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Testimonies and Other Writings

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How Opus Dei is Cult-Like
by Sharon Clasen, Former numerary

Opus Dei is often described in the media as “cult-like.”  Opus Dei numerary Meg Kates' statement, “Members are free to come, free to go, free to participate, free not to, free to walk right out the door, free to stay” [1] is deceptive.  The true personal freedom of numerary members, who make up 25-30% of all members, is hindered by the following controls that are put into place by Opus Dei.  The following table illustrates how Opus Dei’s methods resemble those used by cults.  It uses Steve Hassan’s BITE model (Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional) of mind control described in Releasing the Bonds, Empowering People to Think for Themselves [2] as the basis for comparison.  (For more details about Hassan's model, see the excerpt from his book.)

The examples cited in the right-hand column are based on the personal experiences of Sharon Clasen, who was a supernumerary for three years and a numerary for two years.  She experienced the following while living at Brimfield, the Center of Studies for numerary women in the United States. (All numeraries typically live in the Center of Studies for two years for intense study of the "spirit of Opus Dei." There are separate Centers of Studies for numerary men.)  Also included are some writings of the Founder of Opus Dei (taken from The Way by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer) as well as the testimonies from other former members. 

I. Behavior Control

BITE Model Components

How Opus Dei Fits the Model

1. Regulation of individual’s physical reality

Opus Dei typically controls nearly all aspects of the numeraries’ physical reality

·        Where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates

Numeraries usually live in a center with other numerary members of Opus Dei.  They are not allowed to associate with former members or critics of Opus Dei unless they are trying to recruit them back into the group.  They are told to have a list of 15 friends, the top ones on the list should be people with the potential to join Opus Dei.  To associate with anyone who does not have the potential to become an Opus Dei member is considered a waste of time.

·        What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears

In the past, female numeraries were required to wear skirts or dresses except on rare occasions when involved in recreational activities with other members.  Numeraries generally shop for clothes with the Director of their center.  They are not allowed to keep gifts of clothes, jewelry, etc. from their parents.  These gifts are given to other numeraries in the center by the Director or kept in a closet, called “number 2”, which is opened on rare occasions, to the delight of the residents.  Hairstyles must be very simple because numeraries have only 30 minutes to get ready in the morning and if they show up to mass with wet hair, they receive a fraternal correction.

·        What food the person eats, drinks, adopts and rejects

If possible, all meals are eaten with others in the center.  Members have no input into the menus or food shopping.  Like children, they must eat what they are served.  Members are sometimes encouraged to offer up in penance their sweets or other denials.  Since numeraries must account for every penny spent, purchasing food or drinks is frowned upon.  Tammy DiNicola, former numerary, recalls that even though she really could have used it, she never purchased coffee at the office for $0.25 because she would have had to report it to her Director every month.

·        How much sleep the person is able to have

Female Opus Dei numeraries sleep on a board placed on top of their mattress.  This definitely can interfere with sleep as the board does not absorb body heat and she easily wakes up cold.  One night a week the numerary is supposed to sleep without a pillow.  Sleeping on a board without a pillow is not easy, especially if one is cold.  Once a month, there are all-night vigils when the members sign up to pray in the middle of the night for one-hour stretches.  This, too, cuts into sleep. 

·        Financial dependence

Numeraries surrender all control over their finances and generally do not hold their own bank accounts.  When Sharon was a numerary, she had to cancel her credit card, and if she had stayed in for more than 5 years, she would have had to sign over her inheritance.  One former male numerary who has recently left reports that numeraries are now allowed to have credit cards; however, they are supposed to take them from the safe each time they need them and make an accounting after using them.  The Assistant Director of the house pays all of the bills for the numerary, i.e., car payments, student loans, credit cards, etc.  One night a week, the numeraries line up to receive their “p.e.” (personal expenses), which is paltry.  They are made to feel guilty about asking for too much and are encouraged to have their friends or family pay their way for dinners, etc.

·        Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations

Numeraries have very little time for leisure, entertainment or vacations.  Movie and concert-going are discouraged as a “waste of time” because there is little time for apostolic conversations at these events.  Numeraries do go on one excursion per month with the other numeraries in their house.  Even if they have too much homework to do, they may still be directed to go and “have fun.”  If the excursion happens to be a trip to the beach, female numeraries are not allowed to lie down on a towel and sunbathe.  They always have to be in the upright position and must cover up their bathing suits, unless they are swimming in the water.  Otherwise, strangers might see the red prick marks or scabs made from wearing the cilice (a spiked chain typically worn around the thigh for two hours daily.)  Instead of vacations, numeraries attend an annual “summer course,” when they attend more indoctrination classes, but may have a little more time for afternoon “excursions,” which could also be some sort of a pilgrimage to a holy shrine.  Discussion in the car on trips is directed around subjects such as anecdotes about the Founder of Opus Dei or alleged miracles attributed to his intervention.

2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals

Members are expected to fulfill daily, weekly, monthly and yearly requirements called “the plan of life.”  Daily requirements include Mass, one hour of meditation, rosary, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, get-togethers with other numeraries and other group prayers.  Weekly requirements include confession, the chat with a director, and an indoctrination class called “the circle.”  Numeraries are expected to attend a “day of recollection” monthly, a five-day silent retreat yearly and a three-week “course” every year consisting of indoctrination classes and recreation.  In addition, numeraries living at the “Center of Studies” take special classes every evening and on weekends.  All numeraries are required to live in the Center of Studies for two years.  There is no discussion at the classes, the circle, the retreats or the days of recollection; note-taking is discouraged.  Everyone is expected to accept the teachings without question.

3. Need to ask permission for major decisions

Numeraries are told where to live, what jobs to take, what schools to attend, etc. and are expected to obey their superiors without question.  Those who disobey are severely chastised and sometimes punished with menial activities.  For example, upon graduation from the two-year course at Brimfield, one numerary was directed to transfer from Wellesley College to a state university in Texas in order to further “the needs of the Work.”

4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors

In the weekly chat with a spiritual director, who is also one of the three members of the house administration, numeraries are influenced to report any doubts about their vocation.  They submit their schedules in writing to the director and report on a weekly basis about their activities, especially recruiting activities.

5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques – positive and negative)

If numeraries are successful in their recruiting, they are allowed to invite their friends to ski trips, “weekend get-aways,” even pilgrimages to Rome.  But every reward is geared toward recruiting.  If a numerary wants to go out to dinner with a friend, that friend has to be a potential recruit.  Those who recruit most successfully are the most-admired in Opus Dei and are sometimes given special privileges.
If numeraries are having doubts, they may be assigned labor-intensive duties, like cleaning toilets.

6. Individualism discouraged; “group think” prevails

Passed down from the Founder of Opus Dei, directors tell new members in their classes  “You are Opus Dei.”  Numeraries surrender themselves completely to the organization, or “the will of God,” and are discouraged for their individualism, which Opus Dei calls “selfishness.”

7. Rigid rules and regulations

Numeraries typically report to their directors every time they leave or arrive at the Opus Dei house.  They are allowed only brief visits to their families, often with a chaperone.  They are not allowed to talk with members of the opposite sex behind closed doors.  Female numeraries are not allowed to hold babies.  Even personal friendships within Opus Dei are monitored and controlled.  Numeraries either live in single or triple rooms; this discourages them from becoming too close and from the temptation to discuss any of their doubts.  The one time when numeraries would have time to talk intimately with one another is at night after the examination of conscience; however, there is a “time of night” or silence, which is strictly enforced.  The only “friendships” they are allowed to cultivate are the ones with potential recruits.  All other friends are a waste of time.

 

II. Information Control

BITE Model Components

How Opus Dei Fits the Model 

1. Use of deception

On p. 48 of Releasing the Bonds, Steve Hassan says, “Information control begins during recruitment, when cults withhold or distort information to draw people in.  People don’t join cults – cults recruit people.”

·        Deliberately holding back information

Before moving into Brimfield, the Center of Studies, in Newton, Massachusetts, Sharon was not previously informed that all numeraries surrender all financial control, sleep on boards or without pillows once a week, or that they must get rid of all family photos.  The only photos on display in centers of Opus Dei are photos of the Founder, Prelate or images of the Virgin Mary.  She also did not realize that most numeraries take cold showers, until she felt the chill in shower stall when she woke up the next morning.  The Directors justify this tactic of deliberately holding back information by saying that when you marry someone, you don’t know everything about that person.  Tammy also discovered that she would be sleeping on a board when she sat down on her bed the day she moved in and realized it was hard.

·        Distorting information to make it more “acceptable”

Opus Dei has thought-stopping answers for all of their criticisms.  For example, when questioned about the use of the cilice (a spiked chain worn around the thigh), numerary Meg Kates explained “Just like an aerobic program at the gym will get your body into shape and it’s worth all of the pain and agony that goes along with that, so denying yourself little things will get your soul in shape.” [1]  But that is not the whole picture.  The cilice is only one tiny aspect of control used by Opus Dei.

·        Outright lying

Rather than outright lying, Opus Dei is masterful in the art of deception, which is evident in what they do not reveal to outsiders.  In The Way #643, the Founder writes, “Be slow to reveal the intimate details of your apostolate.  Don’t you see that the world in its selfishness will fail to understand?”

2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged

Opus Dei discourages or minimizes access to non-Opus Dei sources of information.

  • Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio

All required reading lists from university classes are submitted to the Director for approval.  She checks them against the Index of forbidden books, which is kept under lock and key in the Director’s office.  One male numerary who has recently left Opus Dei confirms that this list is still in use.  All approved articles must have “the right spirit.”  Newspapers, magazines and books must be approved before they can be read. Permission is required to watch television or listen to the radio; both are strictly limited.  The Directors pick out all movies watched for pleasure.  Numeraries are generally not allowed to go to the movies, attend sporting events or go to theaters or concert halls. 

  • Critical information

In-going and out-going mail is read by the Directors, most of the time without the knowledge of the writers/recipients. Since Directors read all of the numeraries’ mail, they may discard pieces of mail that they deem inappropriate, yet rightfully belong to the recipient.  Critical information that members hear about is typically ridiculed and over-simplified; often the credibility of the source or author of the information is attacked rather than the information itself (which is often truthful.)

  • Former members

When numeraries leave, the others are given vague, short reasons why they left.  Sharon experienced this at Brimfield, when another numerary, with whom she had initially joined as a supernumerary at Boston College, suddenly disappeared.  Once she had left, there was absolutely no discussion about her. 

  • Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think and check things out

This is absolutely true in the case of Opus Dei.  Besides the plan of life, members are expected to be leading 15 friends at a time closer to making a commitment to Opus Dei.  Members are encouraged to recite prayer cards to the Founder while walking or commuting so that they never have time to really think critically about anything.

3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines

Members of Opus Dei think of themselves as “the elite” in the Church and better than all other Catholics.  They believe that they alone are truly faithful to the Church and the Pope, with the exception of maybe one or two other orders in the Church.  Members are told it would be in “bad spirit” to go to confession to a non-Opus Dei priest; the Founder is often quoted saying that it would be like “letting outsiders wash our dirty clothes.”

  • Information is not freely accessible

Members are told it would be dangerous to one’s vocation to read anything critical to their Catholic faith or their vocation to Opus Dei.  In fact, it would be considered an occasion of sin.

  • Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid.

There is definitely a hierarchy of organizational structure within Opus Dei.  For example, only the Directors in Rome, or perhaps the Directors at the new North American Headquarters in New York have the complete picture of the financial aspect of Opus Dei.  Opus Dei does not own anything outright.  All Opus Dei universities, schools, residences, etc. are run and funded by foundations, whose Boards of Directors are made up of members or sympathizers of Opus Dei.  Even supernumeraries (members who can marry and live in their own homes) often do not know the required practices of the numeraries.  There are books and documents including the Opus Dei Constitutions and the Index of forbidden books that are kept under lock and key in the Director’s office.  As the levels get higher, there are even secret codes and targets for recruiting, which only the higher levels of leadership would be privileged to. 

4. Spying on other members is encouraged

Opus Dei calls it Fraternal Correction. Before giving a fraternal correction, the incident must first be reported to the Director. Then he or she decides if it merits discussion with the person who may have said or done “something in bad spirit” or “with a bad attitude.” Members have the feeling that they are always being watched.

  • Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control

In Opus Dei, “buddies” are used in the recruitment process.  Once the subject of “vocation” is brought up with a potential recruit, the friend of the recruit is introduced to another “buddy” who helps to convince the recruit that he/she has a vocation to Opus Dei.  The whole process is pre-calculated.  For example, if the potential recruit likes to ski, the directors may arrange a ski-trip for the benefit of the recruit.  Sharon remembers this scenario when she was a numerary.  She was instructed to invite her friend, whom the Directors thought could join Opus Dei, on a ski trip.  Her friend was absolutely clueless about the ulterior motive.  She just loved to ski and wanted to have fun.  On the trip, Sharon remembers being heavily pressured to talk to her friend about a possible vocation to Opus Dei, and one of the Directors, who just happened to be a skier, was on standby in the event that she was receptive to the idea.  She remembers being very nervous about bringing up the subject while riding the ski lift with her friend.  Fortunately, her friend was more interested in skiing.

  • Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership

Members meet with their spiritual director every week in a “chat.”  The Founder advises in The Way #64 “Don’t hide those suggestions of the devil from your Director.  When you confide them to him, your victory brings you more grace from God.  Moreover, you now have the gift of counsel and the prayers of your spiritual father to help you keep right on conquering.”

  • Individual behavior monitored by whole group

Numeraries are encouraged to make frequent fraternal corrections and are chastised if time has passed without making one.  Therefore, there is the feeling that one is always being watched.  One feels obligated to sing or dance in the get-togethers if that is what everyone else is doing; otherwise, it shows “bad spirit.”

  • Leadership decided who “needs to know” what and when

The Directors of each center have control over all fraternal corrections made, and sometimes do not allow a fraternal correction for one reason or other.  When numeraries leave Opus Dei, they simply vanish.  No one is given the opportunity to say “Good-bye;” no forwarding address is left in order for others to keep in touch with them.  One numerary may be assigned to recruit her back as a supernumerary once sufficient time has passed.

5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda

See examples below.

  • Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes and other media
Opus Dei has their own Noticias (News) for women and Cronica (Chronicle) for men.  These come out monthly and members are urged strongly to read them.  They are in Spanish, so members are encouraged to learn Spanish.  Members also watch old movies of the Founder and Prelate together.  These are considered very special occasions.  Opus Dei owns many publishing houses, i.e. in Spain, Ireland, the United States, Philippines, etc.  Directors pick out which spiritual reading the members may read; the collection includes mostly writings of the Founder or other Opus Dei members, writings of the Pope, along with a few other books by such authors as Fulton Sheen and G.K. Chesterton. (See "Noticias and Cronica -- Opus Dei's Secret Magazines.")
  • Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources

Opus Dei has their own Communications Office in their new headquarters in New York City.  On their website, they water down the criticism of Opus Dei by explaining that because it is new, “Opus Dei has sometimes been misunderstood.”  Specific allegations are given vague answers, or the person or organization making the criticism is attacked without addressing the issue at hand. 

6. Unethical use of confession

See examples below.

  • Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries

A person’s identity is normally defined by how they spend their time, what they wear, who their friends are, where they work, etc.  If numeraries of Opus Dei spend too much time at their job, fuss over what they want to wear, insist on getting together with family or old friends or perhaps have a time-consuming hobby, they are told that they are “selfish.”  These selfish acts are considered “sins” because they take away from the mission of Opus Dei.  Little by little, the identities of numeraries become blurred with the identity of Opus Dei.  There are stories about how “cute” it was that the former Prelate Fr. Portillo did not know what his favorite flavor of ice cream was.  That was because he could not make decisions for himself anymore.

  • Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

Members go to confession on a set day with a set priest once a week.  They need constant forgiveness, even though their “sins” may not even require absolution.  They confess their defects because the aim in Opus Dei is perfection.  Since no one is perfect, they always feel “sinful.”  In The Way #780, the Founder says, “'Deo omnia Gloria” – “All Glory to God.”  It is an emphatic confession of our nothingness.  He, Jesus, is everything.  We, without him are worth nothing:  Nothing.  Our vainglory would be just that: vain glory; it would be sacrilegious theft; the “I” should not appear anywhere.”  (except in his case, of course, because he is the Founder, and is to be adored.)

7. Need for obedience and dependency

The Founder states in The Way #617 “Obey, as an instrument obeys in the hands of the artist – not stopping to consider the why and the wherefore of what it is doing.  Be sure that you’ll never be directed to do anything that isn’t good for the greater glory of God.”

 

III. Thought Control

BITE Model Components

How Opus Dei Fits the Model 

1. Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”

In Spain, critics call Opus Dei “mas papista que el Papa.”  (More papal than the Pope) 

  • Adopting the group’s map of reality as “Reality” (Map = Reality)

Opus Dei’s “plan of life” and its beliefs picked up through “osmosis” serve to break down individuals and make them humble and compliant.  Through the many indoctrination sessions, the fraternal corrections, the control of the environment, etc., numeraries begin to think and act the same.  Objections are dealt with swiftly and compliance is expected.  The “truth” as expounded by Opus Dei is believed, and they become like puppets in the hands of their directors.

  • Black-and White thinking

Opus Dei teaches that if you simply obey your directors, you will be doing the will of God.  If you live according to the “spirit of Opus Dei” you will be doing God’s will.  Anything outside of that is from the devil and must be avoided; otherwise you may be damned and fall outside of God’s grace.

  • Good vs. Evil

Everything in Opus Dei is broken down into “good” and “evil.”  Obeying your directors is “good”; disobeying and keeping secrets is “evil”.  Directors try to instill fear in numeraries by pointing out that those who leave Opus Dei are probably damned and will never have God’s grace; they say that those who leave become atheists and hedonists.  In The Way #924, the Founder says, “Pray always for perseverance for yourself and for your companions in the apostolate.  Our adversary, the devil, knows only too well that you are his great enemies. . . and when he sees a fall in your ranks, how pleased he is!”

  • Us vs. Them (inside vs. outside)

The enemies of Opus Dei are people who criticize them.  The Way #643, “Be slow to reveal the intimate details of your apostolate.  Don’t you see that the world in its selfishness will fail to understand?  The Way #644 “Be silent!  Don’t forget that your ideal is like a newly-lit flame.  A single breath might be enough to put it out in your heart.”

2. Use of “loaded” language (for example, “thought-terminating clichés”).  Words are the tools we use to think with.  These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding and can even stop thoughts altogether.  They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words.”

One example of a “thought-terminating cliché” used frequently by Opus Dei is “they will not understand.”  Numeraries who have recently joined are told not to tell their parents because “they will not understand.”  Also, on the official Opus Dei website “Common Questions about Opus Dei” section, Opus Dei says, “Like other new institutions, Opus Dei has sometimes been misunderstood.”  Members are also encouraged to recite spontaneous prayers passed down from the Founder.  For example, every morning when numeraries get out of bed they kiss the floor and say, “Serviam,” (I will serve.)  They are encouraged to say other prayers, such as “Omnia in bonum” (all for the best) at difficult moments or to offer up any sufferings “for the intentions of the Father” (the “Prelate” or head of Opus Dei) and thus stop any thoughts about the reason for the suffering.

3. Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.

The Way #13 “Get rid of those useless thoughts which are at best a waste of time.” The founder of Opus Dei also says in The Way #945, “You are badly disposed if you listen to the word of God with a critical spirit.”

4. Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states

Using Roy Hunter's definition of hypnosis as "guided meditation" from www.hypnosis.com, one could say that the atmosphere of the Opus Dei meditations guides a person to "receive the message." The meditations take place in a small, dark chapel, lit by two candles flanking the tabernacle on the altar in order to focus attention on the tabernacle. There is also a small reading lamp on the priest's desk who leads the prayer on a selected topic. Many times, Sharon witnessed members falling asleep -- she could see their heads nodding -- and indeed remembers herself drifting off into a sleep-like state. Another former member, Javier Ropero, touches on this subject in his Hijos en el Opus Dei, chapter 15.[3]

5. Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories

When numeraries of Opus Dei leave, they are forgotten.  It is as if they are erased from the history of Opus Dei.  Also, in Maria Carmen del Tapia’s book, Beyond the Threshold [4], she describes how the Opus Dei biographers of Josemaria Escriva were only allowed to record positive stories about him.  Anything negative about his temper was forgotten.  She also revealed that Opus Dei would change its own history books by carefully lifting text and inserting new text.  In Opus Dei’s secret magazines, members are never identified by name in pictures because many of these people leave Opus Dei or are tossed aside when they are no longer useful.

6. Use of thought-stopping techniques, which shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts.

Members are trained how to live “Always in the presence of God.”  In The Way #25, the Founder says “Arguments usually bring no light because the light is smothered by emotion.”  Members are often given examples of those who “lost their vocations” because they did not reveal their doubts and temptations to their directors in the weekly chat.

  • Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking

The Way #261 “I forbid you to think any more about it.  Instead, bless God, who has given life back to your soul.”

  • Chanting

Members are encouraged to recite the prayer card to the Founder of Opus Dei many times throughout the day.  When Tammy DiNicola was in OD, she remembers having to report the number of times she recited the prayer to her director.

  • Meditating

Members meditate 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, and once a week and on special occasions with a priest of Opus Dei.

  • Praying

A numerary’s whole life is supposed to be a prayer.  In addition to the above meditations, members pray the rosary every day (20 minutes); thanksgiving after mass (10 minutes); and during silent intervals of the day, like on the bus, etc., they pray the rosary or prayer cards to the Founder.

  • Speaking in “tongues”

In Opus Dei, numeraries don’t speak in tongues, but they do speak in Latin.  They attend mass every day in Latin in their centers and all of the responses are recited in Latin.  They read along with a missal with the words in Latin.  They also greet each other in Latin: one member says “Pax,” (Peace) and the other member says, “In aeternum.” (For all eternity)  Many of the spontaneous prayers passed down from the Founder or the Prelate are in Latin, like “Omnia bonum.” (all for the best)

  • Singing or humming

The singing together of "Opus Dei songs" or pre-approved songs, like "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie or the practicing of Latin hymns for special occasions, like Christmas appears to be a diversion; however, in an atmosphere with no true dialogue, these occasions serve to reinforce feelings of loyalty and unity among Opus Dei members to their vocation, and to promote proselytism to recruit even more members. To be honest, my feelings on these occasions were embarrasment to be singing like young children in a classroom. Tammy DiNicola writes extensively on the "Opus Dei song book" used in the get-togethers. Many of the songs are about recruiting. See “Fishing for Vocations in Opus Dei." [5]). When members of Opus Dei are invited to an audience with the Pope, they usually sing him songs about their faith, loyalty and love for him, the Church or to God.

7. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.  No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate

For example, in the case of the canonization of the Founder of Opus Dei, no critical testimonies were allowed by the canonization board.  Maria Carmen del Tapia, who wrote Beyond the Threshold, describes her life with the Founder in Rome.  When he had a fit of temper and called Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth, “the devil," [6] Maria was instructed not to record the event in the house diary.  Opus Dei is believed to be perfect just as it is.  Anyone who suggests change is considered a traitor to the Founder.

8. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good or useful

In order to be a saint, and go to heaven, one needs to live Opus Dei’s Plan of Life.  It is the only “Way.” All other orders within the Church are looked at questioningly, especially Jesuits.

 

IV. Emotional Control

BITE Model Components

How Opus Dei Fits the Model 

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings

After being trained in Opus Dei living, numeraries become like robots and wear a veneer of peace and false happiness that is not real (this false face is often shown to outsiders during recruiting efforts or when trying to “win over” a dubious parent; sadly, they typically do not realize that what they are doing is false.  They “think” they are being happy and spontaneous but they really are not.)  Oftentimes, there are torrents of real emotion riding under the surface that explode when reality starts coming into focus.  These outbursts are quickly suppressed in Opus Dei; sometimes when mental health is in question, Opus Dei sends numeraries to Opus Dei doctors who medicate them heavily.     

2. Make the person feel that if there are ever any problems, it is always his fault, never the leader’s or the group’s

The Founder, teaches his flock that Opus Dei was inspired by God Himself; therefore, it is perfect, only the members have defects.  And the aim of the process of canonization was to prove that he was perfect, a “saint” as well.

3. Excessive use of guilt

See examples below.

  • Identity guilt

Members of Opus Dei are told that “they are Opus Dei.”  They must strive for perfection in everything they do, which of course is impossible, so members never feel adequate.

    • Who you are (not living up to your potential)

The Way #207 “Give thanks, as for a very special favor, for that holy abhorrence that you feel toward yourself.”  Sharon remembers one priest describing in a meditation that if someone passed by a piece of lint on the rug and did not pick it up, then that was a sin, because she did not take the opportunity to offer the act up to God. 

    • Your family

Numeraries of Opus Dei are typically not allowed to go home for Christmas, attend family weddings or even tend to sick family members.  They are told “Opus Dei is your family,” and are made to feel guilty about spending time with their blood families because it takes away from your “Work of God.”  Every effort is made to transfer the feelings they have for their own families to Opus Dei; thus, pictures of family members are not allowed in their rooms, but there are plenty of pictures of the Founder, the Prelate, even the Founder’s sister and parents.  Donkeys and ducks are placed everywhere in Opus Dei houses as a reminder of the Founder, because he said that numeraries should work hard like a donkey at the working wheel and should also be noisy to recruit people like the duck.  The end result is that the numeraries' emotion for their families is replaced with controlled emotion for Opus Dei.

    • Your past

Numeraries must disassociate themselves from their past.  To cement this disassociation, they get rid of all old photographs, letters, and mementos, etc., to reduce any nostalgic memories of home.  Now that Sharon has a family and realizes how valuable memories are, she regrets having thrown out childhood scrapbooks, report cards dating back to the first grade, her high school yearbook and many other sentimental items.

    • Your affiliations

All affiliations of members are controlled by Opus Dei, and must contribute in some way, apostolically, financially or influentially, to Opus Dei.  For example, Sharon was allowed to continue taking courses at Boston University toward her Master’s in Public Relations because that would have been useful to Opus Dei’s aim of influencing public opinion.  Sometimes members join groups, such as pro-life or young adult Catholic groups in order to befriend potential recruits.  Members are trained to target individuals who are bright, busy and influential in their positions.

    • Your thoughts, feelings, action

As mentioned above, members have a weekly “chat” with their spiritual director to discuss all thoughts, feelings and actions.

  • Social guilt

Members are urged to feel responsible to rid the world of evils such as hedonism, communism, and abortion.  They are also told to make reparations for all the sins of the world.  Regarding poverty, however, Sharon remembers being told that Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always.”  Opus Dei does not concern itself with trying to alleviate poverty in the world.  Rather, Opus Dei concentrates on proselytizing the rich and influential, so that hopefully poverty would be addressed in an indirect way.  However, Opus Dei manipulates the charitable intentions (or social guilt) of potential recruits by exposing them to poor people in “visits to the poor or the elderly,” which are used as opportunities for recruitment.  For example, the numerary member would be directed to tell the recruit something like, “See how generous God has been to you.  You should think about returning the generosity by considering a vocation to Opus Dei.”  (See True Stories “I Was Shocked by Hidden Agendas Behind Opus Dei’s Service Projects” by Tammy DiNicola.)

  • Historical guilt

Members of Opus Dei are taught to feel the burden of Jesus dying for our sins, for the deaths of the First Christian martyrs, for the heresies against the Catholic Church, etc.

4. Excessive use of fear

Steve Hassan says, “Phobias are methodically implanted to keep members from feeling they can leave the group and be happy.” [7]

  • Fear of thinking independently

When Sharon left Opus Dei, Sharon was afraid she would not know what to think about.

  • Fear of the “outside” world

Members are taught to feel “safe” on the inside, but afraid of the “outside.”  For example, the devil is always trying to tempt you through strangers.

  • Fear of enemies

Enemies are anyone who is critical of Opus Dei.

  • Fear of losing one’s “salvation”

The Way #749 “There is a hell.  A trite enough statement, you think.  I will repeat it then:  there is a hell!  Echo it, at the right moment, in the ears of one friend, and another and another.”  Numeraries are often told that they will be damned if they leave Opus Dei.

  • Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group

Most of Sharon's close friends at Boston College were either supernumeraries or numeraries.  When she left, it was as if she lost her college experience.  Those who leave are forgotten and shunned.

  • Fear of disapproval

While Sharon was at Brimfield, she was asked to give circle (a talk on the spirit of Opus Dei) to a group of students at Bentley College. She felt uncomfortable doing it because they were not her friends, but was afraid of disapproval and went ahead anyway. As the weeks went by, she was also pressured to talk to each participant individually about attending a retreat. She hated this pressure to recruit, but felt coerced. Otherwise, the directors made her feel as if she was not doing the will of God.

5. Extremes of emotional highs and lows

The emotional highs for numeraries are being able to attend get-togethers with the Pope, the Prelate of Opus Dei, or to watch films of the Founder or Prelate.  They become hysterical when the “Father” or “Prelate” comes to their center, and they will travel great distances to go to the meetings with him.  All the excitement in Opus Dei is directed toward recruiting.  In their get-togethers, numeraries discuss new recruits all the time, sing songs about “fishing for vocations,” and attend workshops from time to time in order to be more successful in their “apostolate.”  In these workshops, numeraries are taught specific conversations to have with their “friends.”  The Founder passed down this apostolic zeal, as revealed in his quote "This holy coercion is necessary, compelle intrare the Lord tells us,” from the secret internal magazine Cronica.[8]  (Editor's note:  "compelle intrare" is Latin for "compel them to enter" from the gospel story in Luke 14:23.)

6. Ritual and often public confession of “sins”

Before the circle, a talk by the director of the center once a week on the spirit of Opus Dei, a different member each week kneels down to confess in front of everyone some personal defect or “sin.”  For example, “I did not get out of bed at the instant the knock came on the door.”  They are given a penance by the Director.  They are expected to confess publicly periodically and are confronted if they do not do it from time to time.

7. Phobia indoctrination:  inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority.  The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.

When Sharon was thinking about leaving Opus Dei, she felt trapped.  She kept imagining herself walking down the staircase with her suitcase in her hand, but the front door was alarmed, and she was afraid someone would wake up.  She was also afraid that something terrible would happen to her if she did leave.  It took a family crisis to “snap” her into realizing her intentions of leaving, regardless of the consequences.

  • No happiness or fulfillment outside the group

When Sharon started telling the Director that she would like to leave Opus Dei, the Director told her stories about people who had gotten out and became atheists, etc.  When Sharon told her spiritual director that she thought she would like to be married some day, her director replied that “men are jerks in pants,” and that the life of female supernumeraries with families is much more difficult.  Numeraries are told they will be miserable if they leave Opus Dei.

  • Terrible consequences will take place if you leave:  hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.

The Director of Brimfield told Sharon that she would be excommunicated from the Catholic Church and go to hell if she left because leaving was like getting a divorce.  So when the Opus Dei officials say that members have freedom to leave; what they really mean is that members have the freedom to go to hell.

  • Shunning of leave takers; fear of being rejected by friends, peers and family

Members are not allowed to associate with those who have left, unless they are trying to get them to rejoin.

  • Never a legitimate reason to leave.  From the group’s perspective, people who leave are “weak,” “undisciplined,” “unspiritual,” “worldly,” “brainwashed by family or counselor,” or “seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.

The directors assigned to Sharon insisted that it was God’s will for her to stay; that she had a vocation to Opus Dei.  Even after she did leave, she was harassed for four months to return.  (See True Stories, “My Nightmarish Experience in Opus Dei” by Sharon Clasen [9])

 

Sources

1)  Transcript of Interview on CNN Live This Morning, “An In-Depth Look at Opus Dei:  A Conservative Catholic Group”, aired May 18, 2001.  Quote by Meg Kates, numerary member of Opus Dei.

2)  Releasing the Bonds, Empowering People to Think for Themselves by Steven Hassan, Freedom of Mind Press, Somerville, MA 2000, p. 42-45.

3) Hijos en el Opus Dei, by Javier Ropero, Ediciones B, 1993.

4) Beyond the Theshold, A Life in Opus Dei by Maria del Carmen Tapia, Continuum Publishing Company, New York, 1997, p.120, 168.

5)  “Fishing for Vocations in Opus Dei,” an article by Tammy DiNicola, included in the Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN) information packet.

6) Tapia, p. 125.

7) Hassan, p. 53.

8)  Quote from the Founder of Opus Dei in Cronica, iv, 1971 from "The Inner World of Opus Dei:  Evidence from internal documents of Opus Dei and testimony" Dr. John J. Roche, Linacre College, Oxford, June 15, 1982.  This article is included in the Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN) information packet. Note:  Dr. Roche, a former numerary member of Opus Dei who resigned in November 1973 after becoming increasingly alarmed by Opus Dei's practices, secretly copied about 140 editorials from Cronica before leaving.

9) “My Nightmarish Experience in Opus Dei” by Sharon Clasen, ODAN website True Stories.

Also

Quotes from The Way by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, Founder of Opus Dei

Revised June 4, 2003