Behind the Headlines on the Opus Dei Story

On Monday night, Four Corners aired an exposé on the Opus Dei-run schools Redfield and Tangara in Sydney’s Hills District. Opus Dei is a hardline sect of the Catholic Church that counts among its members NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

Though widely covered, the depth of the exposé meant some aspects have slipped through the gaps. But first, what were the headlines? 

Four Corners alleges systemic misinformation at Opus Dei schools on sexual education and consent. Girls were told that the HPV vaccine, which is offered free in NSW schools, was only for “sluts” and that sex before marriage made them “dirty.”

“We were asked to pass a piece of sticky tape around the class from person to person,” said 2020 graduate Isabella Kershaw. “And when it got to the end, the teacher asked us, ‘What value does this sticky tape have?’” 

Girls were taught the story of a Spanish saint who chose to die rather than suffer the sin of being raped. They were also told that pornography literally damages the brain, that the contraceptive pill causes cancer, and that abortion doctors tear limbs off unborn children.

One student, Alex, was groomed by an older female teacher at a Tangara-associated after-school “study centre.” Alex was given a band of barbed wire to wear around her thigh for at least one hour a day and told to whip herself while praying. The teacher then had sex with Alex when she turned 18 and became a resident at the centre.

Understandably, given the outrageous goings-on at the schools, the specific motivations of Opus Dei have slipped through the cracks.

While hardline Catholic, the group encourages its members to raise families and pursue “secular careers” so as to “sanctify” ordinary life and imbue their principles into society. The mission originated with a Spanish priest who established Opus Dei in close alliance with fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

NSW Premier and Epping MP Dom Perrottet is a high-profile member of Opus Dei; indeed, his parents were both members and he was raised in the organisation.

Less well known, according to Louise Milligan, is that the “school community” surrounding Redfield and Tangara have had their candidate elected to the seat of Epping for its two prior MPs as well. In other words, they appear to control the NSW Liberal Party in Sydney’s north-west.

Damien Tudehope, leader of the NSW government in the senate, is also part of the Opus Dei-affiliated “school community.” That’s according to his nephew, actor Tim Pocock, who appeared in the Four Corners segment and spoke about his brutal experiences with homophobia at the school.

Perrottet and Tudehope both declined to comment to the ABC.

This appears to be the modus operandi for the sect’s secretive “secular” operations. In 2017, the New Yorker wrote that Opus Dei member Leonard Leo, head of the Federalist Society, is “responsible for a third of the [US] Supreme Court.” 

Since then, two more hardline Catholics have become justices, making it five out of nine. Both were nominated by Trump following recommendations from Leo. And now the US no longer has the right to abortion. 

So while the philosophy and teaching of Opus Dei sounds like something from another century, its political power is still very much current.

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