Thursday, January 17, 2019

On McCloskey's & Opus Dei's "Outsize Impact on Policy & Politics," & Attempt of Right-Wing Religionists & Journalists to Veil That Influence

In the statement by Terry Mattingly to which I linked yesterday, a statement which argues that the media have been much more focused on the story of Opus Dei priest John McCloskey's fall from grace than they have been on the fall from grace of Cardinal McCarrick, Mattingly states,

Looking at the American Catholic church over the past two or three decades (and at Catholic life in Washington, D.C., in particular), who was the more powerful and significant player — Father McCloskey or former cardinal Theodore McCarrick?
That's a bit of a slam dunk, isn't it? 

Is it really a bit of a slam dunk? Not in my view. Not in the least. Though conservative religion journalists and conservative religionists want us to imagine that little John McCloskey with his Catholic Information Center ministry in D.C. was relatively powerless in comparison to gigantic Theodore McCarrick with his cardinal's hat, I think a strong case can be made for the overweening power Opus Dei and its representatives exercise in both the Catholic church and the political sphere. And I'll go a step further and say that right-wing religionists and right-leaning "centrist" religion journalists are trying to draw a veil around Opus Dei's power and influence in their treatment of the McCloskey story — as they have done for years any time critical discussion of Opus Dei threatened to be in vogue in the mainstream media.

Consider this statement by Joe Heim several days ago in the Washington Post. In an article entitled "'Quite a shock': The priest was a D.C. luminary. Then he had a disturbing fall from grace," Heim writes,

When the Rev. C. John McCloskey returned to his hometown of Washington in 1998 at age 44, he had a mission. As the newly appointed director of the Catholic Information Center, he wanted to transform it from a sleepy operation downtown to a vibrant spiritual and intellectual hub. He wanted to communicate his enthusiasm for his faith and bring others to it. And he wanted to do this, not just for ordinary Catholics, but for the capital’s movers and shakers, Catholic or not. 
In what seemed like no time at all, McCloskey — a member of Opus Dei, a small, ultra-conservative and controversial Catholic community — made his mark. The center moved to its current K Street NW location, just two blocks from the White House, and became a bustling gathering place for conservative academics, politicians, journalists and young professionals. Weekday Masses in the center's chapel were always packed. ­McCloskey was an energetic evangelist for his unyielding vision of the church, welcoming strangers and political celebrities alike to commit to its radically conservative beliefs. 
Soon, the telegenic priest was sharing his views as a regular on political talk shows such as "Crossfire" and "Meet the Press," and on the Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic cable channel. Political Washington didn’t just take notice, it embraced him. He kept company with a rotating cast of right-of-center bigwigs, including Judge Robert H. Bork, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), economist Larry Kudlow and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), all of whom he helped convert to Catholicism. Articles described him as the "Catholic Church's K Street lobbyist," "a firm voice, fostering faith" and a "crusader." 
But what no one envisioned was his rapid fall just five years after arriving in Washington for reasons that weren’t disclosed until last week. 
At his peak, McCloskey was a central figure in political Washington.


Although he left Washington at perhaps the height of his fame, McCloskey's legacy is the ongoing influence of the Catholic Information Center. The center's board includes Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, which helped shepherd the Supreme Court nominations of Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch. White House counsel Pat Cipollone is a former board member, as is William P. Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush and is now President Trump’s nominee for the same position. 
The small center — its members and its leaders — continue to have an outsize impact on policy and politics. It is the conservative spiritual and intellectual center that McCloskey had imagined and its influence is felt in all of Washington's corridors of power. 
But for the woman who suffered years of emotional despair, the success of the center has two aspects. She remains a deeply religious Catholic and celebrates the center's work. But she is also left with the unshakable memory of the center’s famous champion as he pushed against her 17 years ago. 
"I was just thinking, this can't be happening. Am I crazy, this can't be happening," she remembered. "He knew what buttons to push and then just let me go and glided serenely in his cassock to his desk and asked, 'When would you like to make the next appointment?' "

 McCloskey's close connections include:

Judge Robert H. Bork 
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) 
Larry Kudlow, director of Trump's National Economic Council  
Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former House speaker and husband of the current U.S. ambassador to the Holy See  
Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and Supreme Court kingmaker 
Pat Cipollone, White House counsel 
William P. Barr, who served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush and is now President Trump/s nominee for that position.

A "slam dunk" to say that McCarrick exercises much more power and influence than McCloskey and his circle? Hardly. And this is not even to mention, apart from McCloskey, the influence exerted by the secretive, wealthy, and powerful religious group to which he belongs, Opus Dei — which is widely believed to have several adherents sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.

These are decidedly not folks with tiny influence. Anything but.

(Thanks to Betty Clermont for pointing me to Joe Heim's article in a comment here yesterday.)

The headscratcher illustration is from The Evening Ledger (Philadelphia, May 4, 1916), and was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Johnny Automatic of Open Clip Art Library.

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