Fatal Attraction: The FBI, the Catholic Church, and Robert Hanssen

Paul Harvey

Remember Robert Hanssen? The former FBI agent/Soviet spy and strictly devout Catholic member of Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic lay order? Hanssen's career as a mole and spy, and his tracking and arrest, were captured in the 2007 film Breach. Since then, Hanssen has become my neighbor, taking up residence in "Supermax," the maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado, just about 1.25 hours away from me.

The arrest of someone responsible for what some called the "worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history" (I might nominate pretty much all "intelligence" about Vietnam in the 1960s, about civil rights leaders from WW II to the 1970s, and Iraq ca. 2001-2003 for that prize, but we're not here to argue the point) led to considerable speculation about how and why a super-patriot Opus Dei member would have spent decades selling out, rather cheaply, to Soviet agents, and it also led to a lot of articles about the attraction that agencies such as the FBI had to younger conservative Catholic men of a certain generation. The new book below, reviewed in Choice, appears to be a fuller-length exploration of some of those questions; some of you may be interested.

Rosswurm, Steve
. The FBI and the Catholic Church, 1935-1962. Massachusetts, 2009. 330p index afp; ISBN 9781558497290, $39.95. Reviewed in 2010oct CHOICE.

In a series of mini-biographical sketches, Rosswurm (Lake Forest College) focuses on the interconnectedness of men who expressed and exercised shared values of patriarchy and authority, hierarchical discipline, and the recognition of real threats to the respective organic bodies of the FBI and the Catholic Church. These men-in-charge established a special relationship that one could argue was symbiotic in its uniqueness, beginning not with the FBI in general, but with the "catholic Protestant"--J. Edgar Hoover. From Hoover's apex were born like-minded individuals who recruited, nurtured, and fed information to those "protestant Catholics," an excellent use of both "catholic" and "protestant" requiring readers to think beyond the mere religiosity of their connections. Their all-encompassing battle against communism necessitated that both organizations "put aside that which set [them] apart" "to intervene directly in the workings of citizens' group[s]" deemed harmful to the very core of Americanism. Subsequent chapters highlight specific individuals serving as point men in the battle of moral absolutes. The story, however, leaves the reader wanting. Do the catholic beliefs employing protestant means end with the demise of communism, or has their alliance moved on to other battlefields? Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
-- G. Donato, Bentley University


Brad Hart said…
Hanssen is an interesting cat. One of my fellow co-workers used to work at the Florence "supermax" and stated that Hanssen is even more of a hard-core Catholic than he was "on the outs."

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