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Some have said that Opus' true secret is its clout in international politics. Poland's new conservative regime includes an Opus minister and several Opus officials, according to one of the group's Warsaw directors; membership there is rumored to be a political stepping-stone. In Peru, Juan Luis Cardinal Cipriani, the church's first openly Opus Dei Cardinal, was seen as having sanctioned antiterrorist excesses by the regime of former President Alberto Fujimori; he scoffed at the accusations, writing that most human-rights groups were "fronts for Marxist and Maoist political movements."
For years, Catholics in Washington have kept informal count of possible high-profile Opus people, including Justice Antonin Scalia and almost-Justice Robert Bork, Senators Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, columnist Robert Novak and former FBI head Louis Freeh. The tally was not totally arbitrary: Freeh's child went to an Opus Dei school, and his brother was a numerary for a while; Scalia's wife has attended Opus events, and the Justice is close to an Opus priest; and Brownback, Bork and Novak converted to Catholicism under one's wing. Several have denied the rumors ("I can't stress enough that he is not a member," says Santorum's communications chief). But a bonus of Opus' new candor campaign is that it now states freely that not one of the powerful Washingtonians belongs.
The more complicated question is what influence Opus Dei exerts on nonmembers. Says Bohlin: "We generally avoid talking about anything political, so as not to come down on one side or the other." Then he pauses. "But when you're talking about abortion, that's not a political issue. That's a Catholic issue," he says. "There are certain issues that we take a clear stand with the church on, and many of them are hot-button issues." Of course, you don't have to be Opus to oppose abortion, euthanasia or gay marriage. But the prelature, with an office on the capital's lobbyist-laden K Street, can act as a kind of validator to a broader spectrum of traditionalists. Scott Appleby, a Catholic history expert at Notre Dame, estimates that through programs for nonmembers and the articulate piety of its members, Opus Dei informs "about a million conservative Catholics." That's just 1.5% of the 67 million Catholics nationally, but it's a trove of motivated voters a politician can love, and may explain why Santorum has spoken at Opus events, in one case quoting Escrivá: "'Have you ever bothered to think how absurd it is to leave one's Catholicism aside on entering a professional association [or] Congress, as if you were checking your hat at the door?'"
DO MEMBERS REALLY WHIP THEMSELVES?