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Dialogue with an Ex-member of Opus Dei #2

Opus Dei : A Dialogue Between Friend and Foe




Now, what exactly happened on October 2, 1928?

Rules for Those Who Believe Themselves to Receive Revelations and Visions

Second Rule
To mistrust revelations, in general, and to remember that this way is very subject to illusions of the imagination or of the Devil.
Even if the vision appears to be divine, to mistrust the interpretation that is given; TO FEAR LEST PERSONAL IDEAS
We have just seen that revelations are subject to many illusions. Our own action, especially, may counterfeit the divine action, or mingle with it. The first drawback brings with it others still more grave. In fact, the revelations do not generally aim at being useful to the seer's own soul only; they lead to exterior acts, such as the teaching of a doctrine, the propagation of a devotion, prophesying, or embarking on some enterprise that requires considerable expense. If these impulses come from God, and from Him alone, NO EVIL RESULTS COULD BE FEARED. But in the contrary case, which is much more frequent and difficult to discover, the soul begins to tread in perilous paths. Hence it follows that revelations are usually a
source of danger. p. 60
-Auguste Poulain, S.J., Revelations and Visions: Discerning the True and the Certain from the False and the Doubtful

--No problem with this, the major premiss of your argument.

It is the thesis of this book--shared by many critics, including a good number of Catholic bishops--that they display a range of troubling, even sinister characteristics: fanatical personality cults surrounding the charismatic leaders; demands of blind obedience on members; a rigid and high secretive internal hierarchy; the use of mind-control techniques and unscrupulous methods of recruitment; bizarre and possibly heretical secret teachings secretly hidden from outsiders and sometimes even from adepts; heavy financial demands on members; and an emphasis on ego-destruction, causing depression and mental breakdown on an alarming scale.
-Gordon Urquhart, The Pope's Armada, p. viii

"By their fruits you will know them" (Mt. 7:20)

--Here, with your minor premiss, there are problems. First, it's up to the Magisterium to judge those things, and Escriva and Opus are praised by the Magisterium. There is nothing above but suspect and usual anti-Opus argumentation. Jesuit asceticism of the will becomes ego-destruction; religious life sacrificing of oneself becomes financial demands; internal spirituality becomes bizarre secret; spiritual direction using ascetism becomes mind control; voluntaristic vocational apostolate becomes
unscrupulous recruitment; Jesuit obedience becomes rigid and secret hierarchy; spiritual Jesuit obedience becomes blind obedience, and blind obedience to God becomes blind obedience to anything; cult for sainthood becomes fanatical personality cults. ( actually, cult for saints is normal in Church).
I have nothing to add, save that those things are not facts, but interpreted facts. And I think the grounds for those interpretations is usually suspect; it depends heavily on the zeitgeist and the point of view of the critic.

Charism (Greek, "gift") is a New Testament term for a gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on the individual for the good of the community. ...
... What does "charism" mean in the context of the movements? It is used to safeguard the supremacy of the founders as the fount of all doctrine and authority within their organizations. It preserves the "purity" of the message that can only be passed on in the manner the movement deems correct and by the people it authorizes. ...
... The "charism" allows the founders to proclaim authoritatively on every subject, not just on matters of soul, and their ideas have the same binding force on members as their spiritual teachings. This omniscient dimension of the charism reinforces the fortress mentality of the movements, isolating them from the rest of society in the belief that they have all the answers to every conceivable subject.
pp. 34-35
... It is essential to distinguish between the influence the Catholic Church exerts over the common faithful--allowing them a great deal of freedom--and the thought reform practiced by these movements.
p. 54
... The greatest danger, however, is that the institution becomes totally identified with God. Focolare and the other movements believe they have God in their pockets. God lives within their community; He is theirs to conjure up at will. It is from this conviction that all the other abuses stem: the belief in the omniscience of the movement, the glorification of the institution, and the destruction of the individual, the identification of the movement with the Church, the rigid application of its precepts, the assurance that any methods, including deception, which propagate the movement are licit. If the movement or community reveals God, possesses God, or in some way is God, everything is permissible.
p. 65
Gordon Urquhart, The Pope's Armada

Ultimately, I see the basis for the problems in Opus Dei in the uncritical implementation of the vision of a single man who is regarded in the same category as Moses, one of God's instruments of public revelation. But we must recognize that Fr. Escriva's vision derives from private revelation. Anyone who studies mystical theology and the history of Opus Dei will probably conclude that the private revelation that Fr. Escriva received finds no necessary mirror in the religious culture of Opus Dei. This is so because Fr. Escriva made constant changes to Opus Dei as it developed, in contradiction to the belief that Opus Dei was born in its complete form in private revelation. Besides, if you read accounts of private revelations among the saints, and even of private revelations that are the basis of founding charisms in the Church, the private revelations are never so extensive as to cover the complete history of an institution during the lifetime of the Founder. Yet we are treating the institutional culture of Opus Dei as if it were born from the mind of God, just as if Athena jumped out of Zeus' split head.

--It is not true that the founders can say the truth on every subjects, scientific or other. It was not the case for St Francis or St Ignatius. As St Ignatius said, obedience was required to a superior for the sake of obedience and other reasons, not for the sake of probable truth only. Assuming a charism is authentic, there is nothing wrong, indeed it is a duty to follow God's will as it is perceived. Again, the Magisterium judges those things, and the new movements are not disapproved; as long as the movements are ready to obey the Magisterium, they have all they need in terms of external control.
As I already noted, it is an obvious fallacy to say that because some movements are less liberal than the church in discipline, they must be wrongly so. By very definition, particular choices, that is particular spiritualities allowed by the Church, restrict freedom: a catholic may choose to become Jesuit, but he cannot choose to become a Jesuit while retaining the freedom of not being a Jesuit.
Actually, as usual, it's the point of view of the critic you are quoting that matters; we just have to reverse the angle to see it. He says roughly that freedom is restricted by the use of charismatic truth to justify authorities; what about the reverse: the critic just perceives this because he want to justify freedom at all costs against authorities, and so he attacks charismatic truth? He says charismatic truth is used, but in his case freedom may be used too, in order to fight truth, that is, justifying illegitimate freedom. Of course, and he forget this, we have to obey to charismatic truth. So here truth comes first, not freedom.
The book of Urquhart seems to me uninteresting, so I won't read it. On first glance, I think I would be able to prove by internal criticism that the problem comes from his point of view, not from reality.
I'm not convinced that Opus has betrayed the private revelation. I think it would be very easy, as so much postconciliar theologians do, to use the concept of "core message", etc.etc.

In the past, I have been asked, "What is the worst thing about Opus Dei?" My answer is, "They represent their own opinion as if it were doctrine."

... institutional practice finds its justification in private revelation.

Schmitt says: "[Fr. Martin's article] dealt with Opus Dei from a strictly human perspective, addressing everything in
psychological and sociological terms, without any consideration of the spiritual dimension. Thus, the quest for holiness of life is not mentioned once. Commitment to God is treated with nothing about finding, discerning (or losing) a vocation, but is reduced to crass recruitment. The beatification of Blessed Josemarķa is limited to a bureaucratic process, totally neglecting his heroic sanctity and the good judgment of the Holy See."

"Strictly human perspective" is the opposite of the"supernatural perspective" of Opus Dei that finds justification in the private revelation of Fr. Escriva. Thus the constrictive lifestyle that Opus Dei demands of the numeraries is understood as the "quest for holiness of life" without regard to the psychological and sociological consequences of such a skewed existence. The drive to expand the membership of the organization, understood as "winning new vocations," is supported by the regimented interpretation of vocation as well as the dubious assumption that membership in Opus Dei is itself an intrinsic good that should be desired for others. The beatification of Fr. Escriva is constructed as the affirmation of God through the instrumentality of the Church without regard to the truth of opposing human testimony.

What I would say is, let's have a little more "human perspective." Then we will be able to solve the very real human problems that arise in Opus Dei with human solutions.

--If a private revelation is authentic, I find it perfectly logical to follow it as an expression of God's will, provided the essentials are under magisterial supervision. I don't see any difference between the link Escriva-Opus and the link Loyola-Jesuits: the founder is divinely inspired and is under the will of God.
I think there is a little confusion in your objection, and it reminds me the use, by some theologians, of the distinction between infallible and non infallible teachings in order to escape doctrinal obedience. Assuming you are convinced that Mgr. Escriva is a Saint, you would follow him as Peter followed Christ, and you would not ask yourself, provided he doesn't contradict doctrine, if what he says is explicitly doctrinal or not; if he is recognized by the church you would rather say that his teaching is, by implication, alike doctrine. Also, you can deduce a lot of things from doctrine by logical implication; and clever as were Jesuit theologians , I think they could do this in good faith and without any manipulation of magisterial teaching.
Another point: do not forget that a person or group can choose to give a message the same certainty as doctrine; in contingent matters, they are free to follow what their minds tell them, e.g. if you see directly a miracle by Escriva, you're free to think it is a miracle, even if no doctrine garantee this.
What I say here doesn't prove you're wrong about alledged "majoration of orthodoxy", but since you remain very general in your criticism, I have to be suspicious (ad hominem) , considering other stuff you wrote: you're likely to minimize orthodoxy.
Your appeal to psychology and sociology against supernatural spirituality is valid and classic inasmuch as it is an appeal to reason and good sense. However I'm very suspicious that it has become a common abuse, where the supernatural is not only checked but submitted to the natural. What, for example, can empirical psychology understands in harsh (and normative) asceticism? Well, probably not a lot, and it will depend on the school of psychology you choose. Still worse, human sciences are soft sciences, vulnerable to ideology and zeitgeist, so they can do enormous harm to spirituality by giving pseudo-scientific credentials to anti-supernatural points of view (ODAN refers to psychology to condemn ascetism; some are even talking of masochism!!); all what they do is conveying a worldly and superficial conception of life and human nature. Those sciences are not really at fault: they are just guilty of not being philosophy, that is, of being stricty concentrated on empirical facts in a narrow fashion.
Take another example: suppose a sociologist would find that all members of Opus are musicians, or earn $40,000 and over. Would this have any supernatural importance? Of course not. Saving the souls of musicians or rich people would be as good as saving anyone else. So giving importance to that would mean that your point of view is not supernatural; a legitimate choice, but no more than the other one. Like if one were saying that latin or mathematics at school are correlated with children from high income families. So what? There is nothing there against the intrinsic value of latin. Another example: it may be thought that the spirituality of work in Opus
excludes some people with severe handicap. Is this unchristian?



Opus insists that its members are free to make their own professional and political decisions, its task being to guide them toward the correct moral choices. But there is a fatal duality in the scheme. While Opus pushes its members to succeed as adults in the secular world, it treats them as children in religious matters. "You need a director [a priest] in order to offer yourself, to surrender yourself ... by obedience," Escriva told his followers. (He spoke of his recruits as the "nursery.")
Through weekly confession, "heart-to-heart" talks, known as "confidences," and other contacts, members of Opus Dei receive instruction on every aspect of their lives. On the one hand, they are told, "Obey and you will be saved," said Father Pedro Miguel Lamet, former director of the Spanish religious weekly Vida Nueva. On the other, they are urged to succeed in a competitive world in order to attract new members and contribute to Opus Dei's considerable financial needs. The conflict between child and adult often ends in rebellion against a "religious prison," as one recruit described it, and explains why Opus Dei has produced so many disillusioned former members. Detailed supervision of members' lives also makes it difficult for Opus to distance itself from scandals in which its followers become involved.
-Penny Lernoux, People of God

--This is close to what I think: classical Jesuit obedience must be adapted to make it work in Opus, because numerarii are lay people in the world. The system must be reinforced. What Lernoux is talking about is really the difference and potential conflicts between natural secular life and supernatural vocation. Of course, if you're a dean of faculty you become used to a dominant position, and it may become difficult to obey a director, or, for that matter, the supreme magisterium itself. On the other hand, to say that supernatural obedience is childish is nothing but an interpretation, totally dependent on the point of view. An interpretation I'm trying to interpret in those pages...
(Actually, there is a trend among theologians to consider as "not adult" certain things: fear of damnation, or of Satan, strict obedience to magisterium, miracles, some devotions, even pilgrimages, etc... This is nothing but sophistry, trying to avoid the real issues about truth or falseness by treating them through psychological filters: because something is sometimes linked to immaturity, one is trying to conclude that's per se immature. In that context, "not adult" means "not trendy among intellos", and nothing more)

The Father, in the person of the prelate general, is the primary bond that encourages members to transfer their capacity for rational analysis to a superior authority. This authority conditions them to abide by internal covenants that would not be tolerated in an external society. Commented Moncada: "Since one must be submissive to the Father and those who stand in his stead, and even 'sacrifice one's judgment,' the negation of individual rights is plain." Such obedience frowns upon internal criticism and stifles all personal opinions concerning the apostolate. Under these conditions, one's brothers in the faith turn into secret informers. ...

... The absolute surrender of one's judgment to a superior, it has been suggested, breeds a form of ethical childishness. Another is that it provokes abnormally high stress levels among younger members. "Stress is a consequence of the constant dissimulating toward the outside ... Aspiring numeraries, for example, are advised to tell their parents that they have made no commitment to the Work. From the outset, one's sense of honesty is distorted," Moncada continued.

--The first paragraph is pure sophistry. Of course, things in Opus would not be tolerated outside Opus, but the numerarius is not outside! The same thing is true about the church: duties of christians are not the same as those of non-christians. This is not a negation of rights, but a use of rights. See what I say on Jesuit obedience. The petitio principii runs as follow: members are abused, since they have to submit themselves to things non-members are not submitted to; this presuppose that things imposed upon members that would be undue burden for non-members are abuses, without any independent proof or argumentation: i.e.they are abused because they are abused.
The second paragraph calls for stress management, not necessarily for eliminating what causes stress. Marriage is causing a lot of stress during a lifetime, and this doesn't prove anything against marriage, since a lot of good things are causing stress, like virtue or its acquisition. Sense of honesty and discretion must be evaluated in themselves, not according to stress criterium. That is, protection of potential vocation and the limitation of right of others to know something are the real issues, not stress. Or, at the very least, it's a petitio principii to consider stress the main issue without independent argumentation to support this.

Opus Dei rejects the suggestion that its means of formation result in a collective distortion of moral standards. "Opus Dei does not get involved, indeed cannot get involved ... in the professional, family, social, political, and cultural matters of its members," it repeats. But Opus Dei remains keenly interested in influencing public opinion by placing certain of its members in key media positions. This obviously has advantages, but it also makes a lie out of the affirmation that it does not involve itself in the professional, social, or economic affairs of its members. Opus Dei, nevertheless, remains firm in dismissing any such intention. Opus Dei controls the lives of its numeraries by a subtle combination of suggestion and "holy coercion."
Robert Hutchinson, Their Kingdom Come, p. 192

--I will look at this more in detail later, about casuistry. At the moment, let's say that both the critics and Opus could be right, because religious and profane lives are not totally independent from each another: there is a pure profane part, a pure religious part, and a mixed part. Opus is not involved in purely profane matters, but it is involved in mixed religious-profane matters, e.g. moral ones involving natural law, etc.

Since you are right now at the outer circle of Opus Dei, I am not surprised that you find the organization and the people attractive, not only as human beings but also in terms of the spiritual dimension. I believe that the life of prayer, the traditional Christian asceticism, and the solemn liturgy are all intrinsically good things.
However, the modus operandi of Opus Dei is to constrict the freedoms and demand more and more from the members over an extended period of time. We are talking here about years and years. It is a slow, subtle process. I have used the metaphor "garrote" to describe it.
This privation of individual freedoms in Opus Dei is not required by the Church of ordinary lay people. Nor are the ever increasing demands--psychological, physical, financial--placed on the members. But well-intentioned, devout, and good people are susceptible to the subtle psychological pressure that Opus Dei doggedly imposes upon members in order to gradually compel them to conform to the ideal of Fr. Escriva.
I believe that abuse exists in using theology as well as the name of God to make these increasing demands and progressive restrictions mandatory, eventually citing the rubric of mortal sin when the member is sufficiently susceptible.
I think that this approach to spirituality is wrong and harmful in many cases.

--See above about the fallacy "This is not an obligation for non-members, so it should not be one for members". See about Jesuit surrender of the will.
What remains is the very complex issue of informed consent, that is, the explicitness with which the kind of surrendering to God is presented. Question: can there be anyway an excess in that surrendering, if the goal is sanctification, taken seriously? Not easy to answer, on my part...



Deception, not always malicious, is institutionalized in Opus Dei. This appears to have been influenced and in some cases directly instigated by Fr. Josemaria Escriva, who judged it necessary in specific situations to accomplish what he believed to be a worthy objective-the propagation and expansion of the organization.
A short explanation of Fr. Escriva's attitude seems apropos here. I believe that Fr. Escriva considered the organization more important than individuals in this specific sense: he believed that the organization was of divine origin and, therefore, that the welfare of individuals was equivalent to their membership in the organization.
This is not always the case.
Fr. Escriva used the metaphor of a ship on the way to heaven to describe Opus Dei, guaranteeing anyone with passage on this ship salvation. This belief accounts for the pictures of ships that visitors will find in Opus Dei centers.When a numerary expressed sympathy for a member who had left Opus Dei, known as "the Work," he would respond, "Be sorry for the Work!" Fr. Escriva's words are documented in internal publications and transmitted in Opus Dei's oral tradition.
This remark is also confirmed by Maria del Carmen Tapia.
Fr. Escriva's words reveal a harshness toward former members and what I believe is misplaced devotion to an abstraction, the organization, so that kindness and charity toward non-abstracted former members suffers by comparison. The effect of this wrongful attitude is that former members, some of whom may have devoted heart and soul to the organization for more than half a lifetime, are treated like cigarette butts discarded after a good smoke. I think this treatment is ill deserved.

--I'm not so sure. First, it doesn't seem to be the case of all ex-members, according to sources available. For instance, some quit for family or health reasons, without any underlying conflicts.
Second, if an order really believes in its providential mission, all the more if it has a defensive system, it will protects itself against individual failures so that the remaining members won't be "contaminated". I've got the impression by direct observation, although without irrefutable proof, that the more decaying an religious order is, the more lenient it is toward those who quit (or, let's say, indiscriminately lenient, without discernment), as if it was a symptom that the order doesn't believe anymore in itself, or in sacred commitments. As if it was no big deal to renounce one's sacred vows. Well, those sins are attacks on faith and charity has to protect the faith ( hence there is no contradiction between charity and excommunication). I suspect strongly that Opus attitude has deep historical roots grounded on centuries' experience, that is on prudence. It may explain why it is not decaying...
Deception, as you say, is a complex matter. It brings me to a very important jesuitic concept: casuistry. To my knowledge - and it was a surprise to me - the critic J.I.B. Gonzales (you can find his critic on Tapia's book, at Amazon.com) is the only one who has talked about "misguided casuistry". It is very easy here to add the word "misguided" because casuistry is by itself dealing on very fine lines. That was always a main criticism against the Jesuits: that with casuistry they were able to justify nearly anything (as you say below). That's why it's a very important concept, linking Opus to Jesuits by another aspect. But is casuistry a bad thing? The answer here cannot be clear cut; only case by case analysis can lead to some conclusions.
Just an example: telling the truth. You should not lie, but not everybody is entitled to know all truths (Catechism), especially if, for instance, a vocation would be put into jeopardy, etc. etc. Again: everybody is free, but it depends on the meaning of "freedom" , on what kind of freedom one is talking about; everybody can quit, but this mean everybody is free to commit a mortal sin with possibly eternal consequences, etc. etc. There is no lie in all this, nor anything illogical; it's jesuitic cleverness. Linked to a defensive system, to a spirituality of discretion, it can explain a lot of things and perceptions. The real question is not about Opus, but about casuistry and its interpretation. Is it deception in all cases? It is necessary for the critic to be as subtle as the casuist to evaluate this. This is not the main quality of the average journalist.
Also, another interesting historical data I've read somewhere is that 17th-18th century casuistry was most widespread among canonists - and Opus is particularly competent in canon law .

PS. When Tapia wanted a transcript of her studies, a member answered that she did not follow any courses, and a professor said she had not done any studies; 10 months later, a Roman Congregation said that, according to Opus, this meant precisely that no "official" studies or courses had taken place, since they were not "revalidated" (presumably by a university), and that there were no record about that. This is a rather stricly legalist approach,and, one may think, a defensive one, but I don't think we can forbid this approach. EG. there is no strict obligation of disclosure about internal matters or documents, etc. The counterpart is that this will cause suspicion outside, and Opus will have to live with that, a normal consequence of its choice the institution seems to accept.

Back to deception in Opus Dei. The best example is the practice of responding inconsistently to queries about membership in the organization. Sometimes members say they belong to Opus Dei, sometimes they do not, and sometimes they change the topic or avoid the question altogether. I was instructed, as many other numeraries were, not to reveal to my parents that I was a member of Opus Dei. I was given permission to do so only after some years, by which time it was very obvious and did not need to be explicitly stated.

--I think casuistry here would run on the precise interpretation of the word "member". If the person asked is not a "full" member, he can say he's not a member "in that sense" without stating this precision. It's like Billy Clinton who didn't smoke in the sense that he didn't inhale. I think also that Opus is right in thinking that not every parent has a right to full truth on that matter. Interestingly, you say that some members are talking more. This clearly means that the practice of Opus is not the same in all cases, it is circumstantial, and this is prefectly good logic: only some parents will not "understand". At the same times, some Opus members are justified to declare "Opus doesn't say not to speak to parents", cause they just mean "about your vocation in Opus", or cause in a lot of cases they say it's OK to talk with parents...
By the way, this may explain the divisions between critics.

I learned from a series of articles in the National Catholic Reporter in the late eighties that there existed a secret Constitution, one provision of which required members not to reveal the membership of fellow Opus Dei members. The Constitution also contains odd provisions, such as those prohibiting a person "with a limp" or a person who is "excessively ugly" from joining as a numerary. ... the existence of this Constitution was never revealed to me. I have learned from the same publication that an edited version of this Constitution has been released to the public, in which all controversial
provisions were deleted, and others besides, so that a small percentage of the original Constitution has been served up for public inspection.

--The "odd" provisions are coming directly from a Catechism of Trent paragraph: On Holy Orders, qualifications for the
priesthood: "Finally, those who are notably maimed or deformed should not be admitted. A defect or ugliness of this kind cannot but be offensive and stand in the way of the due administration of sacraments".
By the way, I think this is giving a hint about Opus spirit: One is getting the impression of a composite nature, as if Mgr Escriva had pieced together elements taken here and there in the history of spirituality and religious orders.
I'm not sure there may be an obligation to make public internal documents. It may run against the "ordinary life" charism, according to which members do not cultivate auto-conscienness about Opus, do not check about this or that rule, but follow their superiors instead; this may be a part of "good spirit". Another reason is that Opus, from the beginning, was attacked. While under scrutiny by hostile elements (NCR will do all it can do against Opus), no doubt Opus feels those elements are not entitled to know everything. I think there is no strict moral obligation here.

We also know from the testimony of Maria del Carmen Tapia that Fr. Escriva altered the original 1950 Constitution without the knowledge and approval of the Holy See: One day Don Alvaro came and told me that, at the Father's order, it was necessary to change the punctuation and a few words on a page in the volume of the Constitutions, approved by perpetuity by the Holy See and printed in Grottoferratta. We had to find the same type of paper, color of ink, and bind the volume in exactly the same way, so that the replacement of the page and the other changes would not be noticed. Today, I am convinced that the Holy See was totally ignorant of the fact that the Constitutions that had been approved as "holy, perpetual, and inviolable" had undergone changes. p. 168

This mendacious revisionism has not stopped. In Robert Hutchinson's Their Kingdom Come, Fr. Raimundo Panikkar, a
former numerary, relates that Opus Dei forged and destroyed documents at the highest level of the Vatican archives according to a modus operandi that by now should be considered entirely consistent with the institutional culture of Opus Dei.

Raimundo Panikkar told a Jesuit editor in Zurich that a highly placed member of the Roman Curia had discovered two priests from the Villa Tevere in the archives of his Congregation removing or replacing documents about Opus Dei that we know should be there. "In some cases only empty file folders remain," one Vatican researcher, Dr Giancarlo Rocca, claimed. "Several times we have found files where the original document has been removed and another substituted in its place It is very serious. Their way of writing history is false." p. 367

--If proven, those facts are no doubt serious symptoms. At the same time, it may be understood that a defensive system, with all the good it may produce, may become overdefensive in some instances. In those cases, yes, Opus needs reform. At the same time, I remember 2 things: Opus has surely enemies in Rome; and anti-Opus thinking is so discredited by the average criticism it is producing (even if not as bad as the Unofficial Homepage) that to my mind the facts must be doubled-checked.

The Opus Dei claim that it provides scholarships for poor people deceptively hides the fact that this liberality is at least in part self-serving. In the case of women, the objective of these scholarships is to cultivate them for recruitment as assistant numeraries and to train them so that if they do join Opus Dei, they can successfully accomplish their duties of cooking for and cleaning Opus Dei residences. According to Maria del Carmen Tapia:
Although these schools receive government subsidies and private contributions, their essential purpose is not to give the students job training, but to recruit girls between the ages of 12 and 15, and sometimes even younger, as Opus Dei auxiliaries (servants). They are generally the daughters of impoverished families, and the parents are happy that their daughters are going to school and allow them to go with Opus Dei numeraries, when the latter visit their village p. 225
What is true of the women's section is also true of the men's. Opus Dei uses its vocational training centers and the financial assistance thereby channeled in order to recruit new members.

--I'm not sure about the meaning of "self-serving". Charity is never purely for people, it is directed toward God first: to love people for the love of God (Catechism). It's goal is mostly, though not only, conversion, thus salvation of souls. In that sense Catholic charity is always self-serving: to make disciples "for" the Church. That a particular spirituality is more voluntaristic proves nothing, unless we interpret "self-serving" in a human egoism sense, a malicious interpretation, since self-service can be in the service of sanctification, that is, of God.

Opus Dei is secretive about its finances. It tries to avoid issuing official receipts for donations, a fact that has elicited outrage from a family friend. When I attended a retreat a few years ago and asked for an official receipt, I was not given one. Maria del Carmen Tapia reports that the financial statements of corporations that Opus Dei controls and uses as a front for its activities register a significant proportion of revenue from donors that are not identified. I know that Opus Dei publishes no official financial statements. The prelature is accountable only to the Holy See once every five years.

--This seems to me a canon law problem. If those lay people want to be as ordinary as possible, if they don't want to cultivate an explicit identity apart from sanctification, those measures can be seen the same way as the "discretion" issue in Opus. I think discretion is not only applied toward external world but also inside the institution; it's really a part of the spirituality. But you know this better than myself, isn't it?
Your story about the receipt is news to me. I received everything of that sort without asking.

The authoritarian structure of Opus Dei points to Fr. Escriva as the source of most if not all of the organization's deceptive practices. Indeed, testimony of former numeraries indicates that he was not above deception. In Hutchinson's account, Fr. Wladimir Felzmann, a numerary for 20 years, explains that Fr. Escriva was the direct cause of the institutionalization of mendacity in Opus Dei. Fr. Escriva is said to have adopted the maxim of which the Jesuits had been accused in the eighteenth century, that the "end justifies the means," in contradiction to the fundamental principle of moral theology that an evil means cannot justify a good end.
Felzmanns third revelation-that Escriva had an "idiosyncratic concept" of the truth-was so unexpected as to seem almost derisory. Felzmann insisted that Escrivas ethic had left an indelible mark upon the institution. Citing an example, he said parents were systematically "tricked" concerning the vocations of their children. He also alleged that business deals involving what the Founder called pilleria (dirty tricks) were justified on the grounds that "our life is a warfare of love, and for Opus Dei all is fair in love and war." pp. 15-16

--Jesuitism and casuistry, yes. The problem is that casuistry is by nature subtle and is precisely a way of justifying what appears to others as bad means while respecting the moral principle. As I said, it is impossible to argue in a general way on this, so on my part I have no definite opinion, save that Opus is Jesuitic in the classical sense.
There is no doubt that Mgr Escriva considered some parents, or kind of parents, as potential sinful obstacles to vocation. In this he followed St. Liguori, as I will show, and the common theology of vocation manuals likely to be in use in his youth. He thought that the parents, not himself, were putting undue pressure on their children, because God should come first. The principle is classical. The practice and/or excesses are to be judge by prudence.
He wrote:
Conversations # 104 Many of their problems reach us through our magazine. One of the most common arises when parents seek to impose their ideas on their children, deciding their future for them. ... It is even more frequent if they are thinking of following a call from God to work in the service of souls. Is there any justification for this attitude on the part of parents? Doesn't it violate the freedom which young people need if they are to become personally mature?
... And part of prudence consists precisely in seeking advice. It would be presumption - for which we usually pay dearly - to think that we can decide alone, without the grace of God and without the love and guidance of other people, and especially of our parents.
Parents can, and should, be a great help to their children....; on other occasions they should encourage their children to seek other suitable people such as a loyal and sincere friend, a learned and holy priest or an expert in career guidance. Advice does not take away freedom. ... Parents have to be on guard against the temptation of wanting to project themselves unduly on their children or of moulding them according to their own preferences. They should respect their individual God-given inclinations and aptitudes. If their love is true, this is easy enough... After giving their advice and suggestions, parents who sincerely love and seek the good of their children should step tactfully into the background so that nothing can stand in the way of the great gift of freedom that makes man capable of loving and serving God. ...
Just a few words more to refer in particular to the last case that you mentioned, the decision to give oneself to the service of the Church and of souls. I think Catholic parents who do not understand this type of vocation have failed in their mission of forming a Christian family. They probably are not aware of the dignity that Christianity gives to their vocation to marriage.

Opus Dei does make changes, often slowly, without admitting its mistakes.

--Consequence of a defensive system, otherwise very useful.

One pervasive complaint about Opus Dei, for example, is the severe restriction on the numeraries' freedom. For example, official policy does not allow female numeraries to attend the weddings of friends or relatives. Sometimes, numeraries are not even allowed to attend the funerals of close relatives, including parents and siblings. Part of the rationale here is to discourage the development of sentiment that would weaken the emotional bond of numeraries to Opus Dei.
I have been told that this restriction has been eased. Female numeraries are now allowed to attend family weddings, for example, but they must obtain explicit permission from the directors, who nonetheless may opt to refuse it.

--Of course! Opus life is a "kind of" religious life. Classical tridentine religious life, with rules that stems from medieval monachism. It's a spirituality that comes from a long tradition. The surprise comes only from the fact that that kind of religious life has been a little forgotten... But part of it will come back.

Still another complaint has been the "lack of informed consent." In the past, numerary and supernumerary members were accepted into Opus Dei without any adequate explanation of what they were getting into. The Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. notes: "Some controls, like the opening of all personal mail, corporal mortification, and donation of entire salaries are not revealed until after the initial commitment has been made" (odan.org). Only after one year-and-a-half was I told about the corporal mortifications of Opus Dei, in which, for example, I was required to wear a spiked device for hours around my thigh.
Moreover, I was never informed that an Opus Dei Constitution existed, despite that fact that a religious constitution is a fundamental document that regulates religious orders and congregations in the Church. I was placed under psychological pressure to convey my private property and family inheritance to Opus Dei, whereas in the first year of membership, I had been informed that individual members retain the right to private property and no such thing as common property exists in Opus Dei, in contrast to the setup of many religious orders.

Now Opus Dei appears to have taken pains to conduct lengthy talks explaining the nature of the commitment that members undertake, although I wonder whether a one-sided introductory series of talks presenting the organization in the best light will ever adequately address the issue of '"lack of informed consent."

--It is interesting to see that Opus is showing prudence and care. Apart from that, you're right, this seems to be a crucial topic about Opus, but also a very complex one. More about that in my page on St.Liguori and vocation. I think Opus must make sure a candidate enters the Prelature with right intentions, and right intentions imply prudence about internal vocation and that prudence implies information. The problem is that Opus cannot foresee everthing in detail and that it may be better to wait for the candidate to become ready before talking about , e.g., corporal mortification. So, information is necessary, no doubt, but not too much at the same time. That being said, Opus has certainly committed prudential mistakes in the past and will in the future. The line between this and deceiving is too subtle for me to judge. At the same time, I think concepts like sanctification and giving everything to God are rather clear about what lies ahead, although they may be not sufficiently experimented by the candidate. More about it later.
Up to that point, my main idea about angry ex-members who had no problem of doctrinal orthodoxy or of discipline was that of a "bad divorce". And I thought that bad divorces were less numerous in other orders because those were often decaying, having destroyed all defensive system. I feel now that that needs qualifications. If there is a lot of bad divorces with converging complaints like "abusive husbands" or "pressure from the parents at the time of marriage", we must look closer at some possible general causes of shaky marriages. Without systematically blaming Opus for everything, I will show later that the institution is taking risks concerning vocations.

What is inherently deceptive about them is that Opus Dei uses changes to demonstrate that the practices that are the subject of criticism do not exist or have never existed. In effect, reform is applied retroactively. Opus Dei thus eludes criticism by becoming a moving target.
These are just some of the subtly deceptive practices in Opus Dei. There are more, I assure you. The institutionalization of what at first appears to have been a relatively harmless brand of falsehood has developed to the point at which it undermines the credibility of individual Opus Dei members and that of the institution itself.
Opus Dei assigns a battery of numeraries to regularly write to the press, usually to propound a particular point of Opus Dei ideology, such as the sanctification of ordinary work. The whole process may appear harmless enough when it concerns non-controversial aspects of our Catholic religion. However, it is inherently deceptive. It presents opinions as if they were independently formulated, when in fact the opinions are in part corporate because they are originally composed by Opus Dei members and have been screened by the institution. The abuse inherent in this deception becomes even more apparent when Opus Dei unsheathes its claws and bares its fangs at its most public critics.

--I think testimonies and above all Opus defensive system makes the facts you're referring likely to be true. On my part I believe them. The theological question is: is casuistry inherently deceptive? I think the answer must be: it depends. You write yourself: "in part corporate" I don't think we can conclude from this that an opinion was not, in a first step, independent. Jesuits were intelligent people;they knew those objections in advance.
The same casuistry holds about the moving target concept. Remember, Billy didn't smoke in some sense. Jesuitism has just to find the appropriate "sense". Another way to escape: Opus can say this or that was not a policy, but a personal decision by some director, etc.etc. The fact is that if Opus sees a question as hostile, it will give a reply in a strategic-hostile fashion. The question, to be resolved on a case by base basis, remains: are reasonable limits trespassed?



I think there have been changes, although many important aspects of the religious subculture remain the same. In particular, I believe that Opus Dei is now a bit more careful not to treat numeraries in the heavyhanded manner that Maria del Carmen Tapia was, even though I am quite sure that the nutty yelling a la Fr. Escriva is still common.
.... At least one numerary had recurrent nightmares that, happily, have stopped. But even until very recently, I keep learning of the occasional numerary who has ended up in the psychiatric clinic. This has to stop! Something is definitely wrong with Opus Dei if this keeps happening.

--Yes, changes had occured. The first reason is obedience to bishops and curia. The other reason is the council, despite what have been said: Opus implemented the conciliar reforms in a very wise and prudent manner, did not make the enormous mistakes linked to the so called "spirit of Vatican II" (for instance, the council asked for Latin and gregorian to be kept, not the "spirit" I guess); it has done the contrary of what were doing the decaying orders that misinterpreted the council. A good guess is that Opus is among those who are the closest to a right interpretation of the council. Opus is one of the most conciliar orders!
It is easy to say that something has to stop, it is more difficult to say what and why. You think Opus is responsible for some suffering. That is probably a part of the truth, as I will show in my Liguori page. But things may be more subtle, also. The individual member may be at fault in a number of instances. We have also to remember crucial facts: that most numerarii never had any such problems, that supernumerarii (more than 50% of membership) never had any problems, it seems. So where is the cause exactly? Intellectual inflation runs high about that and I feel ex-members who go for an all-out anti-Opus thinking are doing a great disservice to everybody, including themselves, by mixing up everything and creating an atmosphere where truth cannot be found. Great care and prudence are necessary here.

The case for "mendacious revisionism" that I have earlier described is very well documented in a remarkably balanced
scholarly work, Joan Estruch, Saints and Schemers: Opus Dei and Its Paradoxes (Oxford University Press, 1995). The Opus Dei you know now is not the Opus Dei of the 1930's, not the Opus Dei of the 1950's described by Maria del Carmen Tapia and criticized by Hans Urs von Balthasar, nor the Opus Dei that I know . I am sure that large chunks of the Opus Dei of these periods have been carried over into the present, but essential changes, possibly occult, have been made.
The articles about Opus Dei published in The Tablet <nov.2001> confirms what I have been suspecting all along. Opus Dei has indeed changed. The Opus Dei you know now is not the one that I knew.

--Probably. Another possibility is that The Tablet has changed a little too! The next will be the National Catholic Reporter perhaps... There is another possibility about Opus, that I am inclined more and more to believe. The organisation was never "conservative" in a deep sense, it was only so in the eyes of some critics because things that were changing in Opus were never the things the critics wanted to be changed. In a way Opus is a militia, but I think also there was a great deal of improvisation, especially under Mgr Escriva, as if the officers not always knew what to do with the disciplinary structure, or as if the structure itself had not been always coherent, as you said at some point. This improvisation, I feel, is the explanation of what is sometimes going wrong in Opus: it creates imprudent situations, as my Liguori page will point out.



Irish Times - Monday, June 26, 2000
Opus Dei must cherish all its members
By Dr John Roche

The Catholic Church has considerable experience in drawing like groups gradually within the fold of a balanced orthodoxy, and I greatly hope that the Pope has moved it in that direction, away from its narrow obsession with itself. However, from the former members and distressed parents who still contact me, it seems that Opus Dei remains highly secretive, still alienates many young people from their parents and society, and often brings about a personality disorder in its members.

--True, discretion is part of the basic charism and spirituality (and, in part, humility, see:
Forge #942 Try to ensure that people don't notice when you lend a helping hand; try not to be praised or seen by anyone|... so that, being hidden like salt, you may give flavour to your normal surroundings.

I think it would be terrible imprudence to let it go. Part of the parents' problem is surely due to zeitgeist. Another part, and some members problems will be adressed in my page on St. Liguori.

I am now in a better position to grasp certain features of Opus Dei that I only dimly recognised as a member. Opus Dei
disingenuously claims to be a lay organisation, yet at its higher levels of authority it is run by its priests. They formulate policy, take the major executive decisions, and maintain discipline. To say Opus Dei is "lay" is rather like saying the Russian army is an army of privates.
The prevention of the emergence of autonomy of thought among its lay numeraries, and their preservation as a compliant secular arm, require constant vigilance by the governing elite among its clergy (and their selected lay auxiliaries). Control is maintained by making it very difficult for members to analyse objectively their experiences within Opus Dei or to criticise it. Soon after becoming a member I was told that any criticism of Opus Dei is contrary to the will of God. Almost every detail of the lives of the members, and of the information they receive, is supervised.

--Yes, discipline of religious orders, 1600-1960. Lay in a sense, not in another.

Members are trained by the very nature of Opus Dei to maintain a wall of secrecy towards outsiders and towards each other.
Logic is disparaged and the semantics of ordinary language undermined in a remarkably Orwellian manner. For example:
"Force [potential recruits] to come in, push them. It is perfectly compatible with the most delicate respect for freedom of souls."
(The Founder, Cronica iv, 1971.)

--Yes, discretion is part of the Way. I'm not so sure about orwellianism. As usual, it depends. The Gospel says that obeying to God is true freedom and the whole postconciliar rhetoric works on this again and again.

So extraordinarily successful are these techniques that many members sincerely believe they are as free as ordinary lay persons and that Opus Dei offers spiritual guidance only, and does not interfere with the other dimensions of their lives. However, some members - including priests - do partly recognise what is going on and are very unhappy about it, but are unable to change anything.
It has taken me years to understand why leaving Opus Dei plunged me - as it has so many others - into a long period of acute emotional trauma. Opus Dei insists repeatedly that it is a "loving family" and "mother", and numeraries are pressed to invest their affective lives, and abandon their egos entirely to Opus Dei and its founder.
However, Opus Dei also sees itself as a ruthless and highly disciplined multinational corporation with its members as units of production who should always be worked to exhaustion. Not only that, if they fail to produce - to win recruits, to bring in a substantial income - or lack absolute loyalty to the organisation, their "mother" may become cold and harsh. All of this can set up irresolvable conflicts that are immensely damaging to the lives of the members.

--I think this is likely in some instances. An army by some aspects, a family in some others. Not for everybody. See my Liguori page.
However Opus is not the only responsible instance in the conflicts. Bad members, traitors, disobedient members may be also at fault. In the postconciliar period, some orders went into terrible crisis because lots of their members thought suddenly they had reformators vocation. The disaster followed...

There is more. No particular friendships are allowed to numeraries, nor are they allowed to have normal friendships with non-Opus Dei members. All relations with outsiders are on a basis of recruitment or some other form of self-interest for the organisation. Contacts with family are reduced to a minimum. There are no contacts with the women members or with any women other than in a strict, professional setting.The fact that numeraries are not allowed even a normal friendship is surely highly damaging to their affective lives. While there is a diffused companionship among members, which is sometimes warm, I believe this is not adequate sustenance for their affective needs.

--Opus must be extremely prudent with those suggestions of abandoning classical rules of religious life. A very dangerous postconciliar path that can kill Opus. Let's wait at least 50 years. On the other hand, "affective needs" needs to be tested to make sure the candidate is fit.

Once even that is withdrawn - as can occur when a member is seen as disaffected or useless to the organisation or leaves - I believe that along-developing but latent psychological trauma, caused by these two structural defects of Opus Dei, may suddenly be activated. Addressing this, I now believe, should be the priority in any reform of Opus Dei.

--What the discipline and militia will become? It is very easy to talk about those things in an abstract way.

These problems could be reduced if Opus Dei were truly to cherish its members. This can be achieved if it unreservedly treats them warmly and values them highly, whether they are enraptured by the founder or critical of him, "company men" or strong individuals, good at finding recruits and money and powerful contacts or poor at this, strict in obeying the norms and rules or unsuccessful, much mortified or somewhat self-indulgent, in employment or unemployed, well-adjusted or melancholic, members or ex-members - all within reasonable limits, of course.

--Yes, the limits should be very very reasonable, otherwise Opus will disintegrate. It is crucial to religious orders to maintain a strong "not of this world" attitude and a supernatural outlook: sanctification and salvation. The "more human" attitude suggested here and again and again in the postconciliar period made bachelors' clubs of a lot of religious orders, totally uninteresting to potential novices. Hence they are dying.

An equally necessary therapy is to encourage members to have normal friendships both inside and outside Opus Dei
(especially with their natural families), in which the friends are given the freedom to talk privately about whatever they like. Happily, a few members have enough common sense to do this anyway.

--This would be a enormous risk. I suggest Opus must be extremely prudent if it want to let go the classical "anti-family" discipline of classical religious orders. See page on St.Liguori.