Randy Engel
A Documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus – The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part IX
Opus Dei, the Knights, and the reopening of the Hanssen spy case
By Randy Engel
June 17, 2024


The case of Robert Philip Hanssen, super spy and a supernumerary of Opus Dei, was officially closed on May 10, 2002, when Judge Claude Hilton in the Federal Court of Alexandria, Virginia, sentenced Hansen to fifteen consecutive life imprisonments and a day, with no possibility of parole.[1]

In addition to the $10 billion estimate[2] of the value of the U.S. supersecret national security documents Hanssen sold to the Soviet KGB,[3] and GRU[4] intelligence services and their successors, there is the even greater tragic loss of “human assets,” to use the inexplicable Federal Bureau of Investigation term, that is, the betrayal of dozens upon dozens of fellow American and Soviet agents and informers working for the Central Intelligence Agency[5] (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation[6] (FBI) in the United States and the Soviet Union.

Fortunately, espionage cases, especially those of the Hanssen magnitude, are never really closed forever.

As the popular news commentator and daughter of an FBI agent Lis Wiehl, reveals in her book, A Spy in Plain Sight-The Inside Story of the FBI and Robert Hanssen, America’s Most Damaging Russian Spy, published in 2022, (21 years after the fact), “there were secrets yet to be uncovered,” and that, “the uncovering of those new details would further a richer understanding of the facts behind the [Hanssen] story....”[7] “Hanssen’s story will continue to wind through American history for years to come,”[8] Wiehl predicted.

And she was right.

Not only does this final chapter reveal Opus Dei’s role in the extension of Hanssen’s spying spree for an additional decade and a half but it also raises new questions as to how the Prelature, like Hanssen, was able to hide the evidence of its crimes that was in plain sight for so long.

A Summary of Hanssen’s Spying Career

In August 2003, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) produced three reports on the Hanssen case including a comprehensive 674-page TopSecret/Codeword classified version; a less detailed 383-page report, classified as Secret; and 31-page online unclassified executive summary titled A Review of the FBI’s Performance in Deterring, Detecting, and Investigating the Espionage Activities of Robert Philip Hanssen:[9]

While the latter document designed for public consumption is written at a kindergarten level in shoddy and insipid language, it nevertheless provides an accurate timeline for Hanssen’s espionage activities and an occasional insight into the personality and mind of America’s most dangerous spy:

  • Hanssen was an only child whose father, a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department, emotionally abused him throughout his life. Starting from a young age, Hanssen enjoyed spy-related entertainment. We believe that the personality flaws and background that Hanssen brought with him into the FBI likely played a more significant role in his decision to commit espionage than anything that happened to him after he became an agent.

  • Hanssen became an FBI agent in 1976.[10] During his 25-year FBI career, he principally served in Soviet counterintelligence assignments in New York City and Washington, D.C. In the 1980s and 1990s. Hanssen held positions at FBI Headquarters and the State Department that gave him access to a broad range of highly sensitive counterintelligence and military information.

  • Hanssen's espionage began in November 1979... and continued intermittently until his arrest in February 2001. His espionage spanned three separate time periods: 1979-81,[11] 1985-91,[12] and 1999-2001.[13]

  • Hanssen had no alcohol, drug, or gambling problems, and did not engage in ostentatious spending. (Hanssen was addicted to pornography, sexual fetishes and distributed sexually explicit videos of his own wife on the Internet.[14]).

  • Hanssen was a mediocre agent who exhibited strong technical abilities but had weak managerial and interpersonal skills.

  • Hanssen received minimal supervision in most of his positions, was not required to produce significant work product, and had ample time to plan and commit espionage while on duty. Hanssen also encountered few security checks at the FBI. He was never asked to submit to a polygraph examination or to complete a financial disclosure form, and he received only one background reinvestigation during his 25-year FBI career. He deposited much of the KGB's cash directly into a passbook savings account in his name in the late 1980s. [Hanssen had two Swiss bank accounts]

  • While Hanssen has not accounted for much of the money [$4.5 million] he received from the KGB [and GRU] it is clear that he spent some of it on an addition to his home, cars, tuition payments for his children's private schools, gifts, a loan to his brother-in-law, and at strip clubs.

  • Hanssen suggested to the KGB that it attempt to recruit Jack Hoschouer, Hanssen's closest friend, who was then serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn.[15]

  • In late 1989, Hanssen began a year-long relationship with a stripper, Pricillia Sue Galey. Hanssen paid for Galey to accompany him on an FBI Inspection Division trip to Hong Kong, bought her a Mercedes Benz, provided her with an American Express card, and gave her jewels, cash, and other gifts.[16]

  • His removal of hundreds of classified documents from the FBI ? including original and numbered Top Secret documents ? and improper searches of the Bureau's computer system for references to himself and to the Bureau's most sensitive espionage investigations went unnoticed.

  • The reasons why Hanssen initially began committing espionage, and repeatedly returned to it, are complex and, as we explain below, changed over time. Many of the factors that have motivated or influenced traitors in the past ? such as greed, ideology, career disappointments and resentment, and drug and alcohol abuse ? do not apply to Hanssen or do not fully explain his conduct.

  • In late 2000, after the FBI received information identifying Hanssen as a Russian mole, the FBI offered him a Senior Executive Service position at FBI Headquarters, where he could be closely monitored.

  • The defects in the FBI's security program were the product of decades of neglect. ... Before Hanssen's arrest, the FBI's security program was based on trust. Rather than taking the sort of proactive steps adopted by other Intelligence Community components – such as requiring regular counterintelligence polygraph examinations, financial disclosures, and meaningful background reinvestigations, and utilizing audit functions regarding computer usage – the FBI trusted that its employees would remain loyal throughout their careers. The Hanssen case shows the danger of that approach.

By the time of his arrest on February 18, 2001, Hanssen had handed over 6,000 pages of classified and super-secret intelligence reports and computer disks that revealed U.S. government nuclear survival, defense, and retaliation plans; entire National Intelligence Programs and budgets for specific years; the location, methods and technology of the FBI in their Soviet spy surveillance programs; the existence of the FBI’s hundred million dollar ultra-secret project code named “MONOPOLY” involving the building of a secret tunnel under the Soviet embassy for electronic eavesdropping; details of the U.S. intelligence community’s classified intranet system called COINS-II; information on KGB double agent recruitment techniques; and intelligence reviews of Soviet military capabilities. But perhaps most tragically, Hanssen knowingly signed the prison, torture and/or death warrants of countless Soviet agents, military officers, embassy officials, and defectors spying for the U.S. and fellow U.S. intelligence agents operating in the Soviet Union.[17]

Of these, the name of General Dmitri Polyakov continues to claw at this writer’s mind because this particular betrayal had a personal as well as a professional motivation on the part of Hanssen.

More Than Blood on his Hands

In 1980, only a year into his first attempt as Soviet spy, Robert Hanssen committed one of most significant and damaging treasonable acts of his espionage career by revealing to the GRU, aka, Soviet Military Intelligence, the name of Major General Dmitri Polyakov, code name TOPHAT. Hanssen chose his target very carefully with full thought and malice because he feared that Polyakov might at some point discover his identity and report him to the CIA or the FBI as a Russian spy.

Dmitri Polyakov was born on July 6, 1921 in the Russian Ukraine. After his education and training at the Frunze Military Academy, one of the most prestigious military educational institutions in the Soviet Union, he served in the Red Army from 1941 to 1946 and was decorated for bravery, and the GRU from1951-1980. In 1962, Polyakov was posted to the United Nations headquarters in New York City where he served as a KGB disinformation officer. That same year, he contacted counterintelligence agents at the FBI and offered himself as a double and unpaid asset agent. He said he loved his country, but not its Communist Party elite.

Former CIA operative Sandy Grimes, who participated in the debriefing of Polyakov called him, “the crown jewel” of the CIA and FBI.[18] In an extensive online interview on January 30, 1998, Grimes stated that, as a Soviet military as well as intelligence officer, and a member of the Communist Party, Polyakov provided priceless information on GRU and KGB agents and moles, and their modus operandi around the world. According to Grimes, because of his rank and the length of his service, he was the best source of enemy intelligence from the top down that the CIA “had or ever will have.”[19]

In 1980, after Hanssen had identified him as a defector from Soviet intelligence, Polyakov was recalled to Moscow and disappeared from the CIA radar. Polyakov, however, was not immediately arrested by the GRU until 1986, six years after his retirement from the GRU when he thought he was free and clear from suspicion.[20]

At the time of his secret imprisonment, a video was made of his capture. According to Lis Wiehl it showed an elderly man being manhandled by KGB agents, one stripping him of his shirt and another twisting the old man’s neck to face the camera. Polyakov showed “resignation, for sure,” but also a “silent dignity,” “no fear,” and “no apparent regrets,”[21] Wiehl observed.

On March 15, 1988, after 20 months of interrogation and torture, the 66 year old Major General was put on trial for treason and subsequently executed, but not in the usual manner of a bullet through the back of the head.

As Wiehl reports, the GRU made another a second video starring Dmitri Polyakov that the KGB shows as a “cautionary tale to new recruits:”

    In this one, he is lying naked on a metal tabletop, still alive, after his torturers have extracted every last secret they can from him. As the video rolls, the tabletop is slowly elevated at one end until TOPHAT slides off the lower end into a roaring fire.[22]

I trust the reader will remember the fate of Dmitri Polyakov, as we now return to Robert Philip Hanssen and his connection to the Work

Hanssen and the Opus Dei Connection

It is unlikely that lower-middle class Robert Hanssen would have ever had seen the inside of an Opus Dei center, much less become a supernumerary of the Prelature, except that he happened to marry into a large wealthy Chicago Opus Dei family totally devoted to the Work.

Hanssen’s future wife, Bernadette “Bonnie” Wauck, was the second of eight children of Leroy and Fran Wauck of the upscale suburb of Park Ridge, Ill. Her father was a psychologist associated with Loyola University and her mother, Fran, lived her life for her children and Opus Dei.

One of Bonnie’s brothers, John Paul Wauck became an Opus numerary and was later ordained a priest of the Prelature in Rome with Hanssen and the Wauck family in attendance.

As for Bonnie Wauck, she was by all descriptions, a lovely, intelligent young Catholic woman blindly attached to Opus Dei when she met and married the dark, tall, and handsome “Bob” Hanssen.

They were married in a lavish wedding on August 10, 1968, at Seat of Wisdom Parish by Bonnie’s uncle, the Rev. Robert Hagarty of the Chicago Archdiocese. Unfortunately, Bonnie’s honeymoon bliss was cut short when she learned of her husband’s extramarital affairs directly from one of his distraught castoffs.[23] But all was quickly forgiven (but not forgotten) when Bob minimized his earlier sexual exploits. Hanssen promised to be a loving and faithful husband.

Hanssen Absorbed into the Opus Dei Sphere

Bob Hanssen came from a Lutheran background but had little interest in religion as a young man until he met Bonnie. Unfortunately, his first experience of Catholicism after his conversion and baptism to the faith was stamped with the Opus Dei brand.

At 24, the young husband was quietly groomed into joining the Work by the Wauck family. He was taken to Opus family retreats, Opus nights of recollection, and other Opus functions. Bonnie’s father, Leroy, even took Hanssen to a special, male-segregated weekend at the Shelburne Conference Center in Indiana founded by Msgr. Escriva in 1928. The event was a costly venture at several hundred dollars a night per guest.

In 1978, two years after Hanssen joined the FBI, he joined Opus Dei as a supernumerary. As part of his initiation Hanssen made a promise [a vow] of obedience to the Prelature. From that time on he publicly wore his Opus Dei affiliation on his sleeve for all to see, even though, officially speaking, almost all members of the Work, including married supernumeraries, keep their identity secret. He was heavily into recruitment, especially of his fellow FBI agents, although his openly aggressive techniques lacked the finer touch and deceptive disciplined characteristic of Opus’ more sophisticated and trained numeraries.

As an Opus supernumerary, Hanssen would have been assigned a spiritual director, most often a male with whom he conferred once a week, and an Opus confessor to whom he was obliged to confess his sins at least once every two weeks. In addition, we know that the Opus Director of the Center to which Hanssen belonged filed monthly reports to the Villa Vecchia in Rome on their new supernumerary. According to some of his closer associates, “Opus Dei was never far from his mind.”[24]

What and how much of anything Robert Hanssen ever revealed to his assigned Opus spiritual director and his Opus confessor over the 20 plus years he served as a supernumerary will never be known. Certainly, as part of Opus’ required Plan of Life that every member must write out in conjunction with his spiritual director after his initiation into the Work, Hanssen never stated “I want to be a Soviet spy.”

However, according to Dr. Alen J. Salerian, a psychiatrist hired by defense attorneys in April of 2001 to evaluate Hanssen’s long history sexual exploitation and betrayal of his wife, Robert Hanssen told him that he discussed his erotic fantasies and deviant sexual behaviors with his [unnamed] spiritual director during their regular sessions. If this was the case, then one can be certain that his spiritual director relayed that information to his superiors at the Villa Vecchia and Hanssen’s personnel folder was tagged with a red flag signifying possible serious moral troubles ahead. Just how serious Opus officials would in time find out.

As a supernumerary, Bonnie Hanssen, enjoyed the same setup with a spiritual director, (female in her case), an Opus Dei priest confessor, and a director’s monthly report to Rome. The main difference was that she attended a segregated female Opus Center and rarely accompanied her husband to Opus events unless the whole family was invited.

After her husband’s arrest in February of 2001 for spying and his subsequent imprisonment, she continued her close ties with Opus Dei that included teaching theology at Oakcrest, the Work’s all-girls private school in McLean, Virginia until her retirement in 2020.

Hansen and Opus Dei Made for Each Other

Although Opus Dei was to play a critical role in the Hanssen Case, at the time of the traitor’s arrest in the midwinter of 2001, the Work received little attention in the secular and Catholic press for reasons that will be discussed later in detail. The short quip by the Office of the Inspector General characterizing Opus Dei as “a conservative Catholic lay organization” pretty well characterizes the absence of any serious intent to investigate in depth the relationship between Prelature and Bob Hanssen.

There were some exceptions to the rule, however, one being a stinging commentary by the laicized priest and religious commentator Eugene Kennedy titled, “Opus Dei's Secret Revealed: It Takes Spies in From the Cold.”[25] Kennedy made some important observations on the Hanssen-Opus connection and asked a lot of the right questions without necessarily getting truthful answers.

As Kennedy noted with his opening zinger: “The secret spy and the hidden organization were made for each other. The trouble with this Work of God is that nobody can tell you exactly what its work is or how it does it.” He continued in the same sardonic mode:

    The arrest of accused master F.B.I. spy Robert Hanssen opened the door a crack on this international organization... How could a man be a member of a Catholic group that emphasizes unquestioning loyalty to the Holy Father and, at the same time, be unscrupulously disloyal to his fatherland? This intersection of secret group and secret agent, however, demands that Opus Dei either reveal itself and its operations more fully or find that questions and doubts about it will multiply in the future....Here, then, the spy who separates himself from and looks down on his fellow Americans pledges himself to an organization in which he separates himself from and looks down on his fellow Catholics.

Hanssen Caught Spying Early On[26]

And so it was that in 1979, only one year after joining Opus Dei, Hanssen launched his espionage career. And just a year or so later, his wife Bonnie, pregnant with their third child, became aware that he was spying for the Soviet Union and had sold them $30,000 worth of classified documents.

The circumstances surrounding that discovery were pretty straightforward.

In the fall of 1980, Bonnie found her husband, currently employed in the FBI’s Counter-Soviet Department, in their basement reading a communication from his Soviet controllers that he tried to hide from her. Her immediate thought was that her husband was involved in another affair. Bonnie was also aware that her husband had stopped going to holy communion about the same time, and demanded answers. Under pressure, Bob claimed he was selling “unimportant” security secrets to the Russians without bothering to mention that, in fact, he had signed off on Dmitri Polyakov’s horrific execution and had provided top secret military and security information to the GRU.

Once the degree of punishment involved in acts of treason had sunk into her consciousness, Bonnie turned to her one hope in times of disaster – Opus Dei, and a meeting was arranged with an Opus priest named Msgr. Robert Bucciarelli at Crawford Hall [later renamed the Overlook Study Center] in New Rochelle, Westchester County, N.Y. this writer’s old home hunting ground.

Now there are three critical factors operating at this meeting – the location – the person of Msgr. Bucciarelli – and the timing of the incident:

    First, New Rochelle, which is only about a 20-minute drive from Yorktown [Scarsdale] where the Hanssens lived, was for decades home to Opus’ National Office and a center for Opus’ operations on the East Coast. The city also houses the Woodlawn Foundation, one of the Prelature’s largest multi-million dollar fund-raising arms, and the National Center Foundation which paid out $55 million for Opus Dei’s palatial 17-floor U.S. headquarters in Manhattan at 34th Street and Lexington Avenue completed in 2000. So New Rochelle has always been a major operational center for Opus Dei.

    Second, Rev. Robert Bucciarelli wasn’t just a “nobody.” He was a high-ranking member of the Opus clergy, possibly an Opus Dei secret inscripti, that is, a part of Opus Dei’s top inner circle of secular and clerical leaders Born on September 7, 1935, in New Canaan, Connecticut., he graduated from Harvard[17] in 1956, and went on to earn a doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, after which he was informed that he had a “vocation,” and was ordained to the Prelature of the Holy Cross in August 1960. He went on to exercise his Opus ministry in Chicago, where he made the acquaintance of Fran Wauck and her family, as well as in Washington, D.C. New York, Milwaukee, Boston, Ireland, and Italy. From 1966 to 1976 he became the Vicar of Opus Dei for the entire United States.[28]

    And finally we come to the third important factor in the Hanssen spy case involving Opus as a corporate entity with its Prelate, officers, and clerics – the matter of timing.

    The founder of Opus Dei had died on June 25, 1975 and his successor, Father (later Bishop) Álvaro del Portillo took on the role of President-General with the explicit goal of getting Pope John Paul II to create Opus Dei as a Personal Prelature. He was aware that Escriva’s preference was always for a “prelature nullis,” that is, a self-ruling territorial prelature headed by an Opus bishop, but understood that this was unlikely to materialize under the current pontificate.[29] Since there was a small but significant and well-organized opposition in the Roman Curia and among the Spanish hierarchy to giving Opus Dei this special status, the early 1980s was an especially stressful time for Portillo. There also was, of course, the matter of Escriva’s beatification, the first step toward Opus’ founder‘s elevation to sainthood which had just gotten traction in 1980.[30]

    From his headquarters in Rome, Portillo also was forced to deal with the fallout of the multi-million dollar financial scandal known as the Rumasa/Ruiz-Mateos Affair in Spain which had plagued Opus during the late 1970s. Author and financial analyst Robert Hutchison provides details on the international scandal for interested readers in Their Kingdom Come, that serves as a guide to Opus Dei and its multinational network of banks, and industrial, shipping, pharmaceutical, tourism, and agribusiness enterprises.[31]

So from the perspective of timing alone, it is easy why a major scandal of any kind at this critical juncture in the life of Opus Dei would be unthinkable and to be avoided at all costs.

Bucciarelli Saves Hanssen from Prison

At the time of the Hanssen incident Bucciarelli had been recently transferred to Opus’ New Rochelle hub and was working at Crawford Hall, an Opus residence and study center on 99 Overlook Circle.

Now there are many different versions of the first meeting of Bob and Bonnie Hanssen with Bucciarelli (none with the exact date) in the late fall of 1980 at the Opus New Rochelle office, and of Hanssen’s “confession” to being a spy for the Soviet Union, and of the priest’s initial, and subsequent change of advice to him by after a second visit, the following day. But there are a few facts which seem to hold solid across the board.

At the so-called “consultation,” Hanssen gave Bucciarelli the same minimalist schpiel he gave Bonnie he had sold the GRU security and military classified documents of little consequence. “No one was hurt,” he told Bonnie and Bucciarelli.

No doubt, still in the state of shock, the priest reacted spontaneously by telling Hanssen what he needed, but did not want, to hear – that he must turn himself over to the proper authorities and be prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions. In later testimony to FBI investigators after his arrest, Hanssen reported that he underwent a “sacramental” confession and was absolved from his sins by Bucciarelli before he and Bonnie left the Opus Center that day.

There has been no evidence, however, that Buccierelli asked Hanssen to release him from his vow of silence so as to bring the betrayal out from the internal forum into the external forum (which the priest had the right to do), or that the priest volunteered to accompany the couple to FBI headquarters as a demonstration of support for the Hanssen family.

The next day, however, Buccierelli ostensibly phoned Hanssen and/or asked him and Bonnie to return for a follow-up meeting at Crawford Hall, at which time he gave the couple a cock and bull story that he had had a change of heart. Instead of surrendering himself to FBI officials, Hanssen could expedite his sin of treason by giving the dirty money he received from his Soviet controllers to a worthwhile charity, which in this case was supposed to be Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity,[32] and a promise by Hassen to stop spying and sever all clandestine contacts with the GRU. Of course, Hanssen’s ill-begotten thousands had already flown the coop, and there was no possibility that he could make and keep such a large financial promise on his FBI salary alone.

And just as obvious, is the fact that the Harvard-educated Buccierelli would have had to realize this reality when he made his revised “charity donation” proposal to the Hanssens. He would also have had to contemplate the possibility that Hanssen might continue to spy for the Soviets or resume his espionage activities at a later date – which as history records, he did intermittently for the next sixteen years.

And, of course, not to belie the obvious, by pushing this untenable scheme on Bonnie and Bob Hanssen which still left the FBI out in the cold, the priest was doing double duty by protecting the Prelature from any adverse publicity connected to one of the greatest crimes of the century

So it is not surprising that FBI officials must have been caught off-guard when during their later interrogation of Bonnie Hanssen in mid-June of 2001, she informed them that her husband’s spying career began in 1979, not in 1985, and that there was another party involved in the cover-up of her husband’s espionage activities during this early period – an Opus Dei priest named Msgr. Robert Bucciarelli.

That Opus supernumerary Bonnie Hanssen waited for several months to divulge this fact to the FBI most certainly was due to the fact, that, according to David Wise, author of Spy – The Inside Story of How The FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America, Opus Dei officials at the Villa Vecchia had written to her after her husband’s arrest and urged her to make no public statement about her husband’s acts of treason,[33] an act which could be construed as an obstruction of justice by the FBI.[34]

Msgr. Buccierelli Makes The New York Times

One can also understand Msgr. Bucciarelli’s state of shock when he discovered that his own grave and long held “secret” concerning Hanssen’s spying for the Soviets was now public knowledge. On June 16, 2001, he and the Prelature made the front page of the N.Y. Times.

With Escriva’s canonization and elevation to sainthood just around the corner, the unexpected public revelation that not only was traitor Robert Hanssen a formal member of Opus Dei, but that an Opus Dei high level member of its clergy induced Hanssen to launder the Soviet’s money through a Catholic charity in lieu of turning himself into FBI authorities, spelled disaster for the Opus Dei General President and his officers.

Opus Dei’s first acts at “damage control” was to prep Bucciarelli for a brief press statement in which the former Vicar professed that as a Catholic priest, he was bound by the sacramental seal of confession to absolute silence on all matters confessed to him under the penalty of automatic excommunication should he violate his sacred oath. Period. Case closed. Any attempt to pursue the matter would be considered an “uncalled-for” intrusion insinuated Bucciarelli.

In a brief conversation with New York Times reporters, the priest stated that he knew of Mr. Hanssen in 1980, presumably as a new Opus Dei supernumerary. He withheld the fact that he knew the Wauck family back in Chicago.

Shortly after the Times encounter, Bucciarelli was secretly “relocated” to Opus’ Elmbrook Study Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts near Harvard University, one of the priest’s old haunts. Eventually, the priest was sent abroad to Dublin where he was awarded a plum appointment as Vicar of Ireland. Msgr. Bucciarelli only returned to live in the U.S in 2012, four years before his death after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

FBI Director Louis Freeh Protects Opus Dei

According to FBI sources, Msgr. Bucciarelli was never interrogated by FBI officers on orders from Director Louie Freeh who took office in September 1993 and ended his office in June 2001 when the Bucciarelli story made headlines. Freeh stated that the reported ”confession” or “consultation” between Hansen and the priest was confidential under both canon and criminal law, and the agency did not want to involve itself in any potential controversy on the subject. Further, Freeh held that Hanssen had agreed to give the FBI full details on his activities as part of a plea bargain, thus there was no need for the FBI to get further involved with Bucciarelli or the Opus Dei organization .

Although Louis Freeh is known to have close relations with Opus Dei; attended an unofficial Opus Dei parish with the Hanssen family, Saint Catherine of Sienna in Great Falls, Virginia[35]; sent his young boys to The Heights, an Opus school in Potomac, Maryland that charges $11,000 a year per student[36]; and has a brother, John Freeh,[37] who served as a numerary and director of the Prelature in Philadelphia until the Hanssen affair exploded in 2001, Freeh never offered to recuse himself from the Hanssen case.

Rather, as the record shows, he did just the opposite.

In the August 2003 Department of Justice report, A Review of the FBI’s Performance in Deterring, Detecting, and Investigating the Espionage Activities of Robert Philip Hanssen referenced earlier in this segment, we find only a seven-word reference to Opus Dei:

    To his FBI co-workers, Hanssen's personal life appeared completely inconsistent with that of a spy. He was married with six children, and appeared to be a devout Catholic who attended mass every day and who was actively involved in Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic lay organization.[38]

Had the FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies not fallen into the trap of accepting the Prelature’s Catholic external manifestations for the real thing, and actively pursued Opus Dei as a secret cult or sect, they would have discovered that the driving engine of the Work is not “conservatism” but “liberalism,” and that it is not Catholic but a mishmash of Kabbalistic Gnosticism.

It appears, however, that FBI Director Freeh did everything in his power to protect Opus Dei and its officials from any FBI in-depth investigation of Opus Dei’s connection to Hanssen’s early espionage activities aside from the fact that Robert Hanssen was a member of their organization. Freeh made it clear that his office ostensibly wanted to avoid any breach of Catholic Church doctrine regarding the absolute inviolability of the sacramental seal of confession.

The problem, however, was that Louis Freeh, as the Chief Officer investigating the Hanssen case, not only prevented FBI agents from pursuing any further legitimate inquiries into the Bucciarelli confessional matter, but he effectively thwarted any serious investigation by the FBI or other non-governmental entities from extending their investigations to include the role that Opus Dei played in Bucciarelli’s giving Hanssen a “Get Out of Jail Free Card.”

When did Opus Dei Learn of Hanssen’s Treason?

In Lis Wiehl’s version of the Bucciarelli incident, she concludes that:

    Hanssen’s silence, Bonnie’s tacit assent to it, and Bucciarelli’s ecclesiastical endorsement close that window of opportunity and impose a cone of secrecy that will last more than 20 years. No one in or out of the US intelligence community will have any idea of Bob Hanssen’s first spying career until Bonnie tells this story while being interviewed after Hanssen’s arrest – the first breach of Bucciarelli’s expansive understanding of the sanctity of a confession (bold added)[40]

But is Wiehl correct in stating that Bonnie Hanssen’s admission of the 1980 Bucciarelli affair made to the FBI in 2001 was “the first breach” of the vow of silence concerning her husband’s sacramental confession to Bucciarelli?

I think not.

I believe that it was the second breach of the sanctity of confession – the first being Msgr. Bucciarelli’s own report to his Opus superiors in New Rochelle, and to the President General and his officials in Rome shortly after the Hanssens left Opus headquarters, that Opus was harboring a dangerous American spy in its own ranks. Or to put it bluntly, that Opus Dei officials were made aware of Hanssen’s treason by Bucciarelli shortly after the Hanssen visitation ended, and it was they, not Bucciarelli, who masterminded the “charity donation” scheme and subsequent cover-up that kept Hanssen out of jail and saved Opus Dei from a terrible scandal at a critical stage in the Work’s relationship with the Vatican with Escriva’s canonization sitting on the near horizon.

Subsequently, when Hanssen was finally arrested by the FBI in February of 2001, Opus officials found themselves in a serious quandary. To reveal that they had known about Hanssen’s spying for the Soviets for two decades, and kept it secret to avoid scandal, they would also have to admit that Bucciarelli broke the seal of confession with their approbation and collusion, and that they never had any intention of reporting Hanssen to the FBI or any other U.S. intelligence service, thus, permitting Hanssen’s spying career to continue.

The only other alternative for Opus officials at the Villa Vecchia and the U.S. was to continue with the original Bucciarelli cover-up, and carry on a national public relations campaign of disbelief and feigned ignorance regarding Hanssen’s betrayal of his nation, his faith, and his family. And this is exactly what the Prelature did.

According to the Westchester, N.Y. Journal News, reporting on Opus Dei’s reaction to the Hanssen scandal in the aftermath of the Hanssen arrest:

    For the past two decades, the most controversial Roman Catholic group in the world ran its American operations on a New Rochelle side street, waiting for the right time to deliver its message.

    Now Opus Dei is ready to take its stand.

    This mysterious worldwide movement for lay Catholics, long a visible religious force in Europe and Latin America, has just opened a new 17-story, $55 million headquarters in midtown Manhattan and is aiming to increase its American membership.

    The news that Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent accused of spying for Russia, was an Opus Dei member brought an unexpected round of media attention in February. Suddenly , the longstanding international debate about Opus Dei was cracked open, with Catholic liberals and progressives framing the more conservative organization as a Catholic mafia cunning, cult-like and secretive.

    But Opus Dei dealt squarely with February’s media assault, seeing a chance to confront its critics and polish its public image. Its ultimate weapon: Opus Dei is beloved by the pope and its teachings are in lock step with the Vatican (bold added).

    As one Opus Dei priest put it, the group’s ‘coming out party” in America is underway.

    Still, there will be no ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Opus Dei operates below the cultural radar, finding new members and raising millions of dollars through a network of supporters. How it will reach out to 8 million New Yorkers remains to be seen.

    ... Opus Dei members even say, with no apparent irony, that the Hanssen arrest may ultimately bring positive exposure.

    The joke is that we should put ‘Opus Dei Inc.' at the top of the building," said the Rev. Arne Panula, Opus Dei's vicar, or top official, for the United States. Then we thought that maybe we won't.[41]

Well reader, the cover-up charge against Opus Dei is no joke. It’s real and the evidence in its favor is substantial, and in keeping with the Prelature’s own long history of deceit and intrigue.

Bucciarelli Never a Free Agent

Although the FBI always treated Msgr. Bucciarelli as an independent priest, apart from association with Opus Dei, the priest was never a totally free agent in the Hanssen affair. His own instincts were correct when he advised Hanssen to give himself up to FBI officials and confess his crimes, but at the deeper level, he must have known that any final decision on the matter was out of his hands and belonged to Opus officials at the Villa Vecchia in Rome, specifically the President General of Opus Dei, Álvaro del Portillo and his officers.

As with all numeraries who sign-on to Opus Dei, Bucciarelli had made a life-long promise [vow] of chastity, obedience, and poverty and taken an oath of loyalty to subject himself, without exception, to the institutional interests of the Work. When he was informed by Msgr. Escriva that God had called him to the priesthood, he obeyed. He was ordained on August 14, 1960, and served the Work faithfully including the high office of Vicar for 20 years before Bonnie and Robert Hanssen entered his life.

Moreover, Bucciarelli not only practiced obedience, but “blind obedience” in keeping with Maxim 941 of Camino (The Way) “Obedience, the sure way. Blind obedience to your superior, the way of sanctity. Obedience in your apostolate, the only way; for in a work of God, the spirit must be to obey or to leave.”[42]

Obviously, Bucciarelli did not leave, and continued on to advance up the clerical ladder, which is the only reward Opus offers its loyal sons.

Omertà and Other Restraints on Opus Members

In the Complaint detailed in Part IV, Opus is accused of practicing Omertà, that is the concept of imposing silence regarding any crime that is committed that may affect the “honor” of Opus Dei.[43] “It implies a categorical prohibition of cooperating with state authorities or using their services, even when one has been the victim of a crime. A person must avoid interfering if they see something that is not correct and cannot report a crime to the authorities under any circumstances.”[44] Bucciarelli, and for that matter, Bonnie Hanssen, an Opus supernumerary[45]; her brother, Rev. Father John Wauck, a former numerary and Opus priest ordained in 1999 living in the Villa Vecchia in Rome;[46] and numerary John Freeh, Louis Freeh’s brother; all would have been subject to this formal, institutionalized restraint if they had wanted to report Hanssen as a spy to the FBI, on their own.

Then we have the matter of the Sacrament of Penance as a function of governance in Opus Dei. As spelled out by Msgr. Escriva in detail in Part V of this series, “Confession is used to confirm the directives of the Directors, beyond the “sacramental wall.”[47] As a priest of Opus Dei for 20 years, Bacciarelli would have been fully aware that he was permitted, indeed mandated, to report important information gleaned from penitents in a sacramental confession to his superiors, especially if it affected the “honor” of the Work.

Hanssen’s treason certainly would qualify.

The Knights of Columbus & Patriotism

Maxim 525 in Camino (The Way) by Escriva states “To be ‘Catholic’ means to love our country, and to let nobody surpass us in that love.” But in the Hanssen case, Opus Dei’s obsession with its saving its “honor” took precedence over love of God, faith, country, and family, and permitted supernumerary Robert Hanssen to continue his acts of treason that turned out to be the worst intelligence breach in U.S. history.

The Knights of Columbus, also state that they have a special relationship with love of country:

    Patriotism was added to the Knights of Columbus Order’s principles in 1900, based on the principle that Knights are loyal to both God and country. Members who wish to live out patriotism together can join the Fourth Degree.” For most men who follow Jesus, there comes a time when duty extends beyond our own lives, beyond how we lead our families, and into how we serve our fellow man. That's what the Knights of Columbus is all about. The Patriotic Degree allows K of C members to take this one step further. "Sir Knight" is more than a title — it’s an honor. ... They take pride in their devotion to God and country, standing up for both publicly and privately. As Knights, they remind the world that Catholics are among the greatest citizens who support their nations.[48]

Thus the Knights of Columbus, especially the hundreds of thousands of veterans that make up its rank and file, obviously should have a keen interest in the treason of Robert Hanssen and the Opus Dei Prelature’s cover-up of his treachery, that reaches far beyond the ordinary civic organization, which is why I chose to close this series with the Hanssen case.

The grassroots of the Knights of Columbus need a big wake-up call! A spiritual wake-up call!

If this series, especially the background of the Hanssen case, does not shock the Knights of Columbus them out of their current lethargy and inspire in them a spiritual awakening and a commitment to raise the banner of Christ the King in opposition to the Opus banner of Liberalism and Secularism, probably nothing else will. But at least when the financial walls of the Knights of Columbus come tumbling down some time in the not-too-distant future, they can never say they weren’t warned.

The End


[1] The following texts provided the major details of the Hanssen spy case used in this series: David A. Vise, The Bureau and the Mol – The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History, Atlantic Monthly Press, N.Y., 2002; Lis Wiehl, A Spy in Plain Sight, Pegasus Books, Ltd., N.Y., 2022; Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman, The Spy Next Door, Little, Brown and Company, N.Y., 2002; David Wise, SPY – The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America, Random House, 2002, N.Y. Robert Hanssen was sentenced to solitary confinement for 23 out of 24 hours a day at ADX Florence, a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. He was visited in prison on occasion by his wife and children until his death on June 5, 2023, ostensibly from “natural causes,” although the FBI never revealed the actual cause of death. He followed his wife in death by only seven days.

[2] Wiehl, p. 19. This is the amount that Hanssen’s Soviet controller, Victor Cherkashin gave in his own book on Hanssen. If one includes the annual budgets of the CIA and the FBI over the 20-year period that Hanssen spied for the Soviets, the fiscal damage to our nation would be in the hundreds of billions of tax dollars.

[3] The KGB, The Committee for State Security, was the Soviet Union’s primary spy agency from March 1954 until December 1991.

[4] The GRU was the Soviet’s military intelligence service. It was created in November 1918 and dissolved in 1992. It was often in competition with the KGB.

[5]he Central Intelligence Agency, aka, the Agency or the Company, was formed in 1947 as the civilian foreign intelligence service of the federal government officially tasked with gathering and analyzing national security information around the world. The CIA with an annual budget of $15 billion is one of over a dozen federal agencies that make up the $52 billion National Intelligence Program.

[6] The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the domestic intelligence and security service of the U.S. government and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Its annual budget is in the $11 million range.

[7] Wiehl, p. ix.

[8] Ibid., p. xii.

[9] Special Report: A Review of the FBI's Performance in Deterring, Detecting, and Investigating the Espionage Activities of Robert Philip Hanssen (justice.gov)

[10] Prior to joining the FBI, Hanssen attended Knox College in Illinois, a Presbyterian and Congregationalist school where he continued to learn the Russian language. He went on to dental school but left before graduation to attend business school in accounting. His proficiency in the Russian language, his photographic memory and his skill with numbers and computers were positive factors in his FBI resume as was his love for technology and techniques. He was sworn into the FBI in January 1976 in Gary, Indiana.

[11] 1979-1981 In his first act as traitor Hanssen informed the GRU of the identity of U.S. intelligence most valuable Soviet spy, General Dmitri Polyakov for which he received between $21,000and $30,000. This was the period that Hanssen directly involved Opus Dei.

[12] 1985-1991 – During this period, Hanssen entered the major leagues of espionage with the KGB to whom he sold some of the nation’s most valuable Cold War counterintelligence and military secret for hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it spent on a stripper named Patricia Galey. In addition he betrayed two of the FBI’s most valuable assets KGB officers Sergey Motorin, and Valeriy Martynov who worked in the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. Both agents were recalled to Moscow, interrogated, tortured, and executed.

[13] 1999-2001 During this short period of time leading up to his capture, Hanssen continued to provide the Soviet government with some of highest levels of classified materials on U.S. natural security and military preparedness.

[14] See David Vise, The Bureau and the Mole, Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 2002,pp. 258-266. Hanssen’s sexual fantasies of his wife, from the earliest days of their marriage, are too disgusting to reprint. Vice makes a point of stating they were Hanssen’s fantasies not Bonnie’s. She never commented on them, but they must have been forever etched on her memory, perhaps more than her husband’s espionage crime because they were so intimate and vulgar.

[15] Jack Delroy Hoschouer was Hanssen’s most intimate friend from high school days. He was a retired career soldier who had done some intelligence work, best man at Hanssen’s wedding, a close family friend to Bonnie Hanssen, and godfather to all of Hanssen’s six children. Hoschouer and Hanssen shared pornography including videos showing Bonnie naked and Bonnie having sex with her husband, and both visited prostitutes when Hanssen visited Jack who was stationed in Germany for several years.

[16] According to Hanssen, he was only interested in the salvation of Galey’s soul, but he was never able to get her to go to Mass with him. He also said he never had committed adultery with her, but in later press interviews Galey admitted they had in fact engaged in sexual activity. Jack Hoschouer, also stated that Hanssen had told him he had ”bad sex”’ with the stripper. In later interviews Galey also said that she had come to believe that Hanssen was grooming her to help spy for the Russians, and assist him with drops and pick-ups. Hanssen met Galey in the summer of 1990 and for the next 18 months flooded her with diamonds and cash. He said he had received a large inheritance from his mother. See Ex stripper reveals how Robert Hanssen tried to recruit her as a spy | Daily Mail Online.

[71] See Vise, pp.240-245 for a summary of the major intelligence documents Hanssen sold to the KGB and GRU.

[18] Statement of tribute to Polyakov by Sandy Grimes, a CIA agent specializing in the GRU. See SANDY GRIMES – 30.1.98 (gwu.edu).

[19] Ibid.

[20] American Aldrich “Rick” Ames, a former CIA counterintelligence agent, who spied for the Soviet Union from 1986 to 1994 also revealed the identity of Dmitri Polyakov to the GRU, thus confirming Hanssen’s earlier identification.

[21] Wiehl, p. 1.

[22] Ibid., p.6.

[24] Wiehl, p. 74.

[25] Opus Dei's Secret Revealed: It Takes Spies in From the Cold – Beliefnet.

[26] In 2001 Mark Wauck, Bonnie Hanssen’s brother employed as an FB I special agent in Chicago, publicly claimed that he suspected his brother-in-law of being a spy and reported his suspicions to FBI authorities in1990, eleven years before Hanssen’s arrest. According to Marck Wauck, he had learned through family connections that in August 1990, Bonnie found $5000 worth of unexplained cash in her husband’s dresser draw and expressed dismay to his wife, Mary Ellen, who was visiting the Hanssen household at the time. Obviously, Bonnie realized that her husband had continued his espionage career after promising to quit spying in 1980, but she had kept that information secret from her family. Mark Wauch, known as a straight-arrow through and through, stated he reported his suspicions to his supervisor, Jim Lyle in the FBI’s Chicago Field Office, but his warning was ignored and/or lost in procedural red tape. However, during her interrogations by the FBI after her husband’s arrest, Bonnie claimed the incident never happened. A lie detector test supported her denial her lawyer said. From testimony of other Wauch family members, the topic of Hanssen’s plethora of ready cash to spend on his children’s private tuition expenses, and for household improvements, and expensive jewelry for Bonnie was the subject of much speculation over the years. Hanssen is known to have bled his widowed mother financially dry of at least $100,000 and there were rumors of inheritance from rich relatives which proved false.

[27] For more than a century, Harvard provided Opus Dei with top-ranking numerraies, directors and offices. See The Harvard Crimson (thecrimson.com).

[28] ROBERT BUCCIARELLI Obituary (1935–2016) – Chestnut Hill, MA – Boston Globe (legacy.com).

[29] The difference between the personal prelature and the territorial “nullius” prelature is that the latter belongs to no diocese , but has its own superior, clergy and people. Escriva imagined himself as bishop and overlord of this religious conglomerate. This was Escriva’s known choice, and not the personal prelature as constructed by the Second Vatican Council.

[30] The cause for Escriva’s beatification and canonization opened in 1980 only five years after the founder’s death .In 1981, the year of Bucciarelli’s involvement with Hanssen, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints formally opened the process. Escriva was canonized in a record 27 years on October 6, 2002, just a year after Hanssen was arrested.

[31] See Hutchison, Their Kingdom Come, pp. 229-237.

[32] Sister Mary Dominga, the leader of the Eastern United States region of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, when asked by reporters what if any money Hanssen sent to the charity insisted that this was not a matter the charity could or would discuss. However, there appears to be no solid evidence that Hanssen ever gave Mother Teresa’s charity a cent. It is not known if the FBI followed up on this matter in its own investigation.

[33] Wise, p. p.289. Wise was one of the few writers who made the observation that the Hanssen scandal could affect the canonization process of Escriva negatively.

[34] Although some writers have suggested that Bonnie believed that her husband had been blackmailed into spying by the Soviets, thus making him less culpable in his crimes, the evidence is overwhelming that he embarked on his treason of his own volition.

[35] Although St. Catherine’s parish was not officially under Opus Dei control, the Work was a major force at the parish especially under Rev. Franklyn McAfee, an Opus Dei cooperator who permitted Opus priests to hear confessions at the church. Families like the Freehs, Santorums and the Hanssens , who lived outside the parish jurisdiction, paid a small monthly assessment to attend the parish and its school. However, given Opus’ mandate of ‘non-giving” most members like Robert Hanssen gave their major donations to Opus Dei and limited funds to outside facilities like St. Catherine’s to a minimum. Although the parish is well known for its Sunday Mass said in Latin, it is not the Traditional Mass, but the Novus Ordo mass said in in Latin. Thus, Robert Hansen, as a convert, probably was never exposed to the Mass of All ages.

[36] The Heights School where the Hanssens sent two of their boys is located in the Washington, D.C. area.

[37] It is my understanding that Louie Freeh’s brother, John Freeh, left Opus Dei in disgust after the Work’s involvement in the Hanssen crimes became known.

[38] U.S. Inspector General Special Report, p. 5.

[39] Santiago, OPUS DEI – TROJAN HORSE OF LIBERALISM IN THE CHURCH (Part I) (mysteriuminiquitatis-2thessalonians2.blogspot.com).

[40] Wiehl, p. 16.

[41] Shawn Cohen and Gary Stern, “Opus Dei: A Journal News Special Report — Inside the World of Opus Dei”, Journal News, April 22, 2001.

[42] Escriva, Camino (The Way), Scepter [Ops Dei]Press, Chicago, Ill., p. 218. See also Robert Hutchison’s Their Kingdom Come in which the author quotes the famed-Opus millionaire numerary Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos as describing the “terrifying obedience” that dominated Opus membership (p. 234)

[43] Complaint, p. 15.

[44] Ibid., p. 15.

[45] After her husband’s arrest, Bonnie Hanssen cemented her ties to Opus Dei even tighter. She visited him occasionally in jail at Florence, Colorado, and forgave him his crimes. She died at her Virginia home on May 28, 2023, leaving behind her six children and 14 grandchildren. Robert followed her closely in death on June 5, 2023 only 9 days later. a few days later

[46] Rev. John Paul Wauck, Bonnie Hanssen’s brother and Rober Hanssen’s brother-in law is a Harvard graduate. He is a popular Opus figure at the Vatican, especially with American journalists like John Allen. He teaches at Opus’ University of the Holy Crossin Rome. He was a former speech writer for Wiliam Barr and Senator Bob Casey in Washington, D.C. and editor of the Human Life Review. He is pictured in the following youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAN7WIox7tU) promoting the beatification of Opus Bishop Portillio. His interview with “Catholic Vote,” is available at Mission – CatholicVote org.

[47] Opuslibros – Slavery Regime of Opus Dei Priests (II).- Doserra.

[48] Andrew Butler , Who Are the Fourth Degree Knights? The Patriotic Degree reminds us of our duty to God and country, November 11, 2019.

© Randy Engel


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Randy Engel

Randy Engel, one of the nation's top investigative reporters, began her journalistic career shortly after her graduation from the University of New York at Cortland, in 1961. A specialist in Vietnamese history and folklore, in 1963, she became the editor of The Vietnam Journal, the official publication of the Vietnam Refugee and Information Services, a national relief program in South Vietnam for war refugees and orphans based in Dayton, Ohio... (more)


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