and Other Writings
following is the work of the individual author and does not necessarily
reflect the views or opinions of the Opus Dei Awareness Network,
Basic Human Rights Were Violated
(This story was translated by
an ODAN supporter and posted
on the www.opuslibros.com website. To
read the story in Spanish,
click on "Mis
Derechos Humanos más elementales, fueron violados.")
by a Former Numerary Assistant, Europe
following personal account was written by a young woman from Europe
who experienced first-hand the grueling life of an Opus Dei numerary
assistant. Opus Dei recruits women from poor backgrounds to devote
their lives to the cooking and cleaning of the opulent centers of
Opus Dei, while living a life of celibacy.
her book, Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei (1), Maria
del Carmen Tapia says, "According to the Founder, an auxiliary
could never aspire to be more than a good servant
where numeraries and servants perform housekeeping in centers of
male members of the prelature, they receive a salary, though a low
one, but no social security. On the principle of poverty, these
salaries go directly to the coffers of the house where the servants
live. The servants do not receive any money. It is supposed that
the numeraries who accompany them will pay for whatever purchases
are made. Naturally, when they need clothes or shoes, they get them,
but they do not handle any money."
is grateful to the young woman who has shared her difficult testimony.
We applaud her courage in speaking out about the realities of assistant
was a member of Opus Dei for seven years. My status within
Opus Dei was called "an assistant" numerary.
first contact with Opus Dei came through an advertisement for one
of their catering colleges in a national newspaper. The advertisement
offered young girls certification in household management and cookery.
Those interested went through two interviews, one in their family
home and one in the center of Opus Dei. At that time in my
country there was widespread economic recession and a high rate
of unemployment. Potential students were guaranteed full-time
permanent positions at the conclusion of the catering course.
This "sweetener" influenced my parents' decision to place
me in this particular school. So at the age of 15, I began
my catering course.
months later, I was an assistant numerary. I was recruited
in the usual way. I was considered a leader by the members
of Opus Dei in the center; therefore, highly likely to influence
other girls. However, I now realize that it was something
subversive that made Opus Dei directors single me out from the other
students. My family had a particular problem, which I had
discussed with my "tutor" during our so-called "tutorials."
I did not know until many years later that she had discussed my
family's problem with other directresses, who put into action a
sophisticated plan to recruit me.
first started suggesting that I pray for my family; then attend
weekly confession and daily communion and so on. They told
me that if I followed God's will, then my family's situation at
home would improve. Before I knew it, I had a vocation; they
told me I would be unhappy for the rest of my life if I did not
do what God wanted. In addition, the problem in my family
would worsen. I was frightened out of my wits when I "whistled"
in Rome at the UNIV conference as an assistant numerary. (2)
I returned to my country after the UNIV conference, they separated
me from the other students in the catering course. They censored
my incoming and outgoing mail, monitored my phone calls and went
through my personal belongings. I had to make an accounting
of my daily activities to the directresses. I had to hand
over what little money I had. What disturbed me most during
this time was how the Opus Dei members scrutinized and directed
my relationship with my family. They told me what I could
write and not write in my letters to them and what to say to them
when I was speaking to them on the phone. There was always
a numerary in the vicinity when my family rang, and she always called
me aside to question me about the phone call afterwards.
to say, my family was totally unaware that I had become a member
of Opus Dei. The directresses told me I could tell them once
the course was finished.
they told me to lie to them about what was happening in my life
while I was on visits and holidays with them. After such visits,
the members of Opus Dei interrogated me about where I slept, what
we discussed and what newspapers we read.
family eventually did see a big change in my behavior. My
bubbly, outgoing personality disappeared. I became introverted
and suspicious of everything.
the course was about to finish, they instructed me to tell my parents
about my impending decision to join Opus Dei! My parents learned
of my decision and went crazy. My only answer to their barrage
of questions was "It's God's will."
parents very reluctantly let me return to take my exams hoping that
I would change my mind. That was not going to happen.
Instead, Opus Dei shipped me off to one of their centers with many
assistant numeraries and a few numeraries. We assisted in
the running of a number of centers of Opus Dei for both males and
full realization of my status as an assistant numerary now began
to dawn on me. I had never been informed of the role and responsibilities
of an assistant numerary. They just told me that assistant
numeraries and numeraries were the same, just that our work was
different. But I began to realize that my life was going to
be one of long working hours, hard work and absolutely no social
life. In addition, it was very clear that we were in no way
the same as numeraries.
of all, there were material differences between the two classes
of members. Numeraries wore expensive clothes while assistant
numeraries wore uniforms with a white apron. Assistant numeraries
can only wear ordinary clothes if they leave the center, but they
are usually second hand or inexpensive clothes. Numeraries
ate in different dining rooms with better quality foods; whereas
we ate the leftovers. The numeraries were usually waited on
by an assistant numerary dressed in a long-sleeved black dress with
a starched white collar, cuffs, head-dress and apron. Numeraries
had a much higher quality of table linens, bed linens, crockery
and furniture than those used by the assistant numeraries.
sleeping quarters and bathrooms were also different. Numeraries
usually had en-suite facilities while assistant numeraries had communal
bathrooms and bedrooms. In countries where there were large
groups of members, like in Spain or in Rome, the two classes even
had separate oratories. The numeraries' oratories were lavish
and bedecked in gold; whereas, those used by the assistant numeraries
were plain and wooden. Assistant numeraries also used separate
entrances into the centers of Opus Dei called the servants' entrance,
which was usually out of sight in the back of the building.
these differences of the two seemingly "equal" groups
may appear to be simply material; there are also very disturbing
attitudes which underlie these distinctions.
Opus Dei catechism defines assistant numeraries as follows, "there
are other numeraries who do the menial and housekeeping work in
Opus Dei houses who are called servants," (3) While the term
servants has been suppressed and the term assistant or auxiliary
is now used, the reality continues to exist for many assistant numeraries
across the world.
numeraries are usually recruited from rural, poor and uneducated
backgrounds, while numeraries tend to be recruited from educated,
wealthy backgrounds. Assistant numeraries can never occupy
positions of authority nor can they work outside Opus Dei houses.
suggests that the founder of Opus Dei saw assistant numeraries as
having limited intelligence or as he called it "their own mentality."(4)
All members of Opus Dei receive education in various forms on annual
courses and so the difference between the type of education given
reflects the attitudes toward each group. Numeraries receive
classes in theology, canon law and Spanish while assistant numeraries
receive classes in basic hygiene, basic reading and writing and
elementary religious instruction.
also considered assistant numeraries to be devoid of human emotion.
For example, assistant numeraries are allowed to hold babies, while
numeraries are not. Escriva believed that a numerary's maternal
instinct might be triggered by holding a baby, but he thought this
would not happen to an assistant numerary because he believed she
does not possess such an emotion.
the directors constantly told us that we were the mothers of all
members of Opus Dei. And why wouldn't we be? We cooked,
cleaned and ironed morning to night, seven days a week, fifty-two
weeks of the year, year in, year out, for these numeraries.
liked to call assistant numeraries his "little daughters."
It is well-known that he encouraged their childish behavior.
Tapia says that she was embarrassed by seeing adult women behaving
like thirteen-year-olds.(5) The directresses also egged us
on to indulge in this behavior. After a while, it became a
difficult habit to shake off.
numeraries could never be left alone. Numeraries always had
to accompany us wherever we went, inside and outside of the centers.
We could not possess or have access to any money; the numeraries
had to pay for everything.
attitudes and conditions formed the basis of my life in Opus Dei.
My life was controlled and suppressed and I had little access to
the outside world. Our newspapers were censored and our television
was often switched off if it was deemed unsuitable by one of the
claustrophobic life had little room for individuality or creativity.
As rural girls, we were often on the receiving end of numeraries'
jokes. Since they were predominantly from the cities, they
laughed at our accents, our language and our rural traditions.
were often at the receiving end of their bad tempers, but were not
allowed to give them fraternal corrections. The directress
would undoubtedly rule in favor of the numerary in question.
lived a life of conformity and indoctrination. I began to
ask questions about some of the contradictions that I saw, but was
quickly quieted by being told I would go to hell for even thinking
such things. Because of my lack of education, I was unable
to articulate a reply.
I could take no more. I was unable to understand the inconsistencies
in my surroundings. I became confused about who God was.
It seemed as if Escriva was more revered than God Himself.
At times, I felt that it was often weeks before I even heard the
word "God." It was always "The Father"
and "Our Father." I longed for the God I knew before
my life in Opus Dei.
wet, windy morning I left the center of Opus Dei and my many assistant
numerary friends. The numerary who brought me to my point
of departure threw my bag on the ground and walked away without
even saying goodbye. I was stunned by the behavior of this
person who was apparently dedicated to God. As I climbed on
to the transport, which brought me to my family, I realized that
while I was in Opus Dei, they had even stripped me of the skills
to purchase a ticket.
arrived home to my forgiving family hurt, confused, guilty and in
severe shock. Slowly, I began to realize that the world was
not as cruel or as evil as what Opus Dei had painted it. There
were many good people out there.
tried to get by for awhile by telling myself that everything was
fine and that I was able to cope. However, having been stripped
of all social skills and self-confidence, I urgently needed counseling.
a long period of time, I slowly regained my self-esteem. I
returned to school and finished my post-primary education, went
to university and completed a degree. I hope to do a master's
degree within the next few years. I now have a good job, car,
house and a good relationship.
are many assistant numeraries across the world living lives quite
similar to the one I have explained. I feel that these women's
human rights are severely breached by the attitudes and rules of
Opus Dei. However, Opus Dei continues to justify and allow
this type of status to exist. It can only be described as
the serious exploitation of a vulnerable group of women in the name
know of many very unhappy and disturbed women who are still in Opus
Dei giving their all for this organization. I personally witnessed
self-mutilations by some of these people and I can still hear their
muffled cries at night. Depression and eating disorders were
common. Some assistant numeraries who were physically unable
to work anymore were expelled without any explanation, money or
any home to go to.
do not speak out because of their lack of education and the guilt
they feel. Many live in fear of the members of Opus Dei and
their ability to backlash at those who speak out against them.
While many people are aware of the methods of recruitment used by
Opus Dei and the types of lives numeraries live in particular, the
lives of assistant numeraries are generally overlooked. I
urge you to please consider the circumstances in which these women
live. We need to give this silent, vulnerable, forgotten group
of women a voice. I have not highlighted the issue of corporal
punishment because corporal punishment wasn't a punishment in our
lives. We had so many other worse things to contend with.
ponder on the words of the Bill of Human Rights: Article 7:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment. Article 8.(2): No one shall
be held in servitude.
are many more issues which I have not discussed. However,
I have attempted to give an outline of the lives that assistant
numeraries live. Please pray for them.
"Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei," by Maria
del Carmen Tapia, Continuum Publishing Company, New York, NY
10017. Available from ODAN for a suggested donation of $21
plus $4 for shipping ($11 shipping outside the USA.)
The UNIV Conference is an event in Rome sponsored each year by Opus
Dei during Holy Week. Participants from all over the world
are hand-picked to participate in this conference. Typically,
only those recruits who are close to joining Opus Dei are invited
to attend the conference, along with numeraries who are working
on them to join. Tremendous pressure is placed on the recruits
to make a decision to join Opus Dei that week.
Tapia, p. 51. From Opus Dei Constitutions, 1950, p. 172, no.
Tapia, p. 133.
Tapia, p. 135.
ODAN Newsletter Vol. 10 No. 1, 2000
to website May 13, 2002