by Paul Goodman
JESUIT Provincial Michael Campbell-Johnson has endorsed the protest of Spanish Cardinal Enrique Tarancon — a former archbishop of Madrid — at the "inexplicable" haste surrounding the beatification process of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of controversial church organisation Opus Dei.
While admitting that he had read some of Escriva's writings and found them "unobjectionable," Fr Campbell-Johnson said that he was "more concerned with Opus Dei as a movement. I would agree not only with what Cardinal Tarancon has said, but also with the reservations that Cardinal Hume has expressed in the past.
"In some instances, membership of Opus Dei may be of benefit to individuals. However. I know of cases where it has definitely proved harmful. To what extent you can separate all this from the founder, I don't know."
Cardinal Tarancon, who served as president of the Spanish episcopal conference during the post-Franco period of transition to democracy in Spain, said earlier this week that "while I will not go so far as to say that this process is provoking scandal in Spain, it is certainly misleading people." "1 don't know what has induced the Holy Father to elevate Escriva de Balaguer as a model for Christians," he added, "when we have a Pope, such as John XXIII, who is venerated throughout the world even by non-believers. His beatification process was begun before that of the Opus Dei founder but it is still blocked."
Sources indicate that Fr Campbell-Johnson's comments are representative of the unease that Opus Dei has long evoked among many leading church figures in Britain. One critic accused the organisation of operating as "a church within a church", and expressed particular concern at "the way it seems to encourage the separation of young people from their parents".
Fr Vladimir Felzmann, a comer member of Opus Dei who now works in the Westminster diocese, questioned the purpose of the canonisation. "I was very fond of the guy," said Fr Felzmann, who knew Escriva personally, "but wouldn't say that he was an exemplary person. He was'in many ways an anachronism. The question is: what is he being held up as an example of?"
Cardinal Tarancon's criticism follows the official sanctioning on July 1 by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the miraculous nature of a case of healing attributed to Escriva's intercession. Just three months before, the congregation has issued a declaration decreeing the "heroic virtues" of the Opus Dei founder.
Now that these two steps have been taken in what is usually a process lasting at least five years, the decision to beatify lies with the Pope himself.
Heythrop College librarian Michael Walsh, who has written a study of Opus Dei, argued that "the key question is legitimacy. It's obviously very important for new members to get their founder canonised: it signifies official approval. That's what this process is all about: no question." Some have contrasted the speed at which Escriva's case is progressing with the consideration given to the cause of Cardinal Newman, who was also the subject of a "declaration of heroic virtue" — the first stage of the canonisation process — earlier this year.
However, Fr Gregory Winterton — the superior of. Birmingham Oratory, founded by Cardinal Newman during the last century — declared himself "more than satisfied" at the way in which Cardinal Newman's cause has been handled by the Vatican. "We are now hoping for a miracle that will lead to beatification,"