Opus Dei

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Opus Dei ("The Work of God", "The Work", "God's Work") is a Roman Catholic organization founded on 2nd October 1928 by St. Josemaría Escrivá, a Spanish priest. It has approximately 85,000 members in 60 countries, and is based in Rome. Pope John Paul II made Opus Dei a personal prelature in 1982, and canonized its founder on 6th October 2002.

The organization states that "the aim of Opus Dei is to contribute to [the] evangelizing mission of the Church," and that it "encourages Christians of all social classes to live consistently with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of their lives, especially through the sanctification of their work."


The organization indicates that its activities consist of "offer[ing] spiritual formation and pastoral care to its members, as well as to many others," via religious retreats and classes in Catholic doctrine. Its members also undertake many social initiatives: Opus Dei operates several hospitals, clinics, schools, and inner-city tutoring programs. For example, in the United States, it operates one college and five secondary schools, and tutoring programs in Chicago, New York City, St. Louis and Washington, DC.

Membership and practices

The Vatican Yearbook indicates that Opus Dei includes about 1,800 priests. The remainder of the 85,000 members are laypersons. Approximately a quarter of Opus Dei's members are "numeraries," who have committed themselves to celibacy in order to be more available for the organization's activities. The majority of the lay members are "supernumeraries," who are involved in Opus Dei's activities but do not make a commitment of celibacy. Opus Dei additionally has many "cooperators," who assist its activities through prayer, donations, or other means.

Famous members work as journalists or in education. Opus Dei founded Universidad de Navarra in Spain and many lower schools.

[cut description of members' roles for brevity's sake]

Criticisms of Opus Dei

Opus Dei has been criticized, by both secular and some Roman Catholic groups, for promoting an overly conservative vision of the Roman Catholic faith and allegedly engaging in questionable practices. Some critics have gone even further, alleging that it is an elitist, secretive cult, and that it attempts to infiltrate other organs of the Catholic Church, supports South-American dictatorships, and is influenced by fascist ideas. Opus Dei has also been accused of focusing on recruiting students from prestigious universities, who can then enter professions where they could influence public policy from an Opus Dei perspective. Others point to the humanitarian and spiritual relief missions that it has undertaken, such as the one located in the Mountains of Yauyos, Peru. Critics in Ireland, including some ex-Opus Dei members, accused the organisation of 'sexist exploitation' of women, whom they claimed were restricted in Opus Dei run hostels to doing manual work such as cooking and cleaning and denied any role in leadership. Others state that Opus Dei is divided into two branches, men and women. Both have parallel hierarchical structures, which meet at the top, in the person of the prelate.

Some conservative critics focus on its support for the Second Vatican Council's teachings on ecumenism and the role of the laity in the Church. Others have alleged that Opus Dei was looked upon with suspicion by Pope John XXIII and Paul VI, though supporters claim that, in fact, those popes supported the organization. The late Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, was a vocal critic of Opus Dei and criticised what was termed unacceptable behaviour and its infiltration of organisations, both secular and religious, within his archdiocese. Cardinal Hume issued Guidelines for Opus Dei within the Diocese of Westminster in December, 1981. Some Irish bishops also privately are critical of Opus Dei and its behaviour within their dioceses, with a number of bishops indicating that they do not wish Opus Dei to operate in their diocese, though because it operates as a personal prelature to the pope, bishops cannot enforce such a wish.

NB: Opus Dei has also been implicated in the Roberto Calvi affair, perhaps as a conduit for laundered Vatican money, as well as number of other conspiracies involving the Pope and the Catholic Church.

More informations by former members:

  • ODAN - Opus Dei Awareness Network
  • Opus-info - Documents, testimonies, analysis & informations about Opus Dei

Opus Dei and Catholic politics

Critics and supporters alike agree that Pope John Paul II has been a strong supporter of Opus Dei. John Paul II's press spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is perhaps the most famous member of the organization.

In 1960s Spain, Francisco Franco appointed as ministers several members of Opus Dei. These ministers are viewed as bringing a Capitalist technocrat ideology, contrasting with previous Falangist, Carlist or military ministers. At the same time, some other notorious members of Opus Dei were exiled because of their political ideas, like the founder of Diario Madrid who lived in Paris and had a leading role in the Spanish transition into democracy.

In current Spain, members of Opus Dei have been appointed as ministers by Partido Popular leader Jose Maria Aznar. Members of Opus Dei (alongside other religious or political organisations) have for decades been required to declare their membership, if asked to serve in Irish governments. In modern Irish history Opus Dei members have generally been refused appointment to cabinet posts.

Opus Dei has also been criticised by former members for its alleged treatment of women within the organisation.

Opus Dei states that its members are completely free in their personal, professional and political lives, and that the organization plays no role in the professional decisions made by members, including those who work in politics, and therefore cannot be held responsible for them.

[more information also available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A845732]