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Opus Dei, the
Da Vinci Code
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Questionable Practices

Corporal Mortification

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Index of Forbidden Books

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Opus Dei's Questionable Practices

The following practices of Opus Dei are not common knowledge and need to be examined and questioned. The serious issues ODAN raises are based on a collection of first-hand personal experiences.

  • Corporal mortification
  • Aggressive recruitment / undue pressure to join
  • Lack of informed consent and control of environment
  • Alienation from families


Corporal Mortification

Corporal mortification (self-inflicted pain and deprivation) is perhaps the most shocking practice. See the corporal mortification web page for more details.

Aggressive Recruitment

 “University residences, universities, publishing houses. . . are these ends? No, and what is the end? . . . to promote in the world the greatest possible number of souls dedicated to God in Opus Dei…”(Founder of Opus Dei, Cronica, v, 1963)

Within Opus Dei, a heavy emphasis is placed on getting individuals to commit their lives to Opus Dei. Members' pursuit of potential members is aggressive and similar to the tactics used by totalistic groups. Because of this, ODAN believes the group violates the personal freedom of individuals.

  • Opus Dei has a highly structured apostolate. Opus Dei members form "teams" and develop strategies to attract new members. For example, if the potential recruit is an avid skiier, then the numeraries may plan a weekend ski trip, when the "numerary friend" is pressured to tell the recruit that she may have a vocation, after which the numerary must report back to the Director. If the recruit is receptive, then the Director may talk more in depth about the vocation. They discuss "promising recruits" at their daily get-togethers (for members only) and during spiritual direction with Opus Dei priests and lay members. Opus Dei members often know which recruits are closest to joining, even if the person is hundreds of miles away.  
  • Opus Dei members are typically taught to always have twelve to fifteen "friends," with at least three or four who are very close to joining. This leads to the utilization of friendship as "bait." Far too often, Opus Dei members drop friendships with those who are unlikely to join Opus Dei.
  • Opus Dei members are required to report regularly to their lay Spiritual Directors on the progress of their personal recruiting. They also fill out statistics on their "friends," which may include the following: number of apostolic visits made; Opus Dei meditations attended; Opus Dei retreats made; confessions with an Opus Dei priest, etc. How does Opus Dei use this information? Why is it necessary? The recruits do not know they are being discussed and targeted in this way, a violation of their freedom and privacy.
  • Opus Dei members befriend and cultivate young idealistic individuals through front groups at universities and schools and/or through affiliation with groups like Right to Life, young adult Catholic groups and St. Thomas More Societies. Some groups are completely Opus Dei-run and exist primarily for the purpose of attracting potential Opus Dei members. The groups' affiliation with Opus Dei is typically not immediately recognizable nor initially disclosed. An example of an Opus Dei "front group" is UNIV, an international convention of college students that is used by Opus Dei to attract "select" individuals who could potentially become members, particularly by participating in a yearly trip to Rome during Easter week when unsuspecting participants are aggressively pursued to make a commitment to Opus Dei while in Rome at the Opus Dei headquarters. These statements are based on the personal testimonies of former members, who also witnessed first hand the targeting of potential Opus Dei members while participating in groups not necessarily run by Opus Dei. The Opus Dei members joined these groups in order to find and befriend individuals who would more likely join Opus Dei.

    In addition to groups targeting young people, Opus Dei also attempts to attract potential "supernumerary" members by infiltrating parishes throughout the world. It is often very difficult to determine the extent of Opus Dei's influence in a given parish. Opus Dei members very often conceal their identity to "outsiders."

Undue Pressure to Join

Selected individuals are relentlessly pursued to consider a vocation or calling to Opus Dei.

  • Opus Dei members carefully stage "vocational crises" at vulnerable moments in recruits' lives. The recruits are often told that God calls people at certain times in their lives, and if they say "no" they will never receive God's grace in their lives because they are "on the wrong track."
  • Opus Dei members often tell their "friends" that failure to follow a calling to Opus Dei will lead not only to a life of misery and discontent, but possibly to eternal damnation.

Lack of Informed Consent and Control of Environment

When recruits decide to join Opus Dei, they vaguely commit themselves to live "the spirit of Opus Dei" without knowing the details of that commitment. The initial commitment, called "whistling," involves the writing of a letter to the prelate of Opus Dei asking to become an Opus Dei member. From that moment, new members are greeted with exuberance and welcomed into the fold. Eventually, the details of new memberships are revealed, and the new members are expected to comply, even if they object or have reservations. A great psychological burden is placed on the new members: they must be faithful to the commitment they have made by obeying all that their directors tell them is "the spirit of Opus Dei;" otherwise, they are turning their back on God. If they decide to leave Opus Dei, they have often already heard that they will surely live a life without God's grace, and may even be damned.

Opus Dei tightly controls the lives of its members, especially the numerary members who pledge celibacy and typically live in Opus Dei residences. The following are some examples of the controls placed on Opus Dei numeraries, which are part of the "spirit of Opus Dei:"

  • Opus Dei numeraries are expected to hand over their entire salaries to Opus Dei, and generally may not hold their own bank accounts.  The numeraries are told to use money as if they were the mother in charge of a large and poor family.  They ask for the money they need each week and are then required to report how it was spent to the penny.  Opus Dei does not provide any financial report that indicates how the members' money is spent.
  • Both incoming and outgoing personal mail is generally read by the Directors of each Opus Dei residence, without the knowledge or consent of family and friends.
  • Reading material is strictly controlled, as are television viewing, listening to the radio, and other forms of recreation and entertainment.
  • Opus Dei numeraries notify their Directors of (and secure permission for) their comings and goings.
  • Opus Dei numeraries are required to practice corporal mortification such as the use of a cilice (a spiked chain worn around the thigh), flagellation, and sleeping on the floor or on boards.
  • Opus Dei numeraries are required to confess weekly and are strongly discouraged from confessing to a non-Opus Dei priest.
  • Opus Dei numeraries typically may not attend events which are not conducive to proselytizing, such as athletic games, theater, concerts, movies, etc.  In the rare instances when they may attend these events, permission must be secured from the Opus Dei directors.
  • Opus Dei members are enjoined to confess even their slightest doubts to Opus Dei priests and/or Spiritual Directors; otherwise, "the mute devil takes over in the soul."

Alienation From Families

Communication to family about involvement with Opus Dei is limited and even discouraged.

  • Opus Dei teaches individuals (despite their ages) that it is acceptable and even advantageous to leave parents and loved ones out of the decision-making process because "they will not understand."  Most parents learn of their child's lifetime commitment to Opus Dei months and even years later.  Many times, parents do not realize their children have  joined because the numeraries are told to remain in university residences and do not move into centers designated exclusively for numeraries, so as not to raise any suspicions.  Gradually, the bond of trust between child and parent is broken.
  • Display of pictures of loved ones is discouraged, not by rule, but by subtle example.

Revised November 16, 2003