations. 

Robert Wolfe, a historian at the US National Archives wrote, “US Army intelligence accepted Reinhard Gehlen’s offer to furnish alleged expertise on the Red Army—and was bilked by the many mass murderers he hired.” 

In appreciation for his work, the Knights of Malta awarded Gehlen their highest decoration, the Grand Cross of Merit. (In 1988, Ronald Reagan received the Grand Cross for his “devotion to Christian principles.”) 

People in Central America still remember Reagan as the man who funneled millions of tax dollars to repressive regimes whose US-trained death squads murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. 

One of the Knights of Malta’s main spheres of influence is Latin America, where fascists and escaped Nazis were given a warm welcome. 

The late Chilean strongman General Augusto Pinochet, a CIA stooge and convicted human-rights violator, was a Knight. So is deposed Peruvian dictator, human-rights violator, and embezzler Alberto Fujimori, America’s “man in Lima” until his arrest in 2005. 

So was the late Argentinean president Juan Peron who, recently declassified CIA documents suggest, laundered Nazi gold through the Vatican Bank subsidiary Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in 1982. 

The Vatican Bank is widely believed to have channeled covert US funds to Poland’s Solidarity trade union and transferred laundered money from the illegal sale of arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. 

The scandal, “characterized by persistent duplicity and inordinate secrecy,” would prompt the US Congress to conclude that “a cabal of zealots” (members of Reagan’s cabinet and the first Bush administration) violated the Hughes-Ryan Act and the Boland Amendment by failing to inform congressional intelligence committees about its covert actions in the Middle East and Central America. 

(Passed in 1974, the Hughes-Ryan Act requires the president of the United States to report all covert operations of the CIA to at least one Congressional committee. The Boland Amendment was a triad to amendments enacted between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting US assistance to the CIA-financed Contras in Nicaragua). 

There are those who wonder to this day why Ronald Reagan wasn’t impeached and why wasn’t George H. W. Bush indicted for their approval of black missions. 

“After World War II,” writes Roman Catholic author Penny Lernoux in People of God, “the Vatican, the OSS, elements of the SS, and various branches of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta joined … to help Nazi war criminals escape….” 

Documents reveal that New York Cardinal Francis Spellman, head of the Knights in the US from the 1940s to the 1960s, was directly involved in the 1954 right-wing military coup in Guatemala during which at least 200,000 indigenous Maya were massacred and in which the CIA has acknowledged complicity. 

Spellman was also linked to organized crime by his long involvement with Archbishop Paul Macinkus of Chicago, former head of the Vatican Bank and a suspect in the highly suspicious death of Pope John Paul I a month after his election.

Losing Ground

The Catholic Church no longer relies on inquisitorial torture chambers and auto-dafés. It now engages in psychological extortion by exacting unconditional obedience from its crestfallen congregants. 

Growing disenchantment will have woeful historical consequences for the Vatican’s archaic and unyielding mandates. 

Virulent opposition to reproductive rights; vicious attacks on feminism; an eagerness to coddle Jewish and Islamic hard-liners when their fanatical anti-choice, anti-progressive, homophobic agendas converge; and refusal to accept moral responsibility for the political crimes committed by the right-wing regimes it favors all demonstrate how desperate and estranged the Church has strayed from reality. 

Worse, attempts to demonize grassroots religion by equating it with communism has had a dispiriting effect on the faithful, especially those in Latin America who, benumbed by years of armed conflict, dislocation, oppression, and privation, have tried desperately to wrest their nation’s politics from the merciless clutches of a privileged few. 

H. L. Mencken defined religion as “the illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” Nietzsche viewed it with greater ferocity: “Religion has been reduced to not wanting to know what is true…. It is an affair of the rabble.” 

While conceding its fragile potential for good, I see religion as a supercilious, divisive, and exclusionary artifice contrived to benefit the theocracy. 

Like capitalism, religion is a diseased and avaricious system driven by and dedicated to the fattening of the corporate queen at the expense of captive worker ants. 

Like capitalism, it is fickle, unpredictable, and blind to human needs. The deep and palpable pessimism of Latin America’s poor, whose faith in the hereafter exceeds their prospects in this life, can be characterized as a rational response to the inescapable kismet that religion cannot forestall. 

For them, such predestination includes more of the same, courtesy of the hegemonic interests of a few. 

Sic transit Gloria Mundi.


By W.E. Gutman 

A veteran journalist and author. From 1994 to 2006 he reported from Central America where he covered politics, human rights, and other socioeconomic issues. The foregoing is an excerpt from his autobiography, A Paler Shade Of Red: Memoirs of a Radical, available in paperback (ISBN 978-1-927360-96-5) or as an e-book (ISBN 1-927360-96-X).

Post a Comment

Comments will go through moderation before appearing, and are subject to our community guidelines, which can be viewed here

Previous Article Next Article