Despite a negative portrayal in The Da Vinci Code and media furore over Ruth Kelly’s involvement, Opus Dei member and senior representative Jack Valero, in the organisation’s first interview with the gay press, tells PinkNews.co.uk’s Benjamin Cohen how much happier and closer the group makes him feel with God.
Jack Valero is a numerary for Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organisation and he’s easily their most recognised figure within Britain, acting as spokesman for the group as well as well as being a member of the ruling council of Opus Dei for the UK.
I first met him earlier this week as we debated live on Sky News the significance of Ruth Kelly (an Opus Dei member) being appointed as Minister for Equality. After the broadcast, we chatted as I waited to appear on another news programme and he waited for his taxi to arrive, as he left, Valero asked if I’d like to meet again and discuss his group’s attitudes to homosexuality.
Two day’s later, I found myself in the sitting room of Orme Court, the group’s UK headquarters situated a stones throw from Hyde Park. Valero laughed heartily as we joked as I set up my recording equipment.
I ask Valero to describe his role as a numerary within the group that is often labelled as ‘controversial’. “Numeraries are celibate, we feel that God has called us to give ourselves to God in full, all our lives, our time. We don’t marry, we go to work perhaps and then the rest of the time we dedicate to giving training and support to the other members around the world.
“I’ve been celibate since I joined Opus Dei when I was 16. It’s tough of course. But before I began working full time for Opus Dei, I used to work in software, so I was in the world and living like anyone else except for my celibacy.
“But it’s very challenging, if you make a commitment to celibacy you are saying to God, ‘I will give you this gift for life every day’ and you have to struggle because its every day. Its a strong proof of love. If it doesn’t work it’s very bad and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Like everyone else, I find chastity very challenging.”
Feeling rather intrusive, I ask if Valero would have been straight if he were not celibate? “Yes, can we talk about something else?” he responds fiddling to a ring on his wedding finger, “It’s a ring to signify a commitment or marriage to God.”
How did his family react to his teenage commitment of celibacy?
“I felt called by God. It was hard for me, really frightening. My Dad was member of Opus Dei, and my Mum was a devout Catholic, my Dad was happy, my Mum was half happy, half sad, she wanted grandchildren. I have three brothers who are married and happy and who have children although my three sisters do not have children yet, so at least my mother has the grandchildren that she wanted.”
Having understood his background a little better, I ask Valero to continue the conversation we began on television earlier this week, what exactly is the stance of Opus Dei towards homosexuality? “Opus Dei doesn’t have views of its own about homosexuality but that it teaches mainstream Catholic teaching, as per the Catechism.
“It is good, it distinguishes between the actions and the people.
“You must never discriminate against someone because all people have the same dignity so you must not discriminate against anyone on the basis of who they are, what they are or what they do. Obviously if they commit crimes like murder you put them in prison because they are dangerous.”
“But the Catholic church believes that some actions are sinful, for example sex outside of marriage or between two men but this is not discriminating against the people because it has this idea that sex was for marriage, marriage is for a man and a woman, for them to stay together for the rest of their lives and procreate and so on. This is an idea shared by many not just Catholics.”
Surprising me slightly, he adds: “”It doesn’t say the homosexual orientation is sinful,” “but he carefully adds that “homosexual sex acts are sinful as are heterosexual acts outside of marriage. But the church doesn’t have a problem with sinners, its in the business of helping sinners.”
Veering towards the Da Vinci Code, the book that thrust Opus Dei into the limelight he adds, “On Mary Magdalene, there’s the controversy in the Da Vinci Code that the church didn’t like her because she was a woman so made her out to be a prostitute. But we don’t have a problem with prostitutes because if they repent they have as much dignity as anybody. We consider ourselves to be sinners in need of help.”
Referring to the 1983 catechism of the Catholic church, Valero explains that the “psychological genesis [of homosexuality] remains largely unexplained” but adds that it is”contrary to the natural law.” But rather than a striking condemnation, he adds, that the view of the church is that gay people should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
However, this respect in the view of Valero and the church ultimately boils down to a call for chastity and celibacy. “Homosexuals can be perfect as Christians, we’re all called to chastity within the Catholic church. We are keen on love, between a man and a woman, between two men, love is good.”
I was surprised to learn that Valero has gay friends and admits to a close relative of his being openly gay. “If I look at a gay friend of mine, I look at him and think ‘I don’t agree with some of the things he is doing’, but 99 per cent of him is great and he’s my friend and I would be stupid to break that bond.”
Turning to his gay relative he meanders onto the nature versus nurture debate concerning the roots of homosexual desires. “I think to myself, ‘was she like this when she was little?’ I don’t know but she’s a lovely lady, I like her very much but I don’t like her living with another woman. I find it difficult. I don’t feel that she’s so happy.”
Valero is certainly not naive, he appears aware of the gay community surrounding his office. “When I look at the gay bar down the road, I see people looking for love, looking for this union and ultimately, sex satisfies if its an expression of love. If they don’t find it there it makes you feel low.”
I ask him if he thinks that gay people are barred from heaven due to their sexuality. “One can not judge anybody,” he explains. “To get to heaven you have to want to be there with God. The commandments were given so that we could be very happy.”
As he carries on, Valero begins to stop talking to me as a representative of the gay media and turns to me as an individual, saying he now considers me to be his friend. As a friend, he seems genuinely concerned with my well being and my soul.
“It might seem a contradiction to me to say, ‘I want you to be really happy but please don’t have sex with another man’ but ultimately I want you to follow this rule not because I want you to but because I think that it is really good for you. But please do what you like, I’m only putting this forward as a a proposal, hopefully you will follow it because it is beautiful.”
Feeling drawn in by his compassionate manner, I ask him if in his view it is better to be in a monogamous gay relationship than to be promiscuous. “The worst thing is to be promiscuous, then the monogamous relationship and then chastity, I think that’s the best. We have a defeatist attitude when it comes to sex, you can not envisage putting limits apart from saying ‘you must not touch children’ even if you feel like it.
“People who are good, such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have a good time in life.”
“I think I’m having a great time but others may say that having sex with lots of people is also a great time but I’m not sure. People who are intrinsically good have a good time.”
As I pack myself up, I try to make it clear that I’m not going to be changing my religious views. I’m Jewish and I’ve had enough problems trying to reconcile my own religion with my sexuality without even considering any other religious viewpoints. Valero seems to understand and asks me if I’m happy with my partner. When I explain that we’ve been in a stable relationship for three years, he seems content.
On parting, I still get the impression that he is worrying about me and I have visions of him praying for my soul, which in many ways I really appreciate. Although I can’t help worrying myself for him that he has sacrificed the chance to be in a real loving and intimate relationship with a woman rather than dedicating his life to his God.