Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 20, 2006
Opus Dei investigated
NCR Vatican correspondent delves into the myth-shrouded organization
Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church, John Allen, Jr. Doubleday, 2005. 387 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Allen tackles the subject of Opus Dei from many different angles, including the accusations of cult-like conduct and massive wealth.
Associates are like numeraries but unable to live in an Opus Dei centre. For geographic, professional or family reasons, they live outside of centres, but are committed to celibacy. The last group are priests of Opus Dei; these priests belong to the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, and while serving around the world, are incardinated to the leader of Opus Dei rather than the local bishop.
It is the numeraries, the 4,000 members living in Opus Dei centres, who attract the greatest discussion. These people are usually highly educated, faith-filled Catholics who make life choices contrary to the prevailing culture that sets them apart from the secular society and leads to accusations of cult-like practices and mind control.
Numeraries lead highly structured lifestyles, are committed strongly to Opus Dei and the Catholic Church, and dedicate their lives to the prelature. It is from this group that disgruntled members seem to leave and criticize the group most strongly.
Allen tackles the subject of Opus Dei from many different angles, including the accusations of cult-like conduct and massive wealth. He provides a basic overview and history of the prelature and gives an insider's account of life within Opus Dei. Then the bulk of the book tackles the major issues and controversies surrounding the group.
The questions most people have about Opus Dei derive from the book The
Da Vinci Code and the notion of corporal mortification. Corporal mortification is the use of physical discomfort or pain to induce suffering. Catholicism, and other world religions have long histories of mortification to focus individuals on the spiritual and to enable them to share in the suffering of Christ.
The use of the cilice and the discipline, a small knotted piece of twine (not a whip as described in the novel), are used only by the numeraries as part of their living the Work. Escriva recommended these practices, which were part of the Catholic experience in Spain in the 1930s and 1940s, and practised them himself.
It is seen as a form of asceticism - a means of training the body to endure hardships. Escriva prohibited the use of mortification if it in any way compromised the health of the person practising it.
Allen investigates the organizations finances, the role of women, Opus Dei in the Church, methods of recruiting and accusation that members are called to blind obedience. In all areas Allen provides insight and reveals to the reader the accusations against the group, Opus Dei's response, and then his opinion regarding the reality he discovered based on investigation and interviews.
In the end, Allen's examination of Opus Dei proves to answer many of the accusations against it and provides the reader with a relatively clear picture of this small but active group within Catholicism.
If you have read The Da Vinci Code or plan on seeing the movie, this primer into one of the main protagonists in the movie may be of assistance in de-coding the misrepresentations and myths about Opus Dei.
(Dean Sarnecki is school chaplain and teaches religious education at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School in Sherwood Park.)
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