Sunday, April 24, 2005

Opus Dei -- If It Walks Like A Cult and Quacks Like A Cult . . . . . .

Though I am a long-lapsed Catholic, the comings and goings of the Church can still engage my attention, at least, the really big stuff, like Popes. (Interesting that it is still, out of habit,"the" church, as if it was the only one. Those First Grade nuns really knew their stuff.) Things are settling down now in Rome and all the hoopla over Ratzinger/BenedictXVI. Unfortunately along with that many uncomfortable facts about the new Il Papa are being swept under the rug in the pursuit of a "united front". One aspect was his participation in the Hitler Youth and Nazi army in WWII. This has been glossed over as something forced on him. Yet perhaps those experiences still have left a mark, in the preference for strongly ordered, authoritarian structures. The Church answers this inclination. And within the Church are those groups who would take this to the extremes not seen since the Middle Ages.

Opus Dei for example. This group is over the moon that JPII's successor will continue to support it even as he did.

Today is a moment of great joy" declared Bishop Javier Echevarría, Prelate of Opus Dei, when learning of the election of Pope Benedict XVI."

But there are a growing number of others who find this relatively modern sub-set of the the Roman Catholic Church very unsettling.

Opus Dei In the United States
By James Martin, S.J.
AMERICA for February 25, 1995
Copyright America Press 1995

James Martin, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Opus Dei is the most controversial group in the Catholic Church today. To its members it is nothing less than The Work of God, the inspiration of Blessed Josemaría Escriva, who advanced the work of Christ by promoting the sanctity of everyday life. To its critics it is a powerful, even dangerous, cult-like organization that uses secrecy and manipulation to advance its agenda. At the same time, many Catholics admit knowing little about this influential group. Moreover, because of the dichotomy of views on the group, and perhaps because of its influence in Vatican circles, it is difficult to find balanced reporting on Opus Dei.
Some Basics

Any look at Opus Dei must begin with Msgr. Josemaría Escriva de Balaguer, the Spanish priest who founded the group on Oct. 2, 1928. On that day, according to Opus Dei’s literature, while on a retreat in Madrid, "suddenly, while bells pealed in a nearby church, it became clear: God made him see Opus Dei." Monsignor Escriva, invariably referred to as The Founder by members, envisioned Opus Dei as a way of encouraging lay people to aspire to sanctity without changing their state of life or occupation. Today Opus Dei sees itself as very much in line with the Second Vatican Council and its renewed emphasis on the laity.
In 1982 Pope John Paul II granted Opus Dei the status of "personal prelature," a canonical term meaning that jurisdiction covers the persons in Opus Dei rather than a particular region. In other words, it operates juridically much as religious orders do, without regard for geographical boundaries. This unique recognition—it is the only personal prelature in the church—demonstrated the high regard in which it is held by John Paul II as well as Opus Dei’s standing in Vatican circles. But it also prompted critics to ask why a professedly lay organization would need such a status. Today Opus Dei counts 77,000 members (including 1,500 priests and 15 bishops) in over 80 countries.

Further evidence of Vatican favor -- and added legitimacy -- came in 1992 when Escriva was beatified in a ceremony attended by 300,000 supporters in St. Peter's Square. But coming only a few years after Escriva's death in 1975 and leapfrogging over figures like Pope John XXIII, the beatification was, to say the least, controversial. "Is Sainthood Coming Too Quickly for Founder of Influential Catholic Group?" read a January 1992 New York Times headline, echoing other critical articles appearing around the same time.

An article in The London Spectator, for example, included allegations by former close associates about Escrivá’s less than saintly behavior. "He had a filthy temper," said one, "and pro-Nazi tendencies, but they never mention that."
Secrecy and Privacy

It is difficult to read anything about Opus Dei without running across accounts of its alleged secrecy. ("Pope Beatifies Founder of Secretive, Conservative Group" ran a New York Times headline in 1992.) Indeed, while a few members of Opus Dei are well known, like the Vatican press officer Joaquin Navarro-Valls, M.D., most are not. Critics also point out that most of Opus Dei's organizations are not clearly identified as being affiliated with Opus Dei.
Two priests I interviewed (who asked to remain anonymous) came into contact with Opus Dei while studying at Princeton in the mid-1980's. In the course of their work with campus ministry, a divisive conflict arose between an Opus Dei priest and other members of the team. "Opus Dei was rather defensive about being secretive," said one. "They’d say, 'No, we tell it like it is.' And, yes, they'd answer your questions, but it was like peeling away an onion. But if you didn’t ask the right question to peel away the next layer you simply weren't told. You just never had the full picture. And I suppose it wouldn’t have been so annoying if they hadn’t been saying all the time how open they were."

I encountered perhaps one example of this difficulty in the course of my research. Early on, I asked Bill Schmitt for a copy of Opus Dei's constitutions. I thought that by reading them I could better understand Opus Dei and lay to rest some misconceptions. He gave me a copy of the 1982 statutes. But they were in Latin, and a technical "church" Latin at that. Could I have a copy of the English translation? There was none, he said.

Why not? First he said that Opus Dei had not had sufficient time to translate
them. I replied that this seemed odd, given that the statutes had been around
for 12 years and that The Way had already been translated into 38 languages.

When I pressed him, he provided a second explanation, and I was reminded
of the comment about peeling an onion. "It's a church document," he said. "We
don’t own them. The Holy See wants them in Latin." Perhaps, he added, the
Vatican wants to prevent other groups from applying for the status of personal
prelature. But how could English-speaking members study their own statutes? The
members study them in depth, he explained. "All of it should be clear to them in
their formation." Opus Dei member James Gabriel seconded this, explaining
that the statutes were also available in Spanish. "I can look things up in a
Spanish dictionary if I want to. But you receive so much formation that I don’t
have any questions that I would want to go over."

Nevertheless, it still seemed odd, so I asked Mr. Schmitt again. I received the same answer: "The document belongs to the Holy See and the Holy See does not want it translated. I’m sure there’s a reason."

I asked three experts in canon law what that reason might be. One canon lawyer said, Another, JohnMartin, S.J., professor of canon law at Regis College in Toronto, noted thatreligious orders and lay associations as a matter of course publish their statutes in local languages, and as far as he knew, "there is no general ecclesiastic prohibition against the translation of documents of religious orders." Or of personal prelatures, for that matter. Richard Hill, S.J., of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., agreed, saying "there is no canonical reason" why Opus Dei should not be allowed to translate their own statutes. So it appears to be Opus Dei, not the Holy See,that is keeping the statutes from being translated. [.....]

So what is it that they need to hide? For a "laity-based" organization Opus Dei is remarkarbly regimented. Mr. Martin continues:

Critics contend that numerary life is anything but lay, particularly in what they see as its replication of religious life, with emphasis on "commitments" (Opus Dei does not use the term "vows"), life in common, a daily order and, at least for some of the men, eventual ordination. Many of those in authority are cleric -- the director of their national headquarters in New Rochelle, N.Y., is a monsignor; their prelate was recently ordained a bishop. "If this is a lay organization, I’d hate to see a clerical one," said one of the priests from Princeton.

Another common criticism is that men and women numeraries are
separated not only in housing but even in work. Numerary Jim Gabriel, who lives
in Opus Dei’s Riverside Study Center in Manhattan explained: "There is pretty
much no interaction. They do things that they have to do and we do what we have
to do."

According to two former numeraries, women numeraries are
required to clean the men's centers and cook for them. When the women arrive to
clean, they explained, the men vacate so as not to come in contact with the
women. I asked Bill Schmitt if women had a problem with this. "No. Not at all."
It is a paid work of the "family" of Opus Dei and is seen as an apostolate. The
women more often than not hire others to do the cooking and cleaning. "They like
doing it. It’s not forced on them. It’s one thing that’s open to them if they
want to do it. They don’t have to do it."

"That’s totally wrong," said Ann Schweninger when she heard that last statement. "I had no choice. When in
Opus Dei you’re asked, you're being told." According to Ms. Schweninger, it is "bad spirit" to refuse. Women are told that it is important to have a love for things of the home and domestic duties. "And since that's part of the spirit of Opus Dei, to refuse to do that when you’re asked is bad spirit. So nobody refuses."

For numeraries living in the centers, mail—incoming and
outgoin -- is read by the director. But for most numeraries this is not a problem.
"If you’re in an organization and part of the group, where you go to the priest
in confession and tell him everything that's on your mind, what could you
possibly receive in a letter that would matter?" said one. But he also admitted
that he wasn't sure if his friends knew their mail was being read. "But they
never say anything that couldn’t be read by other people." [.....]

But there is a more disturbing aspect to this. Opus Dei appears to employ the same recruiting techniques of befriendment, isolation from family and associates, information bombardment, and manipulation of emotional circumstances to bind new members to the group as many other discredited cults of the last several decades:

One man who attended Columbia University in the early 1980’s, who asked not to be named, described the process of being recruited by Opus Dei. "They had someone become my friend," he said bluntly. After Mass one day he was approached by another student, with whom he soon became good friends. Eventually he was invited to the Riverside Study Center near Columbia's campus. He was not certain exactly what it was. "I thought it was a group of students that were a think tank or something." After dinner a priest gave a short talk. He was later invited to join a "circle," which he described as a sort of an informal prayer group. Soon afterwards Opus Dei suggested that he take one of the priests at the center as his spiritual director.

After becoming more involved -- at this point meeting with the group frequently -- he decided to investigate on his own. He spoke with a few priests and professors at Columbia and was surprised at how little he really knew: "I didn't know anything about the secrecy, the numeraries, supernumeraries, any of that. And I didn't know there were people taking vows of celibacy. I felt kind of upset that I didn't know much about them. I didn't think they were honest or straightforward about who they were. I felt very indignant."

At the next circle meeting he raised some questions about issues that troubled him -- for example, women and minority presence in Opus Dei. "They really didn’t have any answers and asked me not to return." And more disturbing for him: "I never heard from my friend again. I was totally cut off."

According to two former numeraries, if this man had stayed in the circle Opus Dei would have confronted him with a decision to join. Tammy DiNicola talked about her experience. "They staged a vocation crisis for me," she said. "At the time, I didn’t realize they had staged it. But it’s standard practice. The person that's working on you is consulting with the director, and the two of them decide when is the best time to propose the question of vocation to the recruit."

Why is it a crisis? "Well, they make it a crisis for you!" said Ann Schweninger. "And it’s totally orchestrated. They tell you it's a decision you have to make now, that God is knocking on the door, and that you have to have the strength and fortitude to say yes." Tammy DiNicola was told that it was her only chance for a vocation. "Basically it's a one-shot deal -- if you don't take it, you’re not going to have God's grace for the remainder of your life."

I asked if they were surprised at hearing that the man at Columbia had been cut off by his friend. "No," said Tammy recalling her own recruiting days. "They use friendships to get people to join. They call it an apostolate of friendship and confidence, but it’s certainly not confidence -- because everything that you talk about with your recruit is discussed with your director." Even personal matters? "Especially personal matters, because those are the things that you can use so that a person would think about joining Opus Dei." She was also advised to recruit only "select" people -- intelligent and physically attractive -- since they would be more likely to attract others once they were members. [......]

Shades of the Moonies, Hari Krishnas and whacked out Jesus-freak cults.

Opus Dei Awareness Network

Dianne DiNicola, Tammy DiNicola’s mother, knows some things about Opus Dei that she would like to change. In 1991 she started the Opus Dei Awareness Network, a self-described support group concerned with outreach to families with children in Opus Dei.

A few years ago Mrs. DiNicola noticed that Tammy, then an undergraduate at Boston College, "seemed to be going through a personality change." According to Mrs. DiNicola, she became "cold and secretive," not wanting to spend time with the family -- which had not been the case before. "I just had the feeling something was wrong."

When Tammy wrote a letter saying that she would no longer return home, Mrs. DiNicola grew more worried. She eventually found out that Tammy had joined Opus Dei as a numerary, living in one of their centers in Boston. "Our daughter," she recalls, "became totally estranged from us. I can't tell you the turmoil that our family went through. We tried to keep in touch with her, but it was like she was a completely different person."

Initially trying to accept her daughter's decision, she met with Opus Dei officials and diocesan officials to obtain more information. "I was just trying to feel good about Opus Dei. I love my religion. I mean, you're not talking about the Moonies. This is something within the Catholic Church." But the situation deteriorated, and Mrs. DiNicola felt that the church either was not in a position to help or did not want to do so.

Finally, Mr. and Mrs. DiNicola enlisted the help of an "exit counsellor" and asked Tammy to come home for her graduation in 1990. They later discovered that this would have been the last time she would have come home, since she had already been told to sever contacts with her family. According to both Mrs. DiNicola and Tammy, the counselling enabled Tammy to think about Opus Dei critically for the first time.

After the 24-hour counselling session Tammy decided to leave. Mrs. DiNicola described the scene: "My husband is a very, very good man, and throughout all the turmoil, I would cry and my other daughter would cry. We were losing our daughter -- it was like she had died. For 24 hours we talked to her, without a break. When we did break early in the morning, my husband was over in the corner of our bedroom weeping softly. There was only one other time I saw him weep -- that was when his father died."

"It was pretty tumultuous," recalled Tammy, now 26. She said that since Opus Dei "shut down" all of her emotions, she experienced a flood of emotions after she left. Now Mrs. DiNicola runs the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN), which she says enables her to help to spare others the pain that her family went through.

Articulated or not, knowledge is power AND protection. The awareness of the dark side of Opus Dei is growing as organization like ODAN become more widely known. Mr. Martin continues:

Whether Opus Dei will continue to grow in the United States is difficult to
predict. Its critics, including ODAN, are gaining a voice. But Opus Dei’s widely
acknowledged Vatican influence seems to provide a degree of protection,
and its attraction for some, especially among college students, is a reminder of the desire for spirituality among Americans. [... ]

But their critics are equally adamant. "I think they’re very surreptitious, very ill," said the man from Columbia University. "They don’t really believe in the world," said Kenneth Woodward.

"They deceive people. They’re not straightforward," said former numerary Ann Schweninger at the end of our long interview. "I can attest to that."

It is very disturbing to know the Vatican holds Opus Dei in such high regard. Such a laity organizaiton could have the same potentials as the zionist sayanim system. Another group of highly indoctrinated members dispersed through the community. It would mesh nicely with the U.S. evangelicals, as they share the same agenda. Scary thought.

Blue Ibis

No comments: