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,
Evolution of Opus Dei
by Alberto Moncada
This article was originally published in Spanish
Evolucion del Opus Dei en Espana" (Ponencia al VI Congreso
Español de Sociología, A Coruña, 1999) and
is available on the opus libros website.
Dei is a Catholic institution comprised of both priests and laymen,
very close to the Pope, who praises its doctrinal integrity and
committment to his policies. Juan Paul II even appointed one of
its members, Rafael Navarro Valls, as Vatican spokesman.
Opus Dei flourished in the atmosphere of religious fervor within
the winning side of the Spanish Civil War. Its founder, Josemaría
Escrivá de Balaguer, was a strong supporter of the "Crusade"
as the Spanish bishops labeled the war. He wrote his main book --
Camino (The Way) -- during the war, in Burgos, close
to the Franco headquarters, where he made well-connected friends.
Camino sums up Escriva´s "national catholicism",
the Trento doctrine which canonized the union between Church and
State. Escriva conceived Opus Dei as a sort of Catholic answer to
the liberal, secularist Institución Libre de Enseñanza
which was blamed by the Spanish Church for the growing secularization
of Republican Spain in the thirties and he enrolled young intellectuals
to devote their lives entirely to the cause. Two members of Opus
Dei affirm the originality of Escriva`s idea . Many other analysts
describe Opus Dei as a typical example of Spanish Catholicism .
From 1928, the year Escrivá claimed he received the divine
inspiration, until 1936, the year the Spanish war started, he had
no more than a handful -- seven or eight -- followers. After the
war, the membership slowly grew and by 1945 about ten houses of
numeraries, or celibate members, had been opened in Spain. Escrivá
enjoyed the favor of a sympathetic Minister of Education José
Ibañez Martín and, as a consequence, Opus Dei university
professors obtained the control of the newly created research organism,
the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC).
Soon they moved to doctrinal action and, without fully realizing
it, tried to establish a Spanish version of Action Francaise. To
this end, they created Ediciones Rialp, a publishing house named
for a forest in the Catalonian Pyrenees. Escrivá trekked
through the Rialp forest in his flight from the Republican zone
during the Spanish Civil War, with some of the first members. Opus
Dei's internal tradition recounts that the Virgin Mary confirmed
him in his mission during the passage through the forest. Ediciones
Rialp published Opus Dei member Rafael Calvo Serer's España
sin problema  in response to Pedro Laín Entralgo's
doubts in España como problema . University teacher
Florentino Pérez Embid and other members proclaimed themselves
disciples of the Catholic scholar Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo
and set out to translate European conservative thought into Spanish.
result of the effort was the incorporation of Pérez Embid
and others into the cultural arm of the Franco administration, first
in the Ministry of Propaganda and subsequently in the leadership
and control of the Athenaeum. A particularly close association developed
between member Laureano López Rodó, who organized
the CSIC administratively, and Franco's longtime collaborator Admiral
Carrero Blanco. These relationships set the stage for a second more
exuberant period of Opus Dei's public impact. During the 1950s and
1960s, Franco entrusted the helm of the faltering Spanish economy
to a handful of Opus Dei members, Alberto Ullastres, Mariano Navarro,
Gregorio López Bravo, and López Rodó. In the
wake of these major players, a vigorous lobby of members and friends
of the institution sprang up which created innumerable business
1950s and 1960s also saw the expansion of Opus Dei outside Spain,
especially in the Latin American dictatorships of Chile and Argentina.
Opus Dei penetrated those Catholic groups which felt most alienated
by the Second Vatican Council. For the moment Rome looked on Escrivá's
movement with suspicion and Christian progressives accused it of
supporting the Spanish dictator. Pope Paul VI, who as Archbishop
of Milan, had been a militant opponent of Franco, was especially
critical and blocked Escrivá's petition to transform Opus
Dei´s canonical designation from a Secular Institute to a
prelature. I remember listening to an angry Escriva denouncing how
Montini dared to join the European clamor against the death penalties
signed by Franco. Montini was not his kind of Pope neither was Roncalli
context in which the above group of Opus Dei members operated in
politics was a correction of the Spanish economy mandated by international
financial organisms and directed at ending the previous model of
self-sufficiency or autarchy. The adjustments took place in a regime
where public criticism or opposition by organized labor was not
allowed. Things did not go well for the network of interests and
enterprises woven around the "Work", as they internally
called the institution. Mostly led by people without experience,
the group ventures into the realms of finance, publishing, and international
trade, ended in internal and external conflicts, spectacular failures,
and a reputation for immorality and arbitrariness that have subsequently
characterized the business ventures of men whose mentors proclaimed
the idea of sanctification of work. Criticism grew to the point
that at the end of the 1960s, Escrivá decreed the suppression
of auxiliary enterprises or "common works" in internal
terminology. The scandals around Matesa, Rumasa, and so many other
affairs are full of Opus Dei names. Opus Dei authorities had presented
the supernumerary member José María Ruiz Mateos as
a model father and businessman, and an outstanding benefactor. He
was suddenly excluded from the list of acknowledged members after
public controversies with other members whom he blamed for his fall.
had placed special emphasis on Opus Dei's journalistic endeavors
-- "We must wrap the world in printed paper" he used to
say. The periodicals were the last to break away from institutional
control. Some formed the Recoletos Group (Telva, Marca, Actualidad
Económica) controlled by persons close to Opus Dei, and now
owned by the British group Pearson. Even so, other scandals continued
to percolate: the Fundación General Mediterránea,
one of Opus Dei's secret economic instruments, has been in the Spanish
papers recently because of unfair practices. Some specialists have
begun to gather documentary evidence about connections between Opus
Dei and Vatican finances. But as Opus Dei people believe in eclesiastical
and banking secrecy with the same fervour as in confessión
secrecy, most of the rumors are very dificult to probe. Among them
is the role of Opus Dei in channelling money to Solidarsnoc to foster
the break-up of Communism in Poland. 
another field, a small group of Opus Dei men and women followed
the time-honored ecclesiastical tradition of seeking influence at
court. Federico Suárez Verdeguer, Angel López Amo,
and Laura Hurtado de Mendoza obtained positions in the incipient
household of Prince Juan Carlos. Others worked for restoration of
the monarchy. Laureano López Rodó supported the prince.
A group headed by Calvo Serer backed Juan Carlos' father Don Juan.
Other Opus Dei members defended the Carlist candidate. Escrivá
himself eventually leaned toward the position of López Rodó.
third stage of Opus Dei in Spain coincides with the return of democracy,
John Paul II's pontificate, and the crisis of Catholic education.
Under the democracy, a relatively small number of Opus Dei members
hold leadership positions in national and regional conservative
parties and in banks. Nowadays, members no longer act in a concerted
fashion as in Franco's time, but pursue the normal goals of democratic
capitalism and extract some benefit for their own objectives. Since
Spain lacks an extreme right wing party, it is not possible to measure
the percentage of members with extremist leanings, but the sympathy
of many Opus Dei officers and some civilians for the February 21,
1981 coup d'etat attempt was apparent. General Armada, one of the
masterminders of the coup, is close to Opus Dei, "Military
men, by the very fact of their being that, already have half the
vocation to Opus Dei," Escrivá used to preach.
John Paul II reversed the Vatican's critical stance toward the Work.
After Escrivá's death he granted the desired change of canonical
status from secular institute to personal prelature, which bestowed
great independence from diocesan bishops. Also the founder was beatified
in a process whose flaws provoked sharp criticism even within the
Curia. However, the most notable feature of the new stage is the
transformation of Opus Dei into an organization primarily devoted
to private education. It has thus assumed the care for sectors of
the middle class that the Jesuits were abandoning.
wrote in some foundational documents that the "Work" would
never have its own educational institutions; rather, its members
were to exercise their professions preferably "in State buildings
with State money" . Nevertheless, Escrivá and his
representatives in Spain never ceased to adapt to circumstances
and make a virtue of necessity. The energies set free by the abandonment
of the politico-mercantile project were harnessed in a race to create
primary and secondary schools and a few universities -- some directly
under the jurisdiction of the "Work", while others belong
to corporate intermediaries. In 2000, no Spanish city or Latin American
capital lacks one Opus Dei school for boys and another for girls;
coeducation is not allowed. Some cities have three or more.
Opus Dei never discloses the numbers of its members by category
and function, my guess is that the majority of the numeraries today
are employed in education, ecclesiastical jobs and the internal
bureaucracy. Opus has come to resemble teaching congregations, such
as the Sallesians or Marists, who appeared in France in response
to the secularization and anticlericalism of the Revolution. The
brothers were laymen with private religious vows; they acted and
dressed like laymen, but gradually their practices and even their
attire become uniform, a process observable among unmarried men
and especially unmarried women of the Work. Little by little, Opus
Dei has become clerical, and nowadays, the majority of its regional
and national hierarchy are priests. A kind of social endogamy and
fortress mentality is experienced as protection by those inside,
ghetto by those outside. Many of the numeraries come from supernumeraries'
homes, attend Opus Dei schools, graduate to its universities, go
to Rome, and once trained, are assigned to the internal bureaucracy
or the educational network without exercising a secular profession
or having worldly experience. Such is the case of the current Prelate,
Javier Echevarría, who became Escrivá's secretary
as a young man and has spent his life in Rome in the internal bureaucracy;
he lacks secular university studies or professional experience.
Observers agree that there has been a lowering of social and intellectual
status of new members.
shared the misogyny frequent in Catholic theology and discipline
and created a structure in which the primary activity of women was
to care for houses and centers of the Work. Indeed one type of female
members, who come from modest homes, were termed "servants"
in the first edition of the Constitution. The result of this
setup is that the numeraries are the last remaining males in Western
countries, especially in Spain, who enjoy the prerogatives of traditional
gentlemen, who do not get involved in household matters because
that is the business of the women of the family or, in the present
case, of his sisters in the apostolate. Still, a certain percentage
of Opus Dei women have responded to the new educational imperative
and run schools for girls. In any case, few of them exercise any
secular profession independently or have university studies, something
obligatory for male numeraries. Escrivá mandated stricter
observances for women numeraries. Thus, among other things, women
sleep on planks and used to have to ask permission to drink water
between meals, although the latter rule was recently abolished.
Needless to say, women count for little in internal government and
limit themselves to applying the resolutions taken by male authorities.
massive dedication to teaching produces a modification of foundational
goals. No longer does one imagine the permeation of all sectors
of civil society by Opus Dei members in the manner of an intravenous
injection according to the founder's metaphor. Rather, efforts are
focused on the education of children and adolescents. The control
of so many educational institutions opens new avenues of influence.
For one thing, these centers are conceived as tools for indoctrination.
Encouraged by a militant Pope and fed by cyclical Church conservatism,
Opus Dei teachers work to convince their students of the importance
of maintaining the hierarchical structure of a traditional family,
principal cell of the desired organic society. Anti-Communists during
the Cold War, they are enthusiastic supporters of the pro-life movement.
The head of the movement in Spain is a numerary. A new counter-reformation
eases the Work's apostolates. Some of its priests hold Church posts
related to censorship and prosecution of excessively independent
theological thinkers. This situation has rendered superfluous any
specifically Opus Dei doctrine or theology, since the task becomes
maintenance of the Tridentine message as currently reworked by the
Vatican. Accordingly, the Prelature has few theologians worthy of
the title. The few who attempted to be genuine theologians have
left, as Raymond Panikkar, or died, as Alfredo García. The
world of Opus Dei has progressively more to do with group discipline,
with control of behavior, and less with religion or theology, even
though Opus Dei runs Theological Colleges in Pamplona and Rome basically
specialized in moral theology and canon law.
was infuriated with the openness of the Second Vatican Council.
After the fashion of Cardinal Lefevre and other traditionalist leaders,
he laid down directives which lead to clear doctrinal fundamentalism
and to an explicit or tacit alliance with ultra-conservative social
forces. Escrivá's obsession with Vatican innovations put
him in continual conflict with other church leaders. Before he died
it seems that he declared to his "children" that, as things
stood, Opus Dei was the only group faithful to the Gospel, that
Biblical remnant of Israel to which God confided the mission of
returning the flood waters to their channel.
other contemporary Catholic institutions, at a given moment Opus
Dei posed the question of the clash between Gospel principles of
charity and solidarity and the rules of capitalist society; Opus
Dei chose the side of individual success in market competition.
For thirty years, its well known business school, the IESE or Instituto
de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa, in Barcelona, with branches
in Latin America, has trained carefully selected students in American
management techniques to become managers and executives. In this
vein, the prominent numerary and former President of the Spanish
bankers' association Rafael Termes recently published Antropología
del capitalismo , in which he attempts to prove the natural,
almost sacred character of the economic system in which he believes
as firmly as the creed.
Work's schools have a good reputation among Spanish middle class
parents for their competence and advising system. They carry on
the mixture of cooperation and complicity with families and the
creation of social class bonds among students which characterized
Jesuit education. A Jesuit told a friend of mine that General Pedro
Arrupe commented, "Seeing what they are today, I see what we
were yesterday, and never should have been." But in this success
are the seeds of new conflicts. A large part of the Catholic world
accuses Opus Dei of acting as a kind of cult among young people.
Nor could it be otherwise. The directors of Opus Dei have had to
modify their proselytizing strategy for recruitment of numeraries
in current social circumstances. In the first stage numeraries came
from the university and it was frowned upon or even forbidden that
boys should go to Opus Dei houses. A vocation was for men!
recent decades, however, proselytism has become difficult at universities.
It is easier to use the network of Opus Dei schools and the atmosphere
of supernumerary homes to convince children of fifteen or even younger
that God calls them to total, lifelong dedication. Recruitment becomes
an obsession for teachers who are obligated to get at least two
people a year to join, to make them "whistle". Consequently,
they do not let their pupils alone in advising sessions and in confession.
Collaborators in the campaign are other pupils who have already
been recruited and are equally obsessed. The watchword is to increase
numbers: "let there be more of us." Harassment is such
that an American Catholic organization, ODAN, Opus Dei Awareness
Network, has been formed to defend families from Opus Dei. Also,
A Parents' Guide to Opus Dei has been written by J. J. M.
Garvey  and translated to several other languages. Opus Dei
is a more or less accepted feature of the Spanish landscape, where
there seems to be less awareness of the danger of indoctrination
of children, but organizations like AIS in Cataluña evaluate
and offer information about sects, and frequently receive requests
for help against Opus Dei's indoctrination of children. The secretive,
intimidating style of recruitment continues after the child or adolescent
joins Opus Dei. He or she is distanced from family and friends;
reading materials are restricted; schedules, choice of studies,
and place of residence are imposed; consciences are manipulated;
members are controlled professionally and economically; Opus Dei
becomes a Spanish, Catholic version of hermetic, sects in which
religion works basically as bait to attract new members. . Of
course, all this contradicts the self description of Opus Dei members
as ordinary Christians, free laymen, with completely normal family
and professional relations. As an aggrieved mother said: "If
they preach traditional family values so much, why do they treat
their own families so badly?" A recent book, Hijos en el
Opus Dei, by Javier Ropero  depicts this situation from
the perspective of one who has suffered it and subsequently reflected
the majority of these young Opus Dei members leave as soon as they
open their eyes to reality. But many undergo great conflicts of
conscience; they suffer situations of stress from which they emerge
with mental and physical scars. Two sisters from the Basque Country
speak with horror in private of the psychological pressure and use
of drug therapies in the University of Navarre Clinic; they are
so frightened that they refuse to give their names or speak publicly.
control of members parallels psychological manipulation. Escrivá
patterned the life of his numeraries along the lines of religious
orders with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These are
feasible when a monk or friar abandons the world, but are extraordinarily
complicated for a professional, businessman, or simply a person
who administers property. Complicated rules govern how numeraries
handle money, which effectively establish a kind of control by superiors
of the Work even over inherited property. Unlike supernumeraries
who only contribute ten percent of their income, numeraries must
hand over all the money they earn and withdraw from the local treasury
only what they need for short periods. Consequences are especially
bleak when someone leaves the organization, which gives no further
support of any kind.
Opus Dei does not even register the women whose task is housework
in the Spanish Social Security system although they are starting
to do it after so many pressures. Many men and women have had to
start their lives over from scratch, without the money they contributed
to Opus Dei and even without inheritances from their family that
they found themselves forced to cede to the institution. This logically
leads to fear of risking such penury by leaving; it also engenders
perseverance based on resignation if not cynicism.
reaction of Opus Dei leaders has been particularly violent toward
members who left the institution and did not maintain silence. The
cases of two Spanish female ex-numeraries have been especially striking.
The first, María Angustias Moreno was the object of a campaign
of defamation and was branded as a lesbian for having written a
book criticizing -- from an orthodox Catholic viewpoint -- Escrivá
de Balaguer's personality cult. .The second, María del
Carmen Tapia, a former Women's Branch superior, has been demonized
by her erstwhile companions because she dared to offer a detailed
description of the despotic, arbitrary mode of government under
Escrivá, to whom she was an aide in Rome. Her Beyond
the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei, originally published in Spanish,
has been translated to German, French, Portuguese, English, and
Italian. Opus Dei's leadership has forbidden even the mention of
these books within the Work and a fortiori (Index of Forbidden
Books)  does not allow that they be read. This situation has
engendered widespread criticism among Catholic women, religious
and laity, who judge that the Opus Dei Women's Branch demeans women's
place in the Church.
bishops, notably the late Cardinal Basil Hume of London, have complained
to Rome about Opus Dei. They have received only private acknowledgments,
because the Curia is aware of the Pope's special fondness for the
Work, and in a hierarchical society like the Catholic Church it
is not usual to contradict authority. But it would suffice for the
next Pope to be less benevolent, for the old clerical animosity
against the Prelature to bloom again. A contributing factor is the
arrogance with which Opus Dei members behave when they can use influence
to slander and crush an adversary. There are many scores to be settled
in the long-standing struggles for Vatican power. Meanwhile, the
sectarian character of the Prelature is starting to be recognized
by civil authorities. In 1997, an investigative Commision of the
Belgian Parliament included Opus Dei in its list of groups which
are dangerous for young people, taking into account among other
things the protest of many families whose children have been the
object of Opus Dei's implacable proselytism.
Dei's directors had high hopes when the Partido Popular assumed
control of the government in Spain. Early results are discouraging.
No Opus Dei member obtained ministries the Prelature considered
important, Education in particular, although the numerary Andrés
Ollero, worked hard to obtain it. Some leaders of the Partido Popular
become uneasy when they are accused of being subject to Opus Dei
influence. And in fact Opus Dei has also inherited the bad reputation
for political maneuvering that the Jesuits had in past times. Members
of diverse Catholic groups including some Jesuits as well as a few
bishops are discontent that the Partido Popular has entrusted the
direction of Ecclesiastical Affairs to a man close to Opus Dei.
The appointment of the canonist Alberto de la Hera will doubtless
guarantee the harmony between the government and Vatican as long
as the present regimes last in Rome and Madrid. Opus Dei has a greater
public impact in the business world through the hundreds of managers
and entrepreneurs it has educated, who share Termes' faith in the
market and prefer that the State interfere in sexual rather than
Amadeo, Illanes, José Luis, 1990, El itinerario jurídico
del Opus Dei. Historia y defensa de un carisma.
Artigues, Daniel, L´Opus Dei en Espagne: Son evolution
politique et idéologique, Ruedo Ibérico, 1968.
Serer, Rafael Calvo, Ediciones Rialp, España sin problema.
Entralgo, Pedro Laín, España como problema.
Ynfante, Jesus, Opus Dei. Así en la tierra como en el
cielo, Grijalbo Mondadori, 1996.
del Giacomo, Maurizio and Minguel, Jordi, El Finanament de l'eglesia
católica, Descoberta 21, 1998.
Moncada, Alberto, Historia oral del Opus Dei, Plaza y Janés,
1985, and Jesús
Instruction of St. Gabriel, Opus Dei internal document, 1937.
Termes, Rafael, Antropología del capitalismo, Plaza
y Janés, 1994.
Garvey, J. J. M., A Parents' Guide to Opus Dei, Sicut Dixit
Moncada, Alberto, "Sectas católicas: El Opus Dei",
in Revista Internacional de Sociología, 1992.
Ropero, Javier, Hijos en el Opus Dei, Ediciones B, 1993.
El Opus Dei. Anexo a una historia, Planeta, 1976.
Tapia, María del Carmen, Beyond the Threshold. A Life
in Opus Dei, Continuum, 1997.
Fortiori is an Index of Forbidden Books, Opus Dei
Moncada holds a doctorate in law from the University of Madrid and
studied sociology and economics in London. He was recruited by Opus
Dei in 1950 and in the 1960s participated in the creation of Opus
Dei's first Latin American University in Piura, Peru, as its founding
Pro-Rector. He left Opus Dei at that point and has taught Sociology
and Education in European and American universities since then.
He also worked as a consultant for UNESCO, OEA and the Council of
Europe. He has published some 30 books. Those dealing with religious
topics include Historia oral del Opus Dei, La Zozobra
del milenio, and Religión a la carta. Moncada's
sociological analysis of Opus Dei is widely quoted in the media
and he was asked to give his deposition in the process of beatification
is a list of Alberto Moncada's publications about Opus Dei:
Opus Dei. Una Interpretacion, Editorial Indice, 1973 (The first
book on the subject published in Spain; it was banned by the Franco
Censorship for two years.)
Los Hijos del Padre, Editorial Argos, 1977, an autobiographical
Historial Oral del Opus Dei, Editorial Plaza y Janes, 1982
Sectas Catolicas. El Opus Dei, a paper presented at the XII
International Congress of Sociology, published in Revista Interncional
de Sociologia, 1988 (English translation available)
La Evolucion del Opus Dei en Espana, a paper presented at
the Spanish Congress of Sociology, 1995, published in Journal Minerva,
1997. (English translation available)
Moncada has chapters on Opus Dei in three more books:
Los Espanoles and Su Fe, Editorial Penthalon, 1982
La Zozobra del Milenio, Editorial Espasa, 1995
Religion a la Carta, Editorial Espasa, 1997
has also contributed articles about Opus Dei to Journals and daily
November 16, 2003