by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Like all devout Roman Catholics, Rick Santorum venerates the saints and attempts to model his life on their example. But there are many saints, and the one Santorum feels particularly drawn to may reveal much more about his values than Santorum wants you to know.
Santorum is known to feel a special connection with St. Josemaria Escriva, the Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei.
At the 2002 ceremony in Rome where Escriva was formally canonized by Pope John Paul II - an event Santorum, then a U.S. senator, said he attended as part of his official duties - he claimed that Escriva inspired his political agenda.
The Spanish priest, who died in 1975, still speaks to him during Senate debates about abortion, Santorum told the cardinals, bishops, abbots, and assorted Vatican officials at the ceremony. He said he hears, 'It is not true that there is opposition between being a good Catholic and serving civil society faithfully.
'Blessed Josemaria guides my way,' Santorum said.
According to the official transcript of the speech, Santorum then offered a revealing quote from Escriva:
'As long as you are making straight for your goal, head and heart intoxicated with God, why worry?'
Although Opus Dei sources told the Washington Post that Santorum is not a member, he is linked to the organization in a number of ways. He attends a Catholic church frequented by Opus Dei members, and he sent two of his sons to a school run by Opus Dei.
Among Santorum's family friends is Fr. C. John McCloskey, an Opus Dei priest. McCloskey baptized one of the Santorum children, and traveled to Rome with Santorum in 2002. Santorum's travel expenses were paid by an Opus Dei foundation.
While it is not the group of fanatic monks described by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, the real Opus Dei is both less and more sinister.
Escriva founded the group in Madrid, in 1928, hoping, he said, to help Catholics bring a priest-like level of devotion to every area of their life and work.
In 1932, a group of right-wing generals rebelled against the democratic government of Spain. Escriva escaped Madrid and fled to Burgos, which was under the control of fascist troops led by Gen. Francisco Franco.
Afterwards he consistently and publicly prayed for Franco and the right-wing Spanish government the general installed, writing Franco in 1958, 'I ask God our Lord to bestow upon your Excellency every sort [of] felicity, and impart abundant grace to carry out the grave mission entrusted to you.'
According to Monsignor Vladimir Felzmann, once Escriva's personal assistant, Escriva said on at least two occasions that 'Hitler couldn't have been such a bad person.'
'Hitler against the Jews, Hitler against the Slavs, this means Hitler against communism,' Felzmann says Escriva told him in 1967 or 1968.
Escriva also cultivated a close relationship with Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who in 1973 seized power from a democratically elected socialist government in Chile. Escriva visited Chile soon after Pinochet's coup and was warmly received.
On the other hand, Escriva had 'no respect' for the reforming Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, according to reporter María del Carmen Tapia, who knew him in Rome. She added that Escriva believed Opus Dei was 'above the church in holiness.'
While Opus Dei was - and remains - a small organization, its internal discipline and anti-communism appealed to John Paul II, who saw the defeat of the Soviet bloc as one of his own central missions.
Consequently he rushed Escriva to sainthood, despite protests from church officials including Felzmann, and testimony from former Opus Dei members who claimed that Escriva had spied on them and tapped their phones.
Catholic theologian Richard McBrien later called Escriva's elevation to sainthood 'the most blatant example of a politicized [canonization] in modern times.'
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