National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 20, 2003

Basque terrorists threaten Opus Dei in Spain


Basque terrorists have threatened to target members of the Catholic Opus Dei movement during the current Spanish election campaign because of their links with the country’s political establishment.

However, the threat was dismissed by a Spanish bishops’ conference spokeswoman, who insisted the country’s Catholic church had “never taken sides” on political issues.

In a late May statement published in the Basque region’s Gara daily, the terrorist group ETA said its “military fronts” were “still in readiness,” and would be active during the election campaign.

It added that “legitimate targets” would include candidates from Spain’s ruling Partido Popular and opposition Socialists, as well as politicians belonging to Opus Dei, whose 28,000 Spanish members are believed to include members of the center-right government of premier José María Aznar.

“Our armed actions will have a special significance during these days when our people are being repressed, and a liberation struggle is being waged against the acts of those oppressing the Basque homeland,” the ETA statement said.

“ETA is not using armed struggle to impose projects or ideas, or taking action against those who think differently. It is only acting against those whose objective is to destroy Basque democracy.”

Catholic church leaders have regularly deplored attacks by ETA, which has killed over 800 Spaniards in a struggle for Basque independence since the 1960s.

However, bishops from the region condemned a government ban last summer on the movement’s political wing, Herri Batasuna, whose deputy leader, Inaki Esnaola, is a former priest.

Opus Dei (“Work of God”) was founded in 1928 by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in October 2002, 27 years after his death. The organization currently counts 80,000 members and 700,000 “cooperators” in 80 countries.

The pope made the movement a personal prelature in 1982, giving it independence from diocesan control. Many members supported the regime of Gen. Francisco Franco, though some influential opposition figures who were forced into exile were also Opus Dei members. The group has been widely criticized for secretive links with right-wing politicians, as well as for sexist attitudes toward women.

ETA operatives assassinated Spain’s Opus Dei-linked premier, Luis Carrero Blanco, in a spectacular Madrid car bombing in 1973, and have issued previous threats against the movement.

In its statement, the Basque group said speculation that it would renounce violence before Spain’s regional and communal elections was “groundless,” adding that “armed struggle” would be abandoned only when “clear steps” were taken toward Basque independence.

“Besides explosives, weapons and seizures, we will use other forms of activity to gain our objectives,” the group said.

“We will attack the forces of occupation, the state’s economic interests, oligarchy, political figures and elected officials, as well as the means of war communication and Opus Dei.”

The Basque region, on Spain’s northeastern border with France, is widely seen as Spain’s most religious, with 40 percent of inhabitants attending Mass weekly, compared to 20 percent nationally.

A spokeswoman for the country’s 80-member bishops’ conference, Cristina Dalolmo, said church leaders would not be responding officially to the terror warning or taking steps to protect Catholic candidates.

However, she added that the ETA warning contrasted with the “improved atmosphere” following Pope John Paul II’s May 3 and 4 visit, which had raised hopes of a “change in attitudes.”

“The threat makes no sense, since the church has never taken sides or told people how to vote,” Dalolmo told NCR.

“Now as before, the bishops have urged Catholics to participate in the elections, but to decide according to their consciences how to make their choices.”

Spanish church leaders have previously threatened to excommunicate ETA members responsible for attacks on civilian targets.

Jonathan Luxmoore is a British journalist living in Warsaw, Poland.

National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 2003

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