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'Breach,' Opus Dei, and faithful Catholics

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

On March 3, I saw "Breach," the feature film based on the true story of former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying for the Russians.

I thought I would offer a few observations on the film and its subject matter.

Hanssen, as many people are likely aware, is/was a Catholic, and specifically a member of Opus Dei. He was a family man, outwardly committed to his faith and loved ones, but, inwardly, a twisted, perverted individual.

Hanssen obviously did not practice what he preached. At all.

And the film, directed by Billy Ray and starring Chris Cooper, certainly shows that Hanssen liked to preach.

"Do you pray the rosary every day?" he sternly asks FBI agent Eric O'Neill (played by Ryan Phillippe) in one scene. "Not every day, sir," replies O'Neill.

"You should," says Hanssen.

Again, outwardly, a faithful Catholic.

In another scene, Hanssen and O'Neill get into an elevator with a good-looking woman. After she leaves and the door closes, O'Neill acknowledges her physical attractiveness, but Hanssen pretends he doesn't care. In fact, his rigidity shines through when he calmly says to O'Neill, "I don't like women wearing pant-suits - men wear pants," and then proceeds to make a derogatory remark about Hillary Clinton.

A "faithful" Catholic, you see.

Yet another example: Hanssen and O'Neill are in a Catholic bookstore, and Hanssen is talking about having seen on television a woman from Planned Parenthood -- a lesbian promoting gay marriage -- which almost caused him to "rip the cord" out of the wall, he says.

A "faithful" Catholic, you see.

Still another example: Hanssen has to get his picture taken, but, agitated, he leaves before the photographer is finished. He tells O'Neill of the "f_____t photographer trying to get his jollies."

A "faithful" Catholic, you see.

And another: Hanssen's wife, Bonnie (played by Kathleen Quinlan), is having a conversation with O'Neill's wife, Juliana (played by Caroline Dhavernas). Bonnie tells Juliana that she (Bonnie) and her husband teach their children not to be "grocery cart Catholics."

"Faithful" Catholics, you see.

Now, first of all, did Hanssen (and his wife) actually say those things? We know the film is based on a true story, but some of the situations are, of course, fictionalized. Still, the real Eric O'Neill was a consultant on the film, leading one to assume that Hanssen did indeed say (and do) at least some of those things.

Which brings me to this point: While I can see a faithful Catholic saying many (but not all) of the above statements Hanssen allegedly uttered -- albeit in a somewhat more charitable fashion -- Hanssen was far from being a faithful Catholic, and his actions proved as much.

To use a clichéd expression, he talked the talk, but didn't walk the walk. He let pride and lust overtake him. He committed grave sin, objectively speaking. He had a pious demeanor, but, inwardly, he was filled with wrath and torment.

O'Neill is portrayed in the film as a nominal Catholic. Of course, he's the good guy. He isn't a fanatic or a hypocrite, unlike Hanssen - and unlike those, er, pesky assenting Catholics such as myself, whom Hollywood loves to run down.

And, yes, we get the proverbial shots of the Crucifix, the rosary beads, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the confessional.

Interestingly, Opus Dei is mentioned only once -- by O'Neill, in a shouting match with Hanssen, toward the end of the film. No albino monk-assassin, though.

I think Hanssen got what he deserved; I shed no tears for him. We should pray for him and his family, and all those he harmed by his despicable actions.

But we must not let what he (or anyone else, for that matter) did taint the Faith held by so many.

If any lesson can be learned here, I think it's one best illustrated by another clichéd adage: You should never judge a book by its cover.


(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He is the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee. He was a contributor to The Wanderer Catholic newspaper and had numerous letters to the editor published in major newspapers, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He can be reached at


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