Religious organizations have long been known for their generosity and willingness to help others. But has a Catholic sect known as Opus Dei, under the guise of promoting Christianity and spreading goodwill, gone too far?
The Organization Today
Opus Dei is run out of its $47 million dollar, 17 story headquarters on 243 Lexington Street smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, New York. Consisting of over 85,000 members, the organization was founded by the Spanish priest, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas in 1928 under the basic premise of allowing each member to strive to become holy every day of their life. Escriva was known as being a very kind man but also a man who could explode with anger, a trait that could have disastrous effects, especially for women whom he regarded as sinful “rugs” that were meant to be walked upon. Escriva compiled all his beliefs into a book which is required reading for all Opus Dei followers.
As a subset of the Catholic Church, Opus Dei began recruiting members from amongst the brightest of students. The organization grew and instilled a sense of elitism amongst its members. They soon came into control of important governments posts. To outsiders, it was known as the “Holy Mafia”.
Opus Dei continues to recruit heavily today. Potential recruits are exhaustively screened before being approached. Today, members of Opus Dei are suspected of controlling high-level positions in the FBI, CIA, and other government entities. Using a method known as the “Vocation Trap”, recruiters tell prospective recruits about the non-selfish life of Opus Dei members, of how they assist others, and strive to become the holy. It is reported that recruits are pressured heavily and told that they were “meant to be chosen” by God. They are also told that failure to follow their pre-designated paths, as outlined by Opus Dei, meant eternal punishment.
So we have a organization that is a component of the Catholic Church, recruits members under the guise of leading them to path of holiness, and has grown very large which implies the leverage to work much good in the World. What could be so controversial about that?
Initial recruits are never told up front what is in store for them. They are inaugurated with the belief that they are free to come and go when they please, that they will have all their provisions supplied to them, that they can lead a holy life within the walls of the Opus Dei housing development, and everything will turn out rosy in the end. What they are not told is the bizarre practices that they will be required to take place in and the amount of freedom they are demanded to relinquish. These practices are introduced slowly over the course of the members lifetime which leads the member to more easily accept them than if they had all been presented up front. This is one of the biggest complaints detractors put forth – members are brain washed until they blindly accept anything that Opus Dei demands of them.
Members are required to give up all belongings. All monies earned, all gifts they receive, even an object that they find, must be given to Opus Dei. This has caused the financial base of Opus Dei to explode – Opus Dei is now one of the richest organizations in the World.
Members can only read books approved by Opus Dei. Even letters received are read by Opus Dei censors and edited (or thrown away) as required.
Members are forced to cease all contact with their families. No contact of any kind is granted. If a family member gets married, members are not allowed to attend the wedding. If a family member or friend dies, members are not allowed to attend the funeral. No pictures of family members are allowed. Members are totally isolated.
Members must remain silent most of their lives. They cannot talk to each other. They cannot speak unless Opus Dei says they can. They must blindly follow orders without doubting them.
Members are required to take cold showers every day. Meals are bland. Members sleep on boards laid on top of mattresses.
Members are eventually required to practice “corporal mortification” – in other words, they must whip, beat, and cut themselves as a means of “checking the desires of the flesh”. The most common form of corporal mortification practiced is the use of the “cilice”, a spiked chain worn around the upper thigh. The spikes cut into the skin and ex-members have admitted that the scars left behind never fade. A Discipline is used too – a cordlike whip used to flog themselves on the back and buttocks. Ex-members have told of hearing the wails and cries of disciplines as they whipped themselves into the night.
Pressure to conform to the rules is often heavy handed. Sharon Clasen, a former Numerary wrote:
Even after I did walk out the door, that was not the end of my experience with Opus Dei and their attempts to control my life. After a couple of days, the director called me and asked when I would be returning. I said that I was not. She tried to convince me to return to the center, by saying "Opus Dei is your real family." For four months after I left, I was harassed by members of Opus Dei. Maria actually came to my place of work. When I told her I was busy and on my way to a business meeting, she followed me on the subway, all the while talking at me about how if I did not come back, I would go to hell.
As the founding father stated: “Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. Glorified be pain! Your worst enemy is yourself”.
Today, Opus Dei is lead by Javier Echevarria. Echevarria gained much attention when he recently commented that handicap persons were a result of punishment from God for sinful sexual perversions that had been practiced by their parents. A mistaken quote or a true reflection of the spiritual premise behind this organization?