Opus Dei has been one of the most controversial new movements within the Catholic Church. It has had many detractors, including Alberto Moncada in this issue (Moncada, 2006), and many defenders. One of its most important supporters was the late Pope John Paul II, during whose papacy Opus Dei’s founder, Josemaría Escrivá, was canonized. I know devoted Catholics who are highly critical of, for example, the Legion of Christ (another controversial organization within the Catholic Church), but who support Opus Dei. I know other Catholics who have little good to say about Opus Dei. And I know nonCatholics who look upon Opus Dei as a disturbing oddity, a religious anachronism.
It is impossible to evaluate Opus Dei objectively when one relies only on anecdotal accounts, such as those that I have heard in my limited experience. So far as I have been able to determine, there isn’t a single scientific study that systematically examines random samples of members and/or former members of Opus Dei. As with other controversial groups, this lack of scientific evidence sets the stage for claims and counterclaims as to the “badness” of the group. Such disputes become especially vexing when a group’s defenders acknowledge excesses or problems, but point to instances in which these problems or excesses do not occur. This “nobody-is-perfect” defense may be honest and valid in some cases. But in others it may be a diversion providing cover for indefensible practices tolerated or even encouraged by the group in question.
There are a large number of critical testimonies from former members of Opus Dei, sometimes eloquent reports of problems and excesses. The Spanish language Web site opuslibros.org, for example, lists hundreds of posted testimonies, including 18 posted June 2006 alone. This seems like a lot of testimonies. However, Opus Dei has a worldwide membership of 85,000 and 164,000 “cooperators,” i.e., supporters (Allen, 2005a). When placed beside the multitude of people who support Opus Dei, the complaints of a few hundred former members may seem insignificant and may even be overlooked by observers trying to evaluate the organization as a whole. They may conclude that the organization simply isn’t all that bad.
Many people who follow the line of reasoning advanced thus far stop at this point. Stopping here, however, constitutes an affront to the many people who have placed their personal pain before the public and to the probably even larger number of distressed people who are too diffident or frightened to “go public.” A grocer may not worry about a handful of eggs broken during a shipment of hundreds of boxes. However, Christians (and anybody else who claims to care about people) ought to be concerned about a handful of broken souls. The pain of one person is not negated by the joy of 100.
That is why I believe it is important to ensure that the victims of “excesses and problems” are not ignored. Their individual testimonies may not be sufficient to justify a blanket indictment of a large organization. But their voices should be heard. John Allen, who seems to say that Opus isn’t anywhere near the threat some make it out to be, seems to agree with this point:
On the other hand, the sheer number of critical ex-members around the world suggests their reports are more than isolated cases. Sometimes Opus Dei leaders have exerted undue pressure on people to join, have not responded adequately to legitimate questions, have demanded too much personal disclosure and have insisted too much on obedience to superiors. This seems less so today than in earlier eras, but the potential is still there. Such behavior should be no surprise, because any group made up of passionate believers can sometimes shade off into excess. The on-going challenge for Opus Dei, as for other bodies in the church, is to ensure that accountability and transparency are built into the system; Pope John Paul II said in 1984 that the church should be a “house of glass where all can see what is happening,” an exhortation that applies to Opus Dei as well. (Allen, 2005a)
Alberto Moncada, the author of the following article believes that Allen has been too “soft” on Opus Dei and recommends other books over Allen (Fortes Texeira & Fernandez Silva, 2003; Mazery & Mazery, 2003). Moncada’s article briefly examines how Opus Dei has changed over time and how the organization’s cultic dynamics have negatively affected its members. The paper affirms those victims who, like John Allen, call for transparency and accountability from Opus Dei.
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Allen, John. (2005, December 16). Q & A on Opus Dei. National Catholic Reporter (online). http://nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word121605.htm
Fortes Texeira, Dario, & Fernández Silva, Marcos. (2003). Opus Dei, Os Bastidores. Brasil, Verus.
Mazery, Benedicte, & Mazery, Patrize. (2003). L’Opus Dei” Une Eglise au Cœur de l´Eglise. Paris: Flammarion.
Moncada, Alberto. (2006). Opus Dei over time. ICSA e-Newsletter, 5(2). [http://www.icsahome.com/idx_icsa.enews.htm]