Definitions

Opus Dei

Opus Dei

Opus Dei [Lat.,=work of God], Roman Catholic organization, particularly influential in Spain, officially the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. Opus Dei was founded in 1928 by a wealthy lawyer turned priest, José María Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás, who objected to the liberal, secular atmosphere at the Univ. of Madrid. As a Catholic institution, it emphasizes that ordinary Christians can achieve holiness and change society for the better through how they live their everyday lives. Opus Dei gained national importance in Spain after the civil war, when it received support from goverment of Francisco Franco. In the 1950s and 60s it replaced the Falange as the most important conservative political and religious force in Spain. Its influence there, however, has waned since the early 1970s.

Receiving increased support from the Vatican since the late 1970s, the organization has grown to more than 85,000 members in more than 80 countries. In 1950 the Vatican recognized it as a secular institute; in 1982 it was given the status of "personal prelature." Its membership is now, therefore, considered a separate diocese with its own bishop.

Believing that a Catholic can lead a holy life without taking religious vows, lay members pledge to serve God in worldly vocations; roughly a third of the members live communally and celibately in Opus Dei centers. The movement seeks to promote traditional Catholic values and teaching and to oppose liberalism and immorality, and is noted for its emphasis on preaching to government officials, professionals, intellectuals, and business executives. Opus Dei has been controversial among some Catholics because of its secretive nature, its emphasis on discipline, its conservatism, and its historical association with the Franco regime in Spain. This controversy became pronounced in 1992 when the Vatican, under John Paul II, beatified Escrivá; Escrivá was canonized in 2002.

See M. del C. Tapia, Beyond the Threshold (1997); J. L. Allen, Opus Dei (2005).

Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, is a part of the Roman Catholic Church that teaches the Catholic belief that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. The majority of its membership are lay people, with secular priests under the governance of a prelate (bishop) appointed by the pope. Opus Dei is Latin for "Work of God", hence the organization is often referred to by members and supporters as "the Work".

Founded in Spain in 1928 by the Roman Catholic priest St. Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei was given final approval in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. In 1982, the Catholic Church made it into a personal prelature — its bishop's jurisdiction covers the persons in Opus Dei, wherever they are.

The Prelature of Opus Dei has about 87,000 members in more than 90 different countries. About 70% of Opus Dei members live in their private homes, leading traditional Catholic family lives with secular careers, while the other 30% are celibate, of whom the majority live in Opus Dei centers. Opus Dei organizes training in Catholic spirituality applied to daily life. Aside from personal charity and social work, Opus Dei members are involved in running universities, university residences, schools, publishing houses, and technical and agricultural training centers.

Opus Dei has been described as the most controversial force within the Catholic Church. According to several journalists who have worked independently on Opus Dei, most of the criticisms against Opus Dei are mere myths created by its opponents, and Opus Dei is a sign of contradiction, "a sign that is spoken against." Several popes and other Catholic leaders have endorsed what they see as its innovative teaching on the sanctifying value of work, and its fidelity to Catholic beliefs. In 2002, in a move interpreted by both sides of the debate as signaling his approval of Opus Dei, Pope John Paul II canonized Escrivá, and called him "the saint of ordinary life.

Controversies about it have centered around criticisms of its alleged secretiveness, its recruiting methods, the alleged strict rules governing members, its acknowledged practice by celibate members of mortification of the flesh, its alleged elitism and misogyny, the right-leaning politics of most of its members, and the alleged participation by some in extreme right-wing governments, especially the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978. Within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei is also criticized for allegedly seeking independence and more influence.

In recent years, Opus Dei has received international attention due to the novel The Da Vinci Code and its film version of 2006.

History

Foundational period

Opus Dei was founded by a Catholic priest, Josemaría Escrivá, on 2 October 1928 in Madrid, Spain. According to Escrivá, on that day he experienced a "vision" in which he "saw Opus Dei". He gave the organization the name "Opus Dei", which in Latin means "Work of God," in order to underscore the belief that the organization was not his (Escrivá's) work, but was rather God's work. Throughout his life, Escrivá held that the founding of Opus Dei had a supernatural character. Escrivá summarized Opus Dei's mission as a way of helping ordinary Christians "to understand that their life… is a way of holiness and evangelization... And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and training they need to put it into practice.

Initially, Opus Dei was open only to men, but in 1930, Escrivá created a women's branch. In 1936, the organization suffered a temporary setback with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, as many Roman Catholic priests and religious figures, including Escrivá, were forced into hiding. The many atrocities committed on all sides during the civil war included the murder and rape of religious figures by government loyalists. After the civil war was won by General Francisco Franco, Escrivá was able to return to Madrid. Escriva himself recounted that it was in Spain where Opus Dei found "the greatest difficulties" because of traditionalists who he felt misunderstood Opus Dei's ideas. Despite this, Opus Dei flourished during the years of the Franquismo, spreading first throughout Spain, and after 1945, expanding internationally.

In 1939, Escrivá published The Way, a collection of 999 maxims concerning spirituality. In the 1940s, Opus Dei found an early critic in the Jesuit leader Wlodimir Ledochowski, who told the Vatican that he considered Opus Dei "very dangerous for the Church in Spain," citing its "secretive character" and calling it "a form of Christian Masonry.

In 1946, Escrivá moved the organization's headquarters to Rome. In 1950, Pope Pius XII granted definitive approval to Opus Dei, thereby allowing married people to join the organization.

Post-foundational years

In 1975, Escriva died and was succeeded by Álvaro del Portillo. In 1982, Opus Dei was made into a personal prelature. This means that Opus Dei is part of the universal Church, and the apostolate of the members falls under the direct jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei wherever they are. As to "what the law lays down for all the ordinary faithful," the lay members of Opus Dei, being no different from other Catholics, "continue to be ... under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop," in the words of John Paul II's Ut Sit. In 1994, Javier Echevarria became Prelate upon the death of his predecessor.

One-third of the world's bishops sent letters petitioning for the canonization of Escrivá. Escriva was beatified in 1992 in the midst of controversy prompted by questions about Escriva's suitability for sainthood. In 2002, approximately 300,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square on the day Pope John Paul II canonized Josemaría Escrivá. According to one author, "Escrivá is... venerated by millions".

There are other members whose process of beatification has been opened: Ernesto Cofiño, a father of five children and a pioneer in pediatric research in Guatemala; Montserrat Grases, a teenage Catalan student who died of cancer; Toni Zweifel, a Swiss engineer; and Bishop Álvaro del Portillo.

During the pontificate of John Paul II, two members of Opus Dei, Juan Luis Cipriani and Julián Herranz, were made cardinals.

In September 2005, Pope Benedict XVI blessed a newly installed statue of Josemaria Escriva placed in an outside wall niche of St Peter's Basilica, a place for founders of Catholic organizations.

During that same year, Opus Dei received some unwanted attention due to the extraordinary success of the novel The Da Vinci Code, in which both Opus Dei and the Catholic Church itself are depicted very negatively. The film version was released globally in May 2006, further polarizing views on the organization.

Spirituality

Doctrine

Opus Dei is an organization of the Catholic Church. As such, it shares the theology of the Catholic Church.

Opus Dei places special emphasis on certain aspects of Catholic doctrine. A central feature of Opus Dei's theology is its focus on the lives of the ordinary Catholics who are neither priests nor monks. Opus Dei emphasizes the "universal call to holiness": the belief that everyone should aspire to be a saint, that sanctity is within the reach of everyone, not just a few special individuals. Opus Dei does not have monks or nuns, and only a minority of its members are part of the priesthood. A related characteristic is Opus Dei's emphasis on uniting spiritual life with professional, social, and family life. Whereas the members of some religious orders might live in monasteries and devote their lives exclusively to prayer and study, members of Opus Dei lead ordinary lives, with traditional families and secular careers, and strive to "sanctify ordinary life". Indeed, Pope John Paul II called Escrivá "the saint of ordinary life".

Similarly, Opus Dei stresses the importance of work and professional competence. While some religious orders encourage their members to withdraw from the material world, Opus Dei's members are exhorted to "find God in daily life" and to perform their work excellently as a service to society and as a fitting offering to God. Opus Dei teaches that work not only contributes to social progress but is "a path to holiness", and its founder advised people to: "Sanctify your work. Sanctify yourself in your work. Sanctify others through your work.

The biblical roots of this Catholic doctrine, according to the founder, are in the phrase "God created man to work" (Gen 2:15) and Jesus's long life as an ordinary carpenter in a small town. Escrivá, who stressed the Christian's duty to follow Christ's example, also points to the gospel account that Jesus "has done everything well" (Mk 7:37).

The foundation of the Christian life, stressed Escriva, is divine filiation: Christians are children of God, identified with Christ's life and mission. Other main features of Opus Dei, according to its official literature, are: freedom, respecting choice and taking personal responsibility; and charity, love of God above all and love of others.

At the bottom of Escriva's understanding of the “universal call to holiness” are two dimensions, subjective and objective. The subjective is the call given to each person to become a saint, regardless of his place in society. The objective refers to what Escriva calls Christian materialism: all of creation, even the most material situation, is a meeting place with God, and leads to union with Him.

Different qualifiers have been used to describe Opus Dei's doctrine: radical, reactionary, faithful, revolutionary, ultraconservative, and, probably the most common, conservative.

Prayers

All members - whether married or unmarried, priests or laypeople - are trained to follow a 'plan of life', or 'the norms of piety', which are some traditional Catholic devotions. This is meant to follow the teaching mentioned in the Catholic Catechism to "pray at specific times...to nourish continual prayer, which in turn is based on Jesus' "pray always" (Lk 18:1), echoed by St. Paul's "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17). According to Escriva, the vocation to Opus Dei is a calling to be a "contemplative in the middle of the world," who converts work and daily life into prayer.

Daily norms:

Weekly norms:

Additionally, members should participate yearly in a spiritual retreat; a three-week seminar every year is obligatory for numeraries, and a one-week seminar for supernumeraries. Also members are expected to make a day-trip pilgrimage where they recite 3 5-decade rosaries on the month of May in honor of Mary.

Mortification

Much public attention has focused on Opus Dei's practice of mortification — the voluntary offering up of discomfort or pain to God. Mortification has a long history in many world religions, including the Catholic Church. It has been endorsed by Popes as a way of following Christ who died in a bloody crucifixion and who gave this advice: "let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me." (Lk 9:23) Supporters say that opposition to mortification is rooted in having lost (1) the "sense of the enormity of sin" or offense against God, and the consequent penance, both interior and exterior, (2) the notions of "wounded human nature" and of concupiscence or inclination to sin, and thus the need for "spiritual battle, and (3) a spirit of sacrifice for love and "supernatural ends," and not only for physical enhancement.

As a spirituality for ordinary people, Opus Dei focuses on performing sacrifices pertaining to normal duties and to its emphasis on charity and cheerfulness. Additionally, Opus Dei celibate members practice "corporal mortifications" such as sleeping without a pillow or sleeping on the floor, fasting, or remaining silent for certain hours during the day. They may also wear a cilice, a small metal chain with inward-pointing spikes that is worn around their upper thigh. The cilice's spikes cause discomfort and may leave small marks, but typically do not cause bleeding. Numeraries in Opus Dei generally wear a cilice for two hours each day. Although use of the cilice is no longer common, its practice in the Catholic Church is "more widespread than many observers imagine." In modern times it has been used by Blessed Mother Teresa, Saint Padre Pio, and slain archbishop Óscar Romero.

Critics state that self-mortification is a "startling," "extreme," and "questionable" practice — one that borders on masochism. Critics assert that "due to modern psychology and thinking, the practices which inflict pain are sometimes considered to be counterproductive to one's spiritual development, as they can easily lead to pride and an unhealthy attitude toward one's body."

Escrivá's opponents refer to his personal mortification practices that were even more extreme than those typically performed by Opus Dei numeraries— in one incident, Escrivá flailed himself over a thousand times. Opponents likewise criticize Escrivá's maxim on suffering: "Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. Glorified be pain!" Critics have cited mortification as one of the reasons for their opposition to Opus Dei.

Organization and activities

Governance

In Pope John Paul II's 1982 decree known as the Apostolic constitution Ut Sit, Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature, an official structure of the Catholic Church like a diocese which contains lay people and secular priests who are led by a bishop. In addition to being governed by Ut Sit and by the Catholic Church's general law, Opus Dei is governed by the Vatican's Particular Law concerning Opus Dei, otherwise known as Opus Dei's statutes. This specifies the objectives and workings of the prelature. The prelature is under the Congregation for Bishops.

The head of the Opus Dei prelature is known as the Prelate. The Prelate is the primary governing authority and is assisted by two councils — the General Council (made up of men) and the Central Advisory (made up of women). The Prelate holds his position for life. The current prelate of Opus Dei is Monsignor Javier Echevarria, who became the second Prelate of Opus Dei in 1994. The first Prelate of Opus Dei was Monsignor Álvaro del Portillo, who held the position from 1982 until his death in 1994.

Opus Dei's highest assembled bodies are the General Congresses, which are usually convened once every eight years. There are separate congresses for the men and women's branch of Opus Dei. The General Congresses are made up of members appointed by the Prelate, and are responsible for advising him about the prelature's future. The men's General Congress also elects the Prelate from a list of candidates chosen by their female counterparts. After the death of a Prelate, a special elective General Congress is convened. The women nominate their preferred candidate for the prelate and is voted upon by the men to become the next Prelate — an appointment that must be confirmed by the Pope.

Membership

Opus Dei has about 87,000 members in more than 90 different countries. About 60% of Opus Dei members reside in Europe, and 35% reside in the Americas. For the most part, Opus Dei members belong to the middle-to-low levels in society, in terms of education, income, and social status.

Opus Dei is made up of several different types of membership:

Supernumeraries, the largest type, currently account for about 70% of the total membership. Typically, supernumeraries are married men and women with careers. Supernumeraries devote a portion of their day to prayer, in addition to attending regular meetings and taking part in activities such as retreats. Due to their career and family obligations, supernumeraries are not as available to the organization as the other types of members, but they typically contribute financially to Opus Dei, and they lend other types of assistance as their circumstances permit.

Numeraries, the second largest type of members of Opus Dei, comprise about 20% of total membership. Numeraries are celibate members who usually live in special centers run by Opus Dei. Both men and women may become numeraries, although the centers are strictly gender-segregated. Numeraries generally have careers and devote the bulk of their income to the organization.

Numerary assistants are unmarried, celibate female members of Opus Dei. They live in special centers run by Opus Dei but do not have jobs outside the centers — instead, their professional life is dedicated to looking after the domestic needs of the centers and their residents.

Associates are unmarried, celibate members who typically have family or professional obligations. Unlike numeraries and numerary assistants, the associates do not live in Opus Dei centers.

The Clergy of the Opus Dei Prelature are priests who are under the jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei. They are a minority in Opus Dei— only about 2% of Opus Dei members are part of the clergy. Typically, they are numeraries or associates who ultimately joined the priesthood.

The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross consists of priests associated with Opus Dei. Part of the society is made up of the clergy of the Opus Dei prelature — members of the priesthood who fall under the jurisdiction of the Opus Dei prelature are automatically members of the Priestly Society. Other members in the society are diocesan priests — clergymen who remain under the jurisdiction of a geographically-defined diocese. These priests are considered members of Opus Dei who are given its spiritual training. They do not however report to the Opus Dei Prelate but to their own diocesan bishop.

The Cooperators of Opus Dei are non-members who collaborate in some way with Opus Dei — usually through praying, charitable contributions, or by providing some other assistance. Cooperators are not required to be celibate or to adhere to any other special requirements. Indeed, cooperators are not even required to be Christian.

In accordance with Catholic theology, membership is granted when a vocation, or divine calling is presumed to have occurred.

Activities

Leaders of Opus Dei describe the organization as a teaching entity, whose main activity is to train Catholics to assume personal responsibility in sanctifying the secular world from within. This teaching is done by means of theory and practice.

Its lay people and priests organize seminars, workshops, retreats, and classes to help people put the Christian faith into practice in their daily lives. Spiritual direction, one-on-one coaching with a more experienced lay person or priest, is considered the "paramount means" of training. Through these activities they provide religious instruction (doctrinal formation), coaching in spirituality for lay people (spiritual formation), character and moral education (human formation), lessons in sanctifying one's work (professional formation), and know-how in evangelizing one's family and workplace (apostolic formation).

The official Catholic document which established the prelature states that Opus Dei strives "to put into practice the teaching of the universal call to sanctity, and to promote at all levels of society the sanctification of ordinary work, and by means of ordinary work." Thus, the founder and his followers describe members of Opus Dei as resembling the members of the early Christian Church — ordinary workers who seriously sought holiness with nothing exterior to distinguish them from other citizens.

Opus Dei runs residential centers throughout the world. These centers provide residential housing for celibate members, undertake recruitment, and provide doctrinal and theological education. Opus Dei is also responsible for a variety of non-profit institutions called "Corporate Works of Opus Dei. A study of the year 2005, showed that members have cooperated with other people in setting up a total of 608 social initiatives: schools and university residences (68%), technical or agricultural training centres (26%), universities, business schools and hospitals (6%). The University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain is a corporate work of Opus Dei which has been rated as one of the top private universities in the country, while its business school, IESE, was adjudged one of the best in the world by the Financial Times and the Economist Intelligence Unit. The total assets of non-profits connected to Opus Dei are worth at least $2.8 billion.

Relations with Catholic leaders

The bishop of Madrid where Opus Dei was born, Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, supported Opus Dei and defended it in the 1940s by saying that "this opus is truly Dei" (this work is truly God's). Contrary to attacks of secrecy and heresy, the bishop described Opus Dei's founder as someone who is "open as a child" and "most obedient to the Church hierarchy.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII commented that Opus Dei opens up "unsuspected horizons of apostolate". Furthermore, in 1964, Pope Paul VI praised the organization in a handwritten letter to Escrivá, saying:

"Opus Dei is "a vigorous expression of the perennial youth of the Church, fully open to the demands of a modern apostolate... We look with paternal satisfaction on all that Opus Dei has achieved and is achieving for the kingdom of God, the desire of doing good that guides it, the burning love for the Church and its visible head that distinguishes it, and the ardent zeal for souls that impels it along the arduous and difficult paths of the apostolate of presence and witness in every sector of contemporary life."

The relationship between Paul VI and Opus Dei, according to Alberto Moncada, a doctor of sociology and ex-member, was "stormy". After the Second Vatican Council concluded in 1965, Pope Paul VI denied Opus Dei's petition to become a personal prelature, Moncada stated.

Pope John Paul I, a few years before his election, wrote that Escrivá was more radical than other saints who taught about the universal call to holiness. While others emphasized monastic spirituality applied to lay people, for Escrivá "it is the material work itself which must be turned into prayer and sanctity", thus providing a lay spirituality.

Criticisms against Opus Dei have prompted Catholics like Piers Paul Read and Vittorio Messori to call Opus Dei a sign of contradiction, in reference to the biblical quote of Jesus as a "sign that is spoken against. Said John Carmel Heenan, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster: "One of the proofs of God's favour is to be a sign of contradiction. Almost all founders of societies in the Church have suffered. Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer is no exception. Opus Dei has been attacked and its motives misunderstood. In this country and elsewhere an inquiry has always vindicated Opus Dei.

One of Opus Dei's most prominent supporters was Pope John Paul II. John Paul II cited Opus Dei's aim of sanctifying secular activities as a "great ideal." He emphasized that Escrivá's founding of Opus Dei was ductus divina inspiratione, led by divine inspiration, and he granted the organization its status as a personal prelature. Stating that Escrivá is "counted among the great witnesses of Christianity," John Paul II canonized him in 2002, and called him "the saint of ordinary life. Of the organization, John Paul II said:

"[Opus Dei] has as its aim the sanctification of one’s life, while remaining within the world at one’s place of work and profession: to live the Gospel in the world, while living immersed in the world, but in order to transform it, and to redeem it with one’s personal love for Christ. This is truly a great ideal, which right from the beginning has anticipated the theology of the lay state of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar period."

One-third of the world's bishops petitioned for the canonization of Escrivá. During the canonization, there were 42 cardinals and 470 bishops from around the world, general superiors of many orders and religious congregations, and representatives of various Catholic groups. During those days, these Church officials commented on the universal reach and validity of the message of the founder. For his canonization homily, John Paul II said: With the teachings of St. Josemaria, "it is easier to understand what the Second Vatican Council affirmed: 'there is no question, then, of the Christian message inhibiting men from building up the world ... on the contrary it is an incentive to do these very things' (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, n. 34).

Concerning the groups's role in the Catholic Church, critics have argued that Opus Dei's unique status as a personal prelature gives it too much independence, making it essentially a "church within a church" and that Opus Dei exerts a disproportionately large influence within the Catholic Church itself, as illustrated, for example, by the unusually rapid canonization of Escrivá, which some considered to be irregular. In contrast, Catholic officials say that Church authorities have even greater control of Opus Dei now that its head is a prelate appointed by the Pope, and its status as a prelature "precisely means dependence. Allen says that Escriva's relatively quick canonization does not have anything to do with power but with improvements in procedures and John Paul II's decision to make Escriva's sanctity and message known.

The current pope, Benedict XVI, is also a particularly strong supporter of Opus Dei and of Escrivá. Pointing to the name "Work of God", Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), wrote that "The Lord simply made use of [Escrivá] who allowed God to work." Ratzinger cited Escrivá for correcting the mistaken idea that holiness is reserved to some extraordinary people who are completely different from ordinary sinners: Even if he can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life, a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend, allowing God to work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy.

Ratzinger spoke of Opus Dei's "surprising union of absolute fidelity to the Church’s great tradition, to its faith, and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, whether in the academic world, in the field of work, or in matters of the economy, etc." He further explained:

"the theocentrism of Escrivá...means this confidence in the fact that God is working now and we ought only to put ourselves at his disposal...This, for me, is a message of greatest importance. It is a message that leads to overcoming what could be considered the great temptation of our times: the pretense that after the 'Big Bang' God retired from history."

Controversy

Throughout its history, Opus Dei has been criticized from many quarters prompting journalists to describe Opus Dei as "the most controversial force in the Catholic Church" and Escrivá as a "polarizing" figure.

Aside from the issues related to the Catholic Church, especially the practice of mortification of the flesh, controversies about Opus Dei have centered around criticisms of its alleged secretiveness, its recruiting methods, the rules governing members, alleged elitism, and the right-leaning politics of its members and the alleged participation by some in extreme right-wing governments, especially the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978.

Supporting views

According to several journalists who have worked independently on Opus Dei, such as John Allen, Jr., Vittorio Messori, Patrice de Plunkett, Maggy Whitehouse, Noam Friedlander many of the criticisms against Opus Dei are myths and unproven tales. Allen and Messori say that most of these myths were created by its opponents, with Allen adding that he perceives that Opus Dei members generally practice what they preach.

Allen, Messori, and Plunkett also state that accusations that Opus Dei is secretive are unfounded and stem from a clerical paradigm whereby Opus Dei members are expected to behave as monks and clerics (the traditional models for sanctity) who are externally identifiable as such. In contrast, he continues, its lay members, like any normal Catholic professional, are ultimately responsible for their personal actions, and do not externally represent the organization which provides them religious education. Writer and broadcast analyst John L. Allen, Jr. states that Opus Dei provides abundant information about itself. These journalists have stated that the historic roots of criticisms against Opus Dei can be found in influential clerical circles.

As to its alleged participation in the Francoist regime, British historians Paul Preston and Brian Crozier state that the Opus Dei members who were Franco's ministers were appointed for their talent and not for their Opus Dei membership. Also, there were notable members of Opus Dei who were vocal critics of the Franco Regime such as Rafael Calvo Serer and Antonio Fontan, who was the first Senate President of Spain's democracy. The German historian and Opus Dei member Peter Berglar calls any connection made between Opus Dei and Franco's regime a "gross slander." At the end of Franco's regime, Opus Dei members were 50:50 for and against Franco, according to John Allen. Similarly Álvaro del Portillo, the former Prelate of Opus Dei, said that any statements that Escrivá supported Hitler were "a patent falsehood," that were part of "a slanderous campaign". He and others have stated that Escriva condemned Hitler as a "rogue", a "racist" and a "tyrant". Various authors state that Escriva was staunchly non-political. Allen wrote that, compared with other Catholic organizations, Opus Dei's stress on freedom and personal responsibility is extraordinarily strong.

While Opus Dei spokepersons have admitted mistakes in dealing with some members and do not, as a rule, contest their grievances, supporters have rejected generalizations merely based on negative experiences of some members. Sociologists like Bryan R. Wilson write about some former members of any religious group who may have psychological motivations such as self-justification to criticize their former groups. Wilson states that such individuals are prone to create fictitious "atrocity stories" which have no basis in reality. Many supporters of Opus Dei have expressed the belief that the criticisms of Opus Dei stem from a generalized disapproval of spirituality, Christianity, or Catholicism. Expressing this sentiment, one Opus Dei member, Cardinal Julian Herranz, stated "Opus Dei has become a victim of Christianophobia. Massimo Introvigne, author of an encyclopedia of religion, argues that critics employ the term "cult" in order to intentionally stigmatize Opus Dei because "they could not tolerate 'the return to religion' of the secularized society".

Regarding alleged misogyny, John Allen states that half of the leadership positions in Opus Dei are held by women, and they supervise men. The Catholic Church defends its male priesthood by saying that "the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints."

Critical views

In the English-speaking world, the most vocal critic of Opus Dei is a group called the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN), an organization that exists "to provide education, outreach and support to people who have been adversely affected by Opus Dei." ODAN is headed by Diane DiNicola, mother of a former member, Tammy DiNicola. Other major critics are Maria Carmen del Tapia, an ex-member who was a high-ranking officer of Opus Dei for many years, liberal Catholic theologians such as Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit writer and editor, and supporters of Liberation theology, such as journalist Penny Lernoux and Michael Walsh, a writer on religious matters and former Jesuit.

Critics state that Opus Dei is "intensely secretive"— for example, members generally do not disclose their affiliation with Opus Dei in public, and under the 1950 constitution, members were expressly forbidden to reveal themselves without the permission of their superiors. This practice has led to much speculation about who may be a member. Opus Dei has been accused of deceptive and aggressive recruitment practices such as showering potential members with intense praise ("Love bombing"), instructing numeraries to form friendships and attend social gatherings explicitly for recruiting purposes, and requiring regular written reports from its members about those friends who are potential recruits.

Organisations such as ODAN further allege that Opus Dei maintains an extremely high degree of control over its members— for instance, there used to be a time when numeraries submitted their incoming and outgoing mail to their superiors to read, and members are forbidden to read certain books without permission from their superiors. Critics charge that Opus Dei pressures numeraries to sever contact with non-members, including their own families. Thus, David Clark, who assists people to leave what he calls cults, say that Opus Dei is "very cult-like".

Critics assert that Escrivá and the organization supported the governments of Augusto Pinochet, and Alberto Fujimori of Peru during the 1990s, both of which allegedly included members of Opus Dei amongst their ministers and prominent supporters. There have also been allegations that Escrivá expressed sympathy for Adolf Hitler. One former Opus Dei priest, Vladimir Felzmann, who has become a vocal Opus Dei critic, says that Escrivá once remarked that Hitler had been "badly treated" by the world and he further declared that "Hitler couldn't have been such a bad person. He couldn't have killed six million [Jews]. It couldn't have been more than four million.

Opus Dei is also accused of elitism, of targeting "the intellectual elite, the well-to-do, and the socially prominent. As a part of the Roman Catholic Church, Opus Dei has been open to the same criticisms as Catholicism in general— for example female members of Opus Dei cannot become priests or prelates.

Based on his critical study of Opus Dei, John Allen, Jr. recommended that Opus Dei should (1) be more transparent, (2) collaborate with monks and nuns who belong to religious orders, and (3) encourage its members to air out in public their criticisms of the institution.

Other views

Sociologists Peter Berger and Samuel Huntington suggest that Opus Dei is involved in "a deliberate attempt to construct an alternative modernity," one that engages modern culture while at the same time is resolutely loyal to Catholic traditions. Van Biema of Time magazine emphasises Opus Dei's hispanic roots as a source of misunderstandings in the Anglo-Saxon world, and suggests that as the United States become more hispanicized, controversies about Opus Dei (and similar Catholic organizations) will decrease.

In her 2006 book on Opus Dei, Maggy Whitehouse, a non-Catholic journalist, argues that the relative autonomy of each director and center has resulted in mistakes at the local level. She recommends greater consistency and transparency for Opus Dei, which she sees as having learned the lesson of greater openness when it faced the issues raised by The Da Vinci Code and other critics.

Opus Dei in popular culture

  • In the 1997 novel The Genesis Code by John Case, the leader of Opus Dei is portrayed as the novel's antagonist. In the novel, Opus Dei members are sent on a mission to execute children who were conceived using genetically engineered oocytes.
  • Since 2003, Opus Dei has received world attention as a result of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code and the 2006 film based on the novel. In The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei is portrayed as a Catholic organization that is led into a sinister international conspiracy. In general, The Da Vinci Code has been sharply criticized for its numerous factual inaccuracies, and its theory has been debunked by a wide array of scholars and historians. According to the Anglican Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Dr Tom Wright, the novel is a "great thriller" but "lousy history". For example, the major villain in The Da Vinci Code is a monk who is a member of Opus Dei — but in reality there are no monks in Opus Dei. The Da Vinci Code implies that Opus Dei is the Pope's personal prelature — but the term "personal prelature" does not refer to a special relationship to the Pope: It means an institution in which the jurisdiction of the prelate is not linked to a geographic territory but over persons, wherever they be. Nonetheless, Brown states that his portrayal of Opus Dei was based on interviews with members and ex-members, and books about Opus Dei. An Opus Dei spokesman questions this statement.
  • A Franco-Belgian comic book (bande dessinée) on the life of Escriva was published by Coccinelle BD in 2005. The title is Through the mountains, in reference to Escriva's escape from the Republican zone through the mountains of Andorra during the Spanish Civil War.
  • The 2007 movie Breach details the capture of the spy Robert Hanssen. Breach briefly includes dialog that refers to Hanssen trying to recruit his assistant's wife into Opus Dei. In the movie, Hanssen is portrayed as a devout Catholic who attends traditional Latin masses.
  • A film on the life story of the founder Josemaria Escriva and the history of the organization was announced by the Italian production company Lux Vide in February 2007. Possible stars to play the role of Escriva are Robert de Niro, Nicolas Cage and Antonio Banderas.
  • In the HBO series, The Sopranos, Season 5, episode 2, "Rat Pack" NY Mob boss, Carmine Lupertazzi, Sr., played by Tony Lip dies after a severe stroke. At the funeral home, Lupertazzi is laid out with his Rosary beads around his hands. Attached to the Rosary beads is a medal for Opus Dei. This infuriates his son, Little Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr., played by Ray Abruzzo who has strong feelings against Opus Dei.

See also

Footnotes

Further reading

  • Allen, John, Jr. (2005). Opus Dei: an Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church, Doubleday Religion. ISBN 0-385-51449-2 — Online excerpts: Opus Dei: An Introduction, Chapter I: A Quick Overview of Opus Dei, Chapter 7: Opus Dei and Secrecy
  • Berglar, Peter (1994). Opus Dei. Life and Work of its Founder. Scepter. — online here
  • Estruch, Joan (1995). Saints and Schemers: Opus Dei and its paradoxes. — online Spanish version here
  • Friedlander, Noam (2005). "What Is Opus Dei? Tales of God, Blood, Money and Faith" Collins & Brown. ISBN-10: 1843402882. ISBN-13: 978-1843402886. — a book review titled "A Wholesome Reality Hides Behind A Dark Conspiracy"
  • Hahn, Scott (2006). Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei. Random House Double Day Religion. ISBN 978-0-385-51924-3 — online excerpt of Chapter One here
  • Introvigne, Massimo (May 1994). "Opus Dei and the Anti-cult Movement". Cristianità, 229, p. 3-12 — online here
  • John Paul II. Sacred Congregation for Bishops. (23 August 1982). Vatican Declaration on Opus Dei. — online here
  • Luciani, Albino Cardinal (John Paul I) (25 July 1978). "Seeking God through everyday work". Il Gazzettino Venice. — online here
  • Martin, James, S.J. (25 February 1995). "Opus Dei in the United States". America Magazine. — online here
  • Messori, Vittorio (1997). Opus Dei, Leadership and Vision in Today's Catholic Church. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-450-1. — online version here
  • O'Connor, William. Opus Dei: An Open Book. A Reply to "The Secret World of Opus Dei" by Michael Walsh, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1991 — online here
  • Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (Benedict XVI) (9 October 2002). "St. Josemaria: God is very much at work in our world today". L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, p. 3. — online here
  • Schall, James, S.J. (Aug-Sept 1996). "Of Saintly Timber". Homiletic and Pastoral Review. — review of Estruch's work, online here
  • Shaw, Russel (1994). Ordinary Christians in the World. Office of Communications, Prelature of Opus Dei in the US. — online here
  • Walsh, Michael (2004). Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Powerful Secretive Society within the Catholic Church. Harper San Francisco.

External links

Opus Dei Official sites

Sites supporting Opus Dei

Sites critical of Opus Dei

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