updated 6/9/2005 2:34:57 PM ET 2005-06-09T18:34:57

Guest: Anthony Figueiredo, Linda Ruf, Fiorella Simoni, Pat Fagan, David Clark, Dianne DiNicola, Tammy DiNicola, Michael Barrett

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Welcome to this special report on the eighth anniversary of HARDBALL.

Opus Dei, it‘s a controversial, some say a secretive, even cult-like part of the Catholic Church.  For others, it a spiritual way of life.  Tonight, we lift the rock on this doctrinaire religious group with insiders and critics alike.  For the next hour, a HARDBALL special report, “Inside Opus Dei.”

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Is Opus Dei the all-powerful and sinister Catholic organization rife with hitmen and fanatics, as portrayed in best-selling “Da Vinci Code,” or is it a positive religious group that helps its members to grow in holiness and improve society through good work?  It depends on who you ask. 

Tonight, we‘ll meet past and current members who will tell their personal stories on how the work, what Opus Dei means in English, has enriched their lives.  We‘ll also talk with some former members and a cult intervention expert who say the negative publicity is well deserved. 

We begin in Chicago with Opus Dei member Patti Lechner, a busy wife and mother of six children.  Her daily prayers start each morning at the local Y on what could fittingly be called a StairMaster to heaven. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  It is a little after 5:00 a.m. on a Friday morning.  Patti Lechner, like many of today‘s busy moms, is starting her day sweating with a good cardio workout.  But in Patti‘s case, things are a bit different. 

In her right hand, a rosary ring is also getting a steady workout.  Patti is a devout Catholic and a member of Opus Dei.  And while she is exercising her body, she is cleansing her soul, praying the rosary as well.  This is a morning ritual Patti won‘t live without.  As a supernumerary within Opus Dei and a mother of six kids, she prays every chance she gets.

PATTI LECHNERrMD+IT_rMD-IT_, OPUS DEI MEMBER:  A supernumerary in Opus Dei, which would be me, a female supernumerary, is somebody who is married, a married vocation in Opus Dei.  So, you try to live sanctity in your life and consistent with the Gospel in a married state, as opposed to a celibate state. 

MATTHEWS:  Opus Dei, the work in Latin, is an Orthodox division of the Catholic Church that reports directly to the pope.  Their mission is to strive to grow closer to God through everyday work.  There are roughly 85,000 members worldwide, about 3,000 in the U.S.

FATHER HILARY MAHANEY, OPUS DEI PRIEST:  Everyone is called to do God‘s will, to be a saint in the middle of the world through their ordinary work and ordinary situations each day.  That‘s the key message. 

MATTHEWS:  It was founded in 1928 by Jose Maria Escriva, a monsignor in Spain who the church says received a vision that the ordinary work of laypersons is just as important in the eyes of God as that of a priest.  Pope John Paul II embraced the work of Opus Dei and canonized Jose Maria Escriva in 2002. 

MAHANEY:  And the biggest thing that I remember from him was that he was a lot of fun to be with.  He was very cheerful, very gregarious.  I didn‘t know much Spanish at that time and he didn‘t know English.  So, he would joke with me and encourage me to study Spanish.  And it was very enjoyable.  I was very fortunate to have been with someone who is proclaimed a saint. 

P. LECHNER:  You want a little bagel, honey?

MATTHEWS:  It is 6:30 a.m.  Patti Lechner is back from her workout and is now getting her family, six kids and her husband, ready for the day.  She‘s already spent a great deal of time talking to God.  She‘s done a morning prayer, a rosary at the gym.  And, later, after her family is fed and out the door, she will pray another half-an-hour before the blessed sacrament in church before attending daily mass. 

Her husband, Larry, is also a Catholic, but he is not a member of Opus Dei. 

LARRY LECHNER, HUSBAND OF PATTI LECHNER:  I think in any marriage, there is a little bit of conflict. 

(LAUGHTER)

L. LECHNER:  But when it comes to Patti and the raising of the kids, I think she‘s done a fabulous job and Opus Dei has helped tremendously, I think. 

P. LECHNER:  My hope for them is that they do what God wants them to do in life.  I always say to the kids, you know what?  Christ has a plan mapped out for you.  And only you can do it and execute it. 

MATTHEWS:  Part of the plan is enrollment in private schools guided by Opus Dei; 12-year-old Liz (ph) and 15-year-old Mary Ellen (ph) attend the all-girls Willows Academy. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

MATTHEWS:  Fourteen-year-old Robert is a student at the Northridge Preparatory School for boys.  Both schools have high academic standards, along with the religious teachings of Opus Dei. 

FATHER FRANK “ROCKY HOFFMAN, OPUS DEI PRIEST:  We don‘t have a class on Opus Dei, per se.  Sometimes, in the chapel talks, I‘ll tell stories about Saint Jose Maria, the father of Opus Dei.  Mostly, Opus Dei has to enter through the eyes.  People have to see what it means to do your work well and finish it perfectly. 

TINA VERHELST, DIRECTOR, WILLOWS ACADEMY:  What we want to do is, we want to do our work well when we should and for the glory of God.  That‘s really the whole intent behind Opus Dei.  And that‘s what we try to promote, we try to teach the girls.  And we want to have our teachers model that. 

MATTHEWS:  So, if the Lechner family, with their strict religious values, spirituality and love for one another is the public face of Opus Dei, why do so many believe that this Orthodox Catholic group to which Patti belongs is a secretive and some believe a sinister organization? 

Part of that public perception may be fueled by fact and fiction. 

Fact:  One of the most damaging spies in U.S. history, Robert Hanssen, is a devout Catholic and reportedly a member of Opus Dei.  In fiction, the best-selling “The Da Vinci Code” features a murderous albino monk who is identified as a member of Opus Dei.  He practices a Catholic ritual of corporal mortification, inflicting pain on himself to suffer as Christ did. 

While the character in the book is nothing more than a cartoonish villain, it is a fact that certain members of Opus Dei called numeraries, men and women who remain celibate, do practice corporal mortification, using devices like the cilice and discipline, a braided whip. 

It has been reported that Opus Dei founder, Saint Jose Maria Escriva, whipped himself until he bled.  Opus Dei says that 70 percent of their membership, however, are supernumeraries, like Patti Lechner, who do not practice extreme corporal mortification.  They do however incorporate some elements of it into their daily lives. 

P. LECHNER:  The corporal mortification, it is really to strengthen the will and to really do it for the love of God.  We all do it in some area of our life without really even realizing it.  Reading these lives of the saints, you think to yourself, gee, some really struggled and suffered for the glory of God.  And I thought, gee, is heaven just easier to get into these days?  Or are we kind of lightweights about things? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  For more on the internal workings of Opus Dei, we turn to Father Michael Barrett, the former head of Opus Dei in Texas and currently the director of the Holy Cross Chapel in Houston. 

Welcome to HARDBALL, Father.

FATHER MICHAEL BARRETT, DIRECTOR, HOLY CROSS CHAPEL:  It‘s good to be here.

MATTHEWS:  Look at this here.  What do you make of this book here? 

It‘s a paperback edition of “The Da Vinci Code.” 

BARRETT:  A rare item.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know why it is rare? 

BARRETT:  Because everybody is selling the hardbacks. 

MATTHEWS:  You have to go to Rome to get this.  I was there for the funeral of the pope. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This book is so big that they don‘t even turn it into paperback.  How can you explain that enthusiasm for a book? 

BARRETT:  I guess Doubleday hit a home run.  They found a book that people like to read and they‘re selling it like hotcakes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there anything in there about Opus Dei that‘s true? 

BARRETT:  None.  Well, the address of the headquarters, that‘s accurate.  About—that‘s about the only thing that‘s accurate about Opus Dei in that book. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a character in the book named Silas.  He‘s an albino monk that goes around killing people on behalf of Opus Dei.  Do you know this guy? 

(LAUGHTER)

BARRETT:  There are no monks in Opus Dei.  There are no albino monks for sure.  And, you know, that‘s really unfair to albinos, by the way, that he is picking on albinos. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the book.  Has the book hurt your organization? 

BARRETT:  No.  On the whole, I think it has been wonderful. 

MATTHEWS:  Because there‘s only 3,000 members of Opus Dei in the United States. 

BARRETT:  Tiny group.

MATTHEWS:  Yet, there‘s millions of this book floating around, it seems. 

BARRETT:  Right. 

But, for the first time, I think people are looking into Opus Dei, trying to find out what it is.  And we‘re very happy about that, because we want as many people as possible to know about the organization and its existence and its mission.  And the book has had the side effect that people are inquiring, checking it out and they‘re finding out the truth about us, not what‘s in the book, but the truth about us.  And I think people are favorably impressed.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s use—let‘s use the book as a way to get into the truth.  Let‘s get what you consider not to be the truth into the truth. 

A numerary.  What‘s a numerary member?  Because this monk, this guy Silas, this big albino guy is called numerary.  What is a numerary in Opus Dei? 

BARRETT:  Well, In Opus Dei, everybody has the same vocation, to dedication of trying to live their Christian vocation in the middle of the world.  A numerary is a person who is more available to serve the needs of the organization of the Catholic Church by remaining single.  They do not marry. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  For life. 

BARRETT:  For life. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you make a commitment to celibacy, no sex for life. 

BARRETT:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  What is their life like? 

BARRETT:  It is pretty ordinary.  It is like the life of anybody else.  Most of them are professional men, practicing doctors, lawyers, architects, professors, whatever the case may be. 

Single persons, numeraries will live in a center of Opus Dei very often, most of the time.  And it‘s a kind of a family atmosphere.  But they go to work every day.  They do their jobs.  They come home.  In their spare time, they‘re available to help organize activities of Opus Dei and to promote the different things that we‘re trying to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they have to turn over their paycheck to Opus Dei? 

BARRETT:  They don‘t turn over their paycheck. 

What happens is, most of these professionals are well paid.  They pay their own expenses for the living, room and board, for their car, their clothing, professional expenses.  And then they have a lot of money left over in many cases, because they live simple lives.      

What‘s left over, they want to make it available, so that we can do more things for the good of the church.  So, that money is contributed to activities of Opus Dei. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is like the old days of working people, like my grandparents, where the daughter would go work at a shop and come home and give her paycheck to the parents and be given her allowance out of that my. 

BARRETT:  Exactly.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  So, these people may make $200,000 a year and they give the lion‘s share of it to Opus Dei. 

BARRETT:  In many cases, that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  And they live on—they live on basic just expenses.

BARRETT:  They have what they need.  And, as professionals, they have certain...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are there about 1,000 of these people?  How many people in the United States like that? 

BARRETT:  In the United States like that, not 1,000. 

MATTHEWS:  How many numeraries? 

BARRETT:  Gosh, you got.  I would say...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have 3,000 members and they‘re 30 percent.

BARRETT:  Several hundred. 

MATTHEWS:  Several hundred.

BARRETT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  What about corporal mortification?  What is that all about? 

BARRETT:  Well, you know, in the history of the Catholic Church, penitential practices have always been crucial to a person‘s being able to grow closer to God, to enter into the suffering of Christ. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why we kneel at church. 

Exactly.  We need the cross, because the cross is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But how about things like the cilice?  That‘s been one of the grabbers, to say the least, in this book.

BARRETT:  Well, it‘s a grabber.  It is the least important thing.

MATTHEWS:  Something that hurts you.  It‘s around your legs.

BARRETT:  It hurts you, but the level of hurt is like if you have ever sat on bleachers in a little league game for two hours and the boards are kind of making your fanny feel very uncomfortable.  That‘s the kind of hurt we‘re talking about.  It‘s very mild.

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s supposed to kill horniness, sexual interest, right?

BARRETT:  No.  No.  No.  That‘s what not it kills. 

MATTHEWS:  What is it supposed to do? 

BARRETT:  It‘s supposed to give you an awareness of the presence of God.  When you‘re a little bit uncomfortable all the time, it gives you an edge.  It‘s like fasting. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like a hair shirt?

BARRETT:  Yes.  And it just makes you remember.

MATTHEWS:  And how many hours a day people who are numeraries in Opus Dei wear this device? 

BARRETT:  About two.  About two.  And not every day. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t have any lasting hurt? 

(CROSSTALK)

BARRETT:  None.  It doesn‘t do a bit of harm to anybody‘s health ever.  Never.  That‘s why, in the book, it is exaggerated about all the blood and all that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It is pretty gross. 

BARRETT:  But that‘s ridiculous.  It is all off.  It is crazy. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your reaction knowing that a book has been this incredibly successful based on what you consider lies? 

BARRETT:  Well, I think it says something about our cultural milieu, that the people in the world today are searching for things that have to do with history, architecture, religion, and—and they‘re very interested in those things, but they‘re very easily misinformed, because I don‘t think they‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.  There‘s an intellectuality to that whole study of archaeology and all that stuff. 

Anyway, coming up, more with Opus Dei Priest Father Michael Barrett.

And, later, we‘ll hear from some former Opus Dei members who are critical of the Catholic organization. 

You‘re watching a HARDBALL special report, “Inside Opus Dei,” on

MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Inside the powerful, some say secretive Catholic group Opus Dei, when our HARDBALL special report returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We continue now with an inside look at Opus Dei with Father Michael Barrett, director of the Holy Cross Chapel in Houston, Texas. 

What is it about when I talk to people and I say Opus Dei?  And I ask a lot of people, monsignors, priests I know, family members.  Now, some people aren‘t aware of it.  They just don‘t know about it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But other people, oh, Opus Dei, oh, my God, or we keep them out of our parish.  Or they‘re great.  Or a friend of mind, Frank Orbin (ph), got involved in it.  And I said, you know—he said it‘s great.  Why are the reactions so different? 

BARRETT:  I think my experience has been that people who have not known Opus Dei directly, have not known members or people involved with Opus Dei tend to judge it from its reputation, which, unfortunately, with books like “The Da Vinci Code,” can confuse people. 

MATTHEWS:  But before that. 

BARRETT:  But—well, even before that, we‘re very faithful to the teaching of the church.  We‘re really part of the mainstream church.

You know, the founder is a saint.  The popes since Pius XII have always supported Opus Dei.  Because I think people feel that, because we‘ve been so faithful to the church‘s teaching and following things very carefully, sometimes, people find that questionable. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it because, you think you‘re better than me? 

BARRETT:  No, not at all.  On the contrary.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m saying, is that the attitude people have about you? 

BARRETT:  Yes.  Well, maybe they think that.  They may think that, even though we don‘t feel that way. 

MATTHEWS:  That you think that you‘re more pristine than we are?

BARRETT:  It can happen that way.  And then I think what happens is because they feel that way about us, they don‘t know us, they judge us.  But I find that, once they‘ve met a member of Opus Dei and gotten to know some people involved with Opus Dei, in many cases, their opinion changes. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the objective situation?  You guys in Opus Dei, the officialdom—and you‘ve been in the officialdom. 

BARRETT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you keep records on people?  Like, this person is at a certain stage of development or coming into the Opus Dei world?  Do you have records on people like that that you share among people to help bring people along? 

BARRETT:  One of the things is, Opus Dei is a very disorganized organization.  We have records in so far as any kind of an institution providing training and teaching keeps track of, well, what are the classes that this person is in?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Like Mary Jane went to first meeting, not quite ready for training. 

BARRETT:  No.  No.  Nothing like that. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have that?

BARRETT:  No.  Don‘t have that.

MATTHEWS:  And you don‘t work the new members and try to bring them along a certain way?

BARRETT:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have different meetings and organizational things like teaching English in Mexico to try to get people involved and then it‘s really—it is really a recruitment effort? 

BARRETT:  No. 

What we try to do is get people involved in social projects, because, invariably, when they‘ve done that, it changes the person.  So, we want them to go down and see poverty firsthand and spend time serving poor people, because it‘s a form of conversion for a lot of young people today, who are very materialistic and consumeristic in their culture.  We‘re not interested in recruiting. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got one other P.R. problem, Robert Hanssen. 

BARRETT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Spy for the Soviet Union and then for Russia.

What is the hell a guy who is supposedly a Catholic, the greatest bulwark against communism in the world, doing working for the communists? 

BARRETT:  That‘s the million-dollar question.  I think they‘re going to write books on it.  He fooled the FBI.  He fooled the CIA.  He fooled his own wife. 

MATTHEWS:  What, is he schizo?

BARRETT:  So...

MATTHEWS:  Is he a schizo, a split person—a Sybil? 

BARRETT:  I don‘t know.  You‘ll have to talk to a psychiatrist.  I don‘t know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t see any pattern here, no...

BARRETT:  No, no, no.  on the contrary.  He‘s such an exception.

MATTHEWS:  Was he a super genius gamesman who just loved playing tricks on people? 

BARRETT:  He was definitely bright.  There‘s no two ways about it.  He was very bright.  And he was somewhat introverted.  There‘s no two ways about it.  But as far as his psychological profile, I could not say.  I‘m not—I‘m not a psychiatrist.  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  So, he is as much a mystery to you as much as he is to the rest of us. 

BARRETT:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m glad to hear that, because it certainly is confounding.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a great guy.  Thank you, Father. 

BARRETT:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to thank you very much. 

When we come back, a look at some of the Opus Dei facilities and programs in the U.S.

And, still ahead, former members and a cult expert with different views, very different views on this organization, as “Inside Opus Dei” continues on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Because of the publicity from “The Da Vinci Code,” most readers are curious about Opus Dei‘s national headquarters in New York. 

Let‘s take a closer look at that building, as well as a parish in Chicago that Opus Dei runs. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Located on the corner of 34th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City stands an impressive building.  It is the $40 million U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei.  In “The Da Vinci Code,” a work of fiction, it is the home away from home of the crazed albino hit man Silas.  In real life, it serves a less sensational function. 

PATRICIA ANDERSON, DIRECTOR, OPUS DEI HUMAN RESOURCES:  This is Murray Hill Place, which is—it is a complex, you could say.  It is actually five centers on one site.  In this center, we have the national headquarters, the offices that run Opus Dei in this country.  And then we also have spiritual activities which are offered for people who want to take advantage of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Opus Dei says the issue shouldn‘t be buildings and real estate holdings.  It should be their helping people find holiness through ordinary work.  They have a presence in 20 states.  Chicago has the only church in the country they actually run. 

ANDERSON:  Cardinal Bernadine entrusted St. Mary of the Angels, that church, to the priests of Opus Dei.  So, they run that parish. 

MATTHEWS:  Originally built in 1920, Mary of the Angels Church was known as the Polish basilica in Chicago.  This landmark was almost demolished in 1991 until Opus Dei saved it. 

MAHANEY:  The members of Opus Dei helped especially at the beginning and continue to help now.  Just a normal parish.  Most of the people are not in Opus Dei and it is just a normal Catholic parish. 

MATTHEWS:  Attached to St. Mary‘s is the midtown center. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What don‘t you get about it?

MATTHEWS:  A tutoring program guided by Opus Dei for inner-city boys of all faiths. 

MAHANEY:  The idea is just to help them to be good students, to get through high school.  Many of the students that we deal with would not probably finish high school if it wasn‘t for Midtown and Metro and many of them do go on to college. 

BRIAN PARKER, MANAGER, MIDTOWN CENTER:  We also talk about order, getting up on time, going to bed on time, having a little bit of an assignment notebook to keep your assignments in.  We talk about obedience.  So, virtues are very much part of what we do here at midtown every day every program. 

MATTHEWS:  Thousands of student have come through these doors over the past 40 years.  There are many success stories, like Leo Gomez, who was part of the program in 1975. 

LEO GOMEZ, FORMER MIDTOWN STUDENT:  My goal is to get to heaven.  And that‘s what Midtown Opus Dei has provided for me.  Back then, it was more of an educational development. 

MATTHEWS:  So, even though there are only a few hundred Opus Dei members in the Chicago area, they say their efforts in education and spiritual guidance reach thousands of people of all faiths, as do all the Opus Dei programs around the country. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  In a moment, some former members of Opus Dei and a cult expert with a different view of this Catholic organization. 

And this coming Monday, the eighth day of HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary, I‘ll be joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

You‘re watching a HARDBALL special report, “Inside Opus Dei,” only on

MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this HARDBALL special report, “Inside Opus Dei.”

Opus Dei has its detractors and some are passionate in exposing what they say is the dark side of this Catholic organization. 

Dianne DiNicola founded the Opus Dei Awareness Network, a group that counsels people who have been adversely affected by Opus Dei.  Her daughter Tammy is a former numerary within Opus Dei who left through an intervention conducted by David Clark, an expert in cults.  All three join us this evening, along with Peter Cook, a former member of Opus Dei who doesn‘t agree with the charges Tammy and Dianne are about to make. 

Tammy, you said coming out of Opus Dei was like coming out of a closet.  Explain. 

TAMMY DINICOLA, FORMER OPUS DEI MEMBER:  I think what happened when I was initially joining Opus Dei was that Opus Dei had carefully manipulated the process, so that there was information that I didn‘t know about it at the beginning.  Like, for example, at the beginning, I didn‘t know that the person that was working on me to join was in communion with the Opus Dei director and with Opus Dei priests to try to get me to join the organization. 

And so, when I—when I decided to leave Opus Dei through the help of my family and David Clark, I realized at that point that there was a lot of manipulation and deception that was going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about the apple, showing your daughter an apple. 

DIANNE DINICOLA, OPUS DEI AWARENESS NETWORK:  Well, Tammy wasn‘t recognizing the truth of the matter.  In Opus Dei, there‘s a lot of double-speak. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get to this thing now, this incident. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You showed her an apple and said, is this an apple or a pear?  And you had a problem giving a direct answer to that.  Why?

T. DINICOLA:  Right, because I had been so trained in Opus Dei not—to conceal... 

MATTHEWS:  You couldn‘t just say apple?

T. DINICOLA:  No, I couldn‘t, because...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you were waiting for some kind of permission to say apple or what? 

T. DINICOLA:  Exactly. 

I think that, when you‘re in Opus Dei, you‘re taught that you‘re supposed to trust your—in fact, one of the points in “The Way,” written by the founder, was that you‘re supposed to obey with blind obedience your superiors. 

MATTHEWS:  David, tell me about this.  Fit this into the general—forget religion here for a second, Catholic religion.  What kind of behavior would prevent a person from making a simple snap judgment about the presence of an apple in front of them and be afraid to just say, it‘s an apple, mom?

DAVID CLARK, CULT EXPERT:  Lack of critical thinking.  You‘re dealing with the nature of thought reform or mind control.  It is the nature of the inability to address that directly. 

MATTHEWS:  Peter, sure.  And tell me why this is good for the Catholic Church, what we‘re describing here. 

PETER COOK, FORMER OPUS DEI MEMBER:  Well, I can‘t speak to Tammy‘s experience. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, tell me what you make of it. 

COOK:  Well, Opus Dei is not for everybody. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  Is this for everybody, what she‘s describing?

COOK:  Certainly not what she‘s describing.  But it‘s not my experience at all.

MATTHEWS:  Does that sound like Opus Dei to you? 

COOK:  No, not at all.  Not at all.

(CROSSTALK)

COOK:  My experience at Opus Dei is always—one of the pillars, it seems, in my experience has been the profound respect for individual freedom. 

So, when I read Tammy‘s write-up on her experience and then I hear her now, it doesn‘t jibe at all with my 30-plus years of exposure to Opus Dei. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, look, at this, Dianne.  You tell him about the experience, because you‘re denying it‘s there.

D. DINICOLA:  I know.  I‘ve been telling Opus Dei—trying to tell them for years, through my own personal experience. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me.  We don‘t have much time.  When you describe this experience of the sort of mind control, almost “1984” experience you‘ve been with here with Tammy, do they say that couldn‘t have happened?  Or do they say that‘s part of the program? 

D. DINICOLA:  They said, oh, well, that wasn‘t my experience.  And they would dismiss it.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tammy, do you know other people that have been through this kind of experience? 

T. DINICOLA:  Absolutely.  We hear from thousands.  We‘ve heard from thousands of people over a decade now with similar experiences.

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever heard of these experiences? 

COOK:  No, not from personally speaking with former members. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve never heard anything like what we‘re hearing here? 

COOK:  No.  I mean, I have a lot of friends who are also...

MATTHEWS:  There are no complaints to Opus Dei? 

COOK:  Complaints?  No.  No, I don‘t have complaints.  It‘s certainly not for everyone. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  This is why the mixed messages cause trouble, especially with the public and the church at large. 

If you‘re not initiated and you don‘t have that inner access to what is taking place as a full-time relationship to especially on a numerary level, there‘s where these conflicting things will just bewilder you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to some obvious common facts. 

COOK:  Certainly.

MATTHEWS:  Celibacy for life.

COOK:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that about?  Why is it important to have celibacy for life as your vocation here? 

COOK:  Well, I think Father Mike spoke to it earlier, in that these people are making themselves more available to fulfill God‘s will and to help bring others to the Catholic Church. 

There are a lot of activities to—formational type activities to help people get to know our lord a little bit better.  And so people make themselves available as celibate members, just like a priest being celibate or people in religious life.  It is to fully give themselves, to give themselves that gift. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is part of the program, as you understood, your experience, how do your handlers or guidance people work with you?  What kind of influence did you have working on you as member? 

T. DINICOLA:  Well, you were required to talk with them on a weekly basis and listen.  You were required. 

Like, the way Opus Dei gets obedience is through the back door.  Like, they‘ll tell you, oh, you have complete freedom.  But then, on the other side, they‘ll say, but that would be bad spirit if you didn‘t confess to an Opus Dei priest, if you did not hand over your whole salary, if you didn‘t use the cilice or the discipline, if you didn‘t let your mail be read. 

And so, in a sense, Opus Dei can come up here and say, all our members have complete freedom.  And yet, the reality is that there‘s no choice there, because if they‘re being told, you‘re being unfaithful to your vocation, and if you don‘t obey, you may be damned.  You may not have God‘s grace. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David, what is the stick here, peer group approval? 

CLARK:  Well, the pressure and the approval. 

But there was a report that came out from the Vatican.  It was a pastoral challenge.  And there were characteristics of a cult listed there in terms of the psychological and behavioral side of the dynamic, the thought reform aspects of it.  But it was compared to Opus Dei.  In the parents‘ guide to Opus Dei, each primary theme was compared. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How many of these interventions have you conducted? 

CLARK:  In terms of just general intervention? 

MATTHEWS:  Of Opus Dei?

CLARK:  I would say about 20.  We‘re talking about 20 years now, so I‘m giving you a ballpark figure. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s fine. 

CLARK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But I want to know if this pattern of the DiNicolas has been consistent. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  My concern is that it is.  My concern, that it is.  The testimonies you hear now are very similar to the ones that I heard about 20 years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the Catholic priest who told you, I believe it was, Dianne, that your concern is simply you‘re afraid your daughter is going to be celibate for life; you don‘t like that idea?

D. DINICOLA:  Well, you get blindsided, because Opus Dei has approval from the Catholic Church.  And it was a highly political process with irregularities.  So...

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by that? 

D. DINICOLA:  Well, as a practicing Catholic, my husband and I had a hard time.  Here, we had our daughter who was becoming alienated from us.  Every good thing that we taught her was turned against us. 

She was not wanting to come home.  She had a complete personality change.  And this is my church. 

MATTHEWS:  Dropped all her friends, right? 

T. DINICOLA:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What did that feel like?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you know that you were—did you feel like a zombie, like a Stepford wife?  Or how would you describe yourself? 

(CROSSTALK)

T. DINICOLA:  Yes. 

I think, deep down, I knew, because there were moments.  Like, I was told, well, you have to give up this male friend.  It was a purely platonic relationship.  And they were like my second family.  I loved his mom and his dad.  They were so close.  And yet Opus Dei, they insisted that I give that up.  And it felt wrong.  And I knew it was wrong. 

And even when I was in it, like, I would feel upset when I was home because my mom and dad were upset about—you know, you can imagine how you would feel if your son or daughter eloped and suddenly showed up and, oh, I‘ve committed my life to this and there‘s nothing you can say.  I mean, I don‘t know why Opus Dei does not involve families in that process and why—and unless like the subtle message within Opus Dei is that, unless you‘re spending time getting people to join, you shouldn‘t waste time on people that will never join the group. 

And even when you make friends in Opus Dei, as soon as they join, like the girl that recruited me, or got me to join, all of a sudden, she couldn‘t make time to see me anymore.  So, they don‘t allow—they use friendship to achieve their ends of getting more members. 

MATTHEWS:  Peter, respond to what she said. 

COOK:  Right.  Well, keep in mind, obviously, for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised, what she‘s saying? 

COOK:  Not if you look at it and say, OK, here‘s someone that obviously didn‘t have a vocation to Opus Dei. 

And they‘re trying to go through formational process—the formation process and take doctrine classes and that type of thing.  And it just—if it is not a vocation, you are not going to get the graces there to move forward.  I was the same way.

(CROSSTALK)

D. DINICOLA:  You know, we hear of thousands of cases that are typical of Tammy‘s.  So, how can that be?  It‘s like...

COOK:  That‘s a bit of an exaggeration.  I have a lot of friends who are...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe these people right now? 

COOK:  They‘re certainly—I...

MATTHEWS:  No, do you believe the DiNicolas, both of them, Dianne and Tammy?  Do you believe what they‘re saying? 

COOK:  I believe that that‘s what—yes, I believe they—they are being sincere.  They sincerely believe that this is the situation.  And I think they are mistaken.

MATTHEWS:  No.  But do you believe their experiences as told to you right now? 

COOK:  I think they‘re—I think they‘re mistaken.  I think their understanding of Opus Dei and Tammy‘s personally experience...

MATTHEWS:  No, but their experiences, are they accurately being presented to you now? 

COOK:  No.  No.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘re being dishonest? 

COOK:  No.  I think they honestly believe that, but I think they‘re mistaken. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  Are their experiences as they‘ve told them or aren‘t they? 

COOK:  Maybe I don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did they go through what they described going through? 

COOK:  That she was having difficulty...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, what we‘re hearing from them, is that an accurate—do you believe that they‘re giving an accurate portrayal of their experiences with Opus Dei? 

COOK:  Of how she believes her experience... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Not her belief.  No, no, don‘t use that word belief. 

COOK:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that they gave us an accurate portrait of what went through objectively? 

COOK:  Yes.  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s what I wanted. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How can you be happy with an organization that leaves people with this kind of reaction? 

COOK:  Well, certainly, I can‘t think anyone in Opus Dei would be—would—would—would think that this is a—a—a good reaction.  I‘m sure everyone, their hearts go out to Tammy.  It was a difficult time.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, bad fit?

COOK:  Yes.  It wasn‘t her vocation.  It wasn‘t my vocation. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But all this effort to try to influence her, to control her, to raise her on a certain level of... 

(CROSSTALK)

COOK:  Certainly, one of the—as I mentioned earlier...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, all these experiences objectively are what you‘ve seen?

COOK:  No, no. 

I think it is a misunderstanding of, of—they‘re trying to view Opus Dei, I think, from a human perspective.  But if you have a supernatural outlook and see it from that perspective, the...

MATTHEWS:  Referee this for a second. 

CLARK:  She was trained in that supernatural outlook.  The people that were full-time numeraries were.  We‘re talking former priests.  Closer inner associates of Escriva himself, the founder, have come out as whistle-blowers.  They‘ve written books on it.  It affected the canonization process, where...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David, do you think it is a bad organization or it is just not for everybody?  How would you describe it? 

CLARK:  I find it very troubling. 

On the one hand, they want to serve the kingdom of Christ.  I think the people are very sincere in their religious motivations, the spiritual side he‘s talking about.  But there‘s this whole other dimension of it that really needs to be understood critically. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Well, we‘re going to keep giving more dimension to this throughout the hour now.  Thank you, all.

When we return, a conversation with two supernumerary members of Opus Dei, who will tell us how their work, along with two hours of prayer and daily mass every day, keep them on the road to heaven. 

And for more information about Opus Dei or any of our guests, go to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

This is the HARDBALL anniversary week, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this HARDBALL special report; 70 percent of the 86,000 worldwide members of Opus Dei are supernumeraries.  Unlike numerary members, they‘re not celibate.  They‘re allowed to marry and they live their own lives in their own homes. 

Here to tell us why Opus Dei is an important part of their lives are Fiorella Simoni, a graduate student working on her Ph.D. at George Mason University, who is single, and Pat Fagan, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation here in Washington.  He‘s married.  He‘s the father of eight. 

Welcome. 

Well, you‘re two different stories. 

Patrick, tell me this.  What did you think of those—of the DiNicolas, Dianne and Tammy, who were just on?  A pretty sad story. 

PAT FAGAN, OPUS DEI MEMBER:  Well, I—I—yes.  But I don‘t know if you know it.  I have two sons who are numerary members of Opus Dei, one who has just asked to join himself.  So I‘ve got...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to be celibate for life. 

FAGAN:  They‘re going to be celibate for life, if they choose to freely stay with it.  And I want them to know everything about Opus Dei before they make that big choice.  And I know they know.  And programs like you and with the work that Tammy is doing, everybody knows all these other opinions of Opus Dei.  So...

MATTHEWS:  But these opinions, why would someone form an opinion that was so adverse? 

FAGAN:  A wrong fit, misinformation.  Who knows why? 

MATTHEWS:  Misinformation by what? 

(CROSSTALK)

FAGAN:  Who knows?  Well, you heard what was there.  I know what my—

I want my children to have full information of all the truth.  And I work to make sure they do. 

MATTHEWS:  And they don‘t feel that they‘re being manipulated?

FAGAN:  Absolutely not.  It‘s quite the opposite.  I think they‘re going in quite freely.  They came to me, as they should, to ask if I think it was a good idea.  And I asked some of the key questions to make sure that they were doing it for the right reasons.  And some of the right reason was freely. 

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re happy with the corporal punishment—the corporal mortification part of it, the cilice and all this two-hour—the sleeping on boards and all that stuff? 

FAGAN:  I got to do some mortification.  All of us have.  I never liked doing it.  That‘s the very nature of corporal mortification.  It is not something you forward to.  It‘s not like looking forward to a glass of wine. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that an Irish accent you have, I‘m hearing here? 

(CROSSTALK)

FAGAN:  Yes.  I‘m from Dublin. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK. Let me ask you about—what did—did you read “Da Vinci Code”? 

FAGAN:  Little bits of it. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of it? 

FAGAN:  From all I hear, it is a great read.  From the factual stuff, it is almost all the very opposite.  Like, anything that is claimed to be fact, you could almost say, for most of it, it‘s probably not true.  Check out history.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know any albino monks coming at you with the urge to kill? 

(LAUGHTER)

FAGAN:  My 25-year-old son has been living at Murray Hill, the same place in the albino—book.  It is the total opposite, total opposite. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FAGAN:  Total opposite of anything that you could even fantasize. 

MATTHEWS:  Simoni, did you read...

FIORELLA SIMONI, OPUS DEI MEMBER:  Yes, I have.  I have read...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And what did you make of it?  Good read?

SIMONI:  It is a quick read.  It is fiction that claims to be a historical novel.  And it is not.  It is not a historical novel at all. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t believe it?  None of it is true? 

SIMONI:  The address for Murray Hill is true.  And the lore exists.  We know the da Vinci Code existed—I mean, that da Vinci existed.  His works existed.

The way it is portrayed in a lot of places is a great distortion of the history of the Catholic Church. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Catholic Church has repressed feminism over the years, at the expense of the truth? 

SIMONI:  Not at all.  Not at all. 

MATTHEWS:  It hasn‘t made itself into a patriarchal structure historically? 

SIMONI:  Historically, if you‘re talking about old times, yes.  But I think you can—you can see, particularly with late John Paul II, the beauty of his involvement of women in the church, especially, particularly women. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the experiences of the DiNicolas we just heard.  What was your reaction to that?  Were you surprised by it? 

SIMONI:  I was surprised, very surprised. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know anybody like that? 

SIMONI:  I do not. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know anybody like that?

SIMONI:  I just met someone, the two people that were your guests here today. 

MATTHEWS:  First bad experiences you‘ve heard with Opus Dei? 

SIMONI:  Yes, first bad experiences.

MATTHEWS:  And yet this guy who is the deprogrammer, the cult expert, said he has had all these cases over the years of people that have had this problem. 

SIMONI:  Yes. 

I think—I can tell you, my own personal experience, when I‘m at the work—and that was a long time ago—when I participated in many of the activities, the one thing that kept coming through is how attracted I was to the vibrant numeraries and supernumeraries, how joyful they were.  And yet, they lived their daily life and daily norms.  They went to mass and then really knowing how to have fun.  That‘s what attracted me to them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You seem like happy people. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You do especially.  You do, too.  Irish. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You have some real Irish brogue here. 

Anyway, thank you, Fiorella Simoni and Pat Fagan.

Coming up, more on how Opus Dei is portrayed in “The Da Vinci Code,” as we‘ve been talking about it, and in the press, and a look at the future of Opus Dei in America with a former papal assistant of Pope John Paul II.

This is a HARDBALL special report, “Inside Opus Dei,” only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  They say there‘s no such thing as bad publicity, as long as they spell your name right.  In the case of Opus Dei, “The Da Vinci Code” and some press reports cast a negative light on this doctrinaire group in the Roman Catholic Church.  It‘s a double-edged sword.

And it brought Linda Ruf out swinging.  She is a member of the Opus Dei and a “Da Vinci Code” myth-buster.  Also with us is Father Anthony Figueiredo, former papal assistant to Pope John Paul II. 

Thank you, Father. 

FATHER ANTHONY FIGUEIREDO, FORMER PAPAL ASSISTANT TO POPE JOHN PAUL

II:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And thank you.

Let me ask you, Linda, what‘s the worst thing about “Da Vinci Code”? 

What really bugs you that is in the book?

LINDA RUF, OPUS DEI MEMBER:  Well, there are several things that bug me. 

And I guess that‘s why I did kind of take up this grassroots effort.  The first is that the notion that Jesus Christ didn‘t realize that he was God until the 4th century.  I thought that that would have Christians everywhere bugged.  The second is that Opus Dei is depicted as an organization with isolationist monks.  And that is exactly the opposite of what Opus Dei is. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the theory in the book, advanced in the book that the Christian church in the first several centuries repressed the notion of male-female harmony and equality and created a kind of a patriarchal church with just a male priesthood?

RUF:  Well, so...

MATTHEWS:  And got rid of the significant figures, like Mary Magdalene? 

RUF:  Certainly, the church can be seen as patriarchal. 

However, I thought it was astounding that Mr. Brown missed the—probably the most sacred of feminine figures within the Catholic Church which is Mary, the mother of God.  She‘s nowhere in “The Da Vinci Code.”  So, I think any legitimate study of the sacred feminine within the church necessarily needs to include Mary, the mother of God. 

MATTHEWS:  Father, what struck you in reading this book? 

FIGUEIREDO:  Well, to be honest, Chris, I think it is pure sensationalism. 

And I haven‘t bought it myself, because I wouldn‘t want to waste my money on a book like that.  However, I think what has come from it is, God will bring something good from it.  We‘ll get to know more about Opus Dei.  And I would hope that people really do not judge by hearsay, but they will go to Opus Dei itself to find out what it is all about. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think people are fascinated with this monk, this crazed killer monk, and an underground religion within a religion? 

FIGUEIREDO:  Well, I really think sensationalism always draws an itch for controversy.  And so, I think that‘s what‘s been happening with this book, Chris. 

My personal feelings are that the Catholic Church is going through a moment where it is being attacked on many fronts.  And so, if we want to jump on the bandwagon, we‘re going to read this book and we‘re going to attack the church.  I was listening to some of those people earlier on, Chris.  And I would just wish that good Catholics, I wish they would spend their time on more noble causes, such as fighting abortion, really promoting the culture of life.  I mean, the Catholic Church is great.  It‘s fantastic. 

MATTHEWS:  But they went through a very negative experience with Opus Dei. 

FIGUEIREDO:  Absolutely.  They went through a negative experience and they‘re free to leave.  I mean, I—for example, when I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t the people in the Catholic world expected to tell the truth about their lives? 

FIGUEIREDO:  Oh, absolutely. 

And I would encourage them to tell the truth and how much they‘ve been hurt.  And the Catholic Church has always wanted to help people from the beginning, from the time of Jesus Christ.  Something that‘s important, Chris, I was thinking about, you know, when Jesus Christ said, follow me, pick up your cross, it wasn‘t easy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FIGUEIREDO:  It wasn‘t—and may—people may say he was being manipulative.  But he knew the greatness of what they were being called to. 

When I look at something like Opus Dei or the other new realities which are emerging in the church, they are calling people to holiness, to be saints.  John Paul II said, this is an organization, the work of God.  This is an organization that calls ordinary people to sanctity. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Linda, why are people willing to believe the worst about the Catholic Church?  Is it because of the priesthood scandal?  Is it because, after years of being told, don‘t practice birth control, don‘t do this, don‘t do that, that they‘re thrilled at the idea that maybe the church is bad, too, so then you can feel a little equal morally with the church if you‘re a parishioner? 

RUF:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my theory.  I don‘t know what yours is. 

RUF:  Why people who...

MATTHEWS:  Well, because they feel like, here‘s a chance to get back.  Yes, they think they‘re so better than us.  Look in this book here.  Look at this stuff, what they‘re really like, you know.

RUF:  I mean, I think it is pretty astounding that people would guide their faith by a fiction book.  And I think I was challenged by that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RUF:  And would say that, if you want to learn about the life of Jesus Christ, read the Bible, not Brown.  But...

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do when Tom Hanks, who everybody loves—he‘s the new Jimmy Stewart—plays the hero of this book going to war with Opus Dei?  Are you going to try to fix the movie?  Are you going to influence the makers of the movie? 

RUF:  I doubt if we could influence the movie. 

I would like—I mean, we are in mainstream America right now.  I think Dan Brown‘s “Da Vinci Code” put Opus Dei within mainstream America.  So, our mission, really, is to tell people what Opus Dei really is.  And what it really is, is a way to live holiness in daily life. 

MATTHEWS:  But if 50 million people...

RUF:  And it‘s simple.

MATTHEWS:  ... go out and see a movie that trashes Opus Dei—are you going to try to get ahold of Tom Hanks personally and call him up?  I‘m serious.

RUF:  If he would take my call. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, anyway, thank you, Linda.

Thank you very much, Father. 

Thank you for joining us, both of you.

FIGUEIREDO:  Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary continues all week long this week and into next week.  Next Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to join us. 

Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END

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