Opus Dei : An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church
The first serious journalistic investigation of the highly secretive, controversial organization Opus Dei provides unique insight about the wild rumors surrounding it and discloses its significant influence in the Vatican and on the politics of the Catholic Church.
Opus Dei (literally "the work of God") is an international association of Catholics often labeled as conservative who seek personal Christian perfection and strive to implement Christian ideals in their jobs and in society as a whole. Founded in Spain in 1928, it now has 84,000 members (1,600 of whom are priests) in eighty countries. But far from running bingo nights at local parishes, Opus Dei has become a center of controversy and suspicion both within and outside the Church. It has been accused of promoting a right-wing political agenda and of cultlike practices, aggressive recruiting, brainwashing new recruits, and isolating members from their families. Its notoriety escalated with the publication of the runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code (Opus Dei plays an important and sinister role in the novel) and with the previous pope's much-debated canonization of its founder (often linked with Francisco Franco's facist regime) and the discovery that convicted FBI spy Robert Hanson was a member of Opus Dei.
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November 01, 2005
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Excerpt from Opus Dei by John L. Allen, Jr.
A QUICK OVERVIEW OF OPUS DEI
The Tablet of London, a well-known English Catholic publication, recently published a series of jokes about various groups within the Catholic Church, and here's how the one on Opus Dei goes: How many members of Opus Dei does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The answer is, one hundred . . . one to screw in the bulb, and ninety-nine to chant, "We are not a movement, we are not a movement."
Though perhaps a bit catty, the joke makes a good point, which is that Opus Dei has sometimes been better at explaining what it is not rather than what it is. Escriva strongly insisted that Opus Dei is not a religious order, thus it is not comparable to the Franciscans or the Dominicans. Its members remain fully immersed in the world and do not retreat to monasteries or cloisters. They find God through the mundane details of daily secular life. In later years Opus Dei has fought similar battles to insist that it is not a "lay movement," because it includes clergy. This is precisely what gives Opus Dei its unique character: It is an institution of laypeople and priests together, men and women, sharing the same vocation but playing different roles. Over the years Opus Dei has been classified within Church structures in a variety of different ways: as a pious union, a priestly society of common life without vows, a secular institute, and finally, since 1982, as a "personal prelature." At each stage before the final one, Opus Dei's leading thinkers insisted that the existing structures within the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the official body of law for the Catholic Church prior to 1983, were inadequate to reflect the group's true nature. In effect, members argued, an entirely new concept, something like the personal prelature, had to be carved out in order to give Opus Dei the juridical configuration that corresponded to its original spiritual impulse and vision.
So what was that impulse?
Members of Opus Dei date the group's foundation to October 2, 1928, when Josemar-a Escriva, then a young Spanish priest making a retreat at a Vincentian monastery in Madrid, experienced a vision, revealing to him "whole and entire" God's wish for what would later become Opus Dei. Obviously the vision was not "entire" in the sense that it answered every question, since it required subsequent inspirations to demonstrate to Escriva that there should be a women's branch to Opus Dei (that came in 1930) and that Opus Dei should also include a body of priests, the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross (1943). Yet in some sense, Escriva insisted, the blueprint for Opus Dei was contained in that original experience on the Feast of the Guardian Angels in 1928. Here's how he once described it: "On October 2, 1928, the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels--by now nearly forty years have gone by--the Lord willed that Opus Dei might come to be, a mobilization of Christians disposed to sacrifice themselves with joy for others, to render divine all the ways of man on earth, sanctifying every upright work, every honest labor, every earthly occupation."