Danielle TRUSZKOVSKY: Deception, Denial and Opus Dei

Are religious groups illegally funding anti-gay political battles in America?

Guest post by Danielle Truszkovsky, marking the beginning of a week-long in-depth look at the NOM.

Originally published in the South Florida Blade.

On April 17, 2009 I made a trip from Florida to Princeton, NJ, for the sole purpose of visiting 20 Nassau Street. One of the organizations in this building, formerly in Suite 242, is the Witherspoon Institute, an “independent research center” that works to uphold Republican policies; the same suite, 242, is also home to the National Organization for Marriage, which spearheaded the multi-million dollar homophobic “Yes on 8” campaign in California.

It was no surprise to discover a Republican-affiliated organization is tied to the National Organization for Marriage. However—according to the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN), the Witherspoon Institute is an “Opus Dei-affiliated organization.”

Opus Dei is the controversial sect within the Roman Catholic Church that gained notoriety in the best-selling novel and blockbuster film, The Da Vinci Code. The term Opus Dei is Latin for, “work of God.” A 2006 Time Magazine article reported that there are approximately 85,500 members of the group worldwide with a “mere 3,000 in the US,” yet it is estimated that Opus assets are roughly $344 million dollars within the US—and $2.8 billion globally.

Religious organizations, or any “non-profit” organizations, are not legally allowed to engage in political lobbying, or they lose their tax-exempt status. Presuming this really is is an “Opus Dei-affiliated” foundation, why is it tied to the same office as an anti-gay political lobbying group? What influence, if any, does Opus Dei have on NOM and/or its Board Members? And where are they sending their money? How interesting that all these organizations, worth millions and millions of dollars, are tied to this one little office in New Jersey…suite 242.

When I started researching NOM several months ago, I found an interesting commonality: a man named Luis Tellez is on the Board of NOM, serves as President of the Witherspoon Institute, and also holds the title of “Numerary” in Opus Dei. According to ODAN, “Numerary members pledge to remain celibate and generally live in Opus Dei houses. They commit their entire salaries to Opus Dei, submit incoming and outgoing mail to their directors, and practice various forms of corporal mortification...”

Tellez agreed to a phone interview, and he vehemently denies ODAN’s claims that the political “research center” Witherspoon Institute is affiliated with Opus Dei. He says, “Opus Dei doesn’t work that way.” So I asked about the similar address for Witherspoon and NOM. Tellez said that Witherspoon “rented the space on a month-to-month basis,” and when they were ready to vacate, he recommended to NOM that they look into renting the office.

He also denies any correlation between Opus Dei and NOM. He went on to say that his work with Opus Dei is “personal” and “takes place in the evenings and on weekends.” But as he devotes his life’s work (and much of his salary) to Opus Dei, how is it possible then that this work only occurs on nights and weekends?

There is another interesting connection which should be noted. Inspection of the Witherspoon’s IRS tax form 990 filed in June 2007 reveals grants made to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy (IMAPP). Margaret “Maggie” Gallagher is the President of the IMAPP. She, along with Tellez, are also both on the Board of NOM, with Gallagher serving as President.

Tellez said, “It is likely that Witherspoon may have written a check to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy to cover professional services rendered by Maggie Gallagher... we are very proud to have been able to enlist her professional work in the formulation of ‘Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles…’” These “principles” make up the document that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) used as the basis to push for the 2006 U.S. Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. And guess what? According to Rolling Stone magazine, Brownback converted to Catholicism through Opus Dei in 2002.

It is difficult to tell if Opus Dei is illegally donating funds because churches don't have to file IRS 990s. Even then, it is possible that they didn't donate directly, and instead just pressured their congregations to do so. The paper trail is virtually impossible to follow.

In the meantime, NOM will continue to assault the American public with the same old homophobic arguments, including their famously ominous “there’s a storm gathering” commercial campaign, featuring Damon Owens as the voice of the “rainbow coalition,” speaking against civil rights for gay Americans. Interestingly enough, Owens is a member of Opus Dei.

It is dangerous when religious organizations use their tremendous resources and spiritual influence to create one-sided research, presented as facts which are packaged into multi-million dollar ad campaigns . Ideally, the best solution would be to require all churches to be completely transparent with their financial records; however, minimally, an investigation should be made in this case to determine to what degree Opus Dei has participated in lobbying and also into NOM to determine how much they may have benefited from these efforts.

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    News and views on NOM, marriage equality and the Mormon church from a former LDS missionary. This site is not affiliated with The National Organization for Marriage or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. © Copyright 2009 by Chino Blanco. All Rights Reserved.

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