Does Bob Novak owe his uncanny capacity for secrecy to the right-wingCatholic sect Opus Dei? While his Network-like turn on CNN lastThursday seemed to suggest a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, thecolumnist has so far managed to ignore persistent demands that he reveal hisinvolvement in the Valerie Plame leak—a feat of rareinternal fortitude that some say is a hallmark of the shadowy Christian group.
Members of the 76-year-old sect are known for self-flagellation and wearingspiked metal garters underneath their clothes as forms of penance—the kindof extreme self-discipline that’s said to have also appealed to one ofOpus Dei’s most infamous initiates, ex-FBI agent and convicted Russian spyRobert Hanssen.
Despite the controversy that's dogged it from its inception, the sect has emerged as one of the most conservative and influence-seeking wings of the Catholic Church and is said to enjoy a uniquely close relationship with the Vatican. Though Novak’s adherence to Opus Dei has never been confirmed—as a policy, the organization doesn’t reveal its rolls—D.C. insiders have for years noted the pundit’s close relationship with Father C. John McCloskey III, an eminent member of the group who helped baptize the Jewish-born Novak into Catholicism in 1998. McCloskey is also believed to have brought other high-profile Washington conservatives into the group, including book publisher Alfred Regnery, Republican Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, and Novak’s former CNN colleague, Larry Kudlow. No prominent Democrats are known to be members of Opus Dei, a fact that makes the organization’s donkey mascot more than a tadironic.
But while Novak appears to have adopted the sect’s cloak-and-dagger affectations, some accuse him of discarding the underlying themes of fellowship, humility, and charity that were stressed by Opus Dei founder Saint Josemaria Escriva, who preached that people should do “small things with great love.” (An axiom quoted by George W. Bush in his first inaugural address.) Following Novak’s conversion, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan reportedly cracked, “Now that Novak's become a Catholic, I wonder when he will become a Christian.”