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,
Inner World of Opus Dei
story was translated by an ODAN supporter and posted
on the www.opuslibros.com website. To read the story in Spanish,
click on "El
Mundo Interior del Opus Dei.")
Dr. John Roche, Linacre College, Oxford
I joined Opus Dei as a numerary, or full member, in 1959 while I
was a graduate student at Galway University. In 1961 I was asked
to go to Kenya to set up and run the physics department of Strathmore
College, a pre-university school owned and administered by Opus
Dei. I gradually took on further responsibilities, eventually becoming
the Warden of the College, and director to most of the members of
Opus Dei involved there. I also organised the work with married
members of Opus Dei, and set up a boys club. In 1972, after a short
period in Spain, I went to Oxford to study. While in England I became
increasingly worried by some of the attitudes and activities of
Opus Dei in Europe. I kept a diary of events and carefully studied
the internal documents of Opus Dei at my disposal. It gradually
dawned on me that the ethos of Opus Dei was entirely self-centred,
sectarian, and totalitarian, and that it was misleading the Church
about important aspects of its character. In the summer of 1973
I began to draw up an internal report about Opus Dei. When news
of this got to Rome I was asked to discontinue my report, and to
hand over what I had written. I refused, and after various admonitions
to withdraw my criticisms (not being allowed to see the Constitution
of Opus Dei to discover my rights), I was requested to resign from
Opus Dei. This I did in November 1973. Before I left I secretly
xeroxed or transcribed about 140 editorials of Cronica, which
is the chief internal magazine of Opus Dei, and which constitutes
the main spiritual reading of members of Opus Dei. I made various
efforts to draw the attention of the Church to the dangers of Opus
Dei but without success. From The London Times, of 16 November
1979, I learned with dismay that Opus Dei was attempting to acquire
the status of a personal prelature. I wrote to The Times
and Clifford Longley, the religious affairs correspondent (a Catholic)
came to see me, and read my documents.
After more than a year of research The Times published 'A
Profile of Opus Dei' on 12 January 1981 calling for an investigation
of Opus Dei by the Church. This was followed by a considerable coverage
in the media, during which Cardinal Hume was urged to carry out
an investigation of Opus Dei. I submitted my documents to the Cardinal,
and it was announced in the press that he would conduct an informal
investigation of Opus Dei in his own dioceses. The Cardinal received
information about Opus Dei from all over the world and on 2 December
1981 published his guidelines for Opus Dei, which in effect requested
Opus Dei to discontinue its practices of the secret recruitment
under pressure of children under 18, and not prevent its members
from receiving outside spiritual direction, and also not to prevent
those from leaving who wished to do so. Opus Dei in England publicly
accepted his guidelines but privately criticised and ridiculed the
Cardinal. During the past two years, I have heard from, or met,
many former members of Opus Dei and parents of present members,
who expressed gratitude and relief that at last something was being
done about Opus Dei. I have gathered together also a great deal
of documentary evidence. I shall attempt to give a brief resume
of the information at my disposal and I shall also provide documentary
evidence and testimony.
Dei is often accused in the world press of being a political organisation.
In accordance with its Constitution is chiefly interested in the
governing classes and in it does seek to acquire political influence.
But such influence does not imply a particular political ideology,
and in fairness to Opus Dei, during my fourteen years of membership
I did not detect any party political intention. Its members do,
however, loosely share a spread of political attitudes which vary
in emphasis with time and place. These result from its uncompromising
anti-communism, its fundamentalist religious outlook, its international
business enterprises, and its long affiliation with the business
and military classes of Spain. It is therefore, very attractive
to the far right. Opus Dei is indeed at bottom a religious organisation,
but with various deviant tendencies which I shall attempt to describe.
is easy to be impressed by Opus Dei, with its beautiful buildings,
its energy, its sense of purpose, its likeable, well-dressed members,
and its apparent loyalty to traditional catholicism. But this is
only one face of Opus Dei. Internally it is totalitarian and imbued
with fascist ideas turrned to religious purposes, ideas which were
surely drawn from the Spain of its early years. It is virtually
a sect or cult in spirit, a law unto itself, totally self-centred,
grudgingly accepting Roman authority because it still considers
Rome orthodox, and because of the vast pool of recruits accessible
to it as a respected Catholic organisation. While its founder, 'the
Father', J.M. Escriva, was alive he was the object of an almost
hysterical personality cult deliberately fostered by himself and
by the organisation in various ways which included the spreading
of whispered stories that he received visitations from the Virgin
Mary, the elaborate staging of 'get-togethers' with him, and through
Opus Dei's internal publications. As a condition of membership he
demanded acceptance that 'The Work' was Divinely revealed to him,
that it was therefore 'absolutely perfect', and that he was infallible
in matters of the 'spirit of the Work'. It is easy to understand
why, therefore, it could happen, in 1973, that a senior member of
the Work told me that if a choice had to be made he would follow
the Father rather than the Pope, since the Founder himself at that
time frequently stated that the 'Church was rotten' and that 'he
no longer believed in Popes or Bishops.'
Dei has a grotesquely inflated opinion of itself, calling itself
"everlasting," the "predilect of God," the "Mystical
Body," referring to "the beauty of the Work of God ...
which is more luminous than 'the dawn, fair as the Moon, bright
as the Sun, terrible as an army with banners'." Opus Dei believes
that it is the new chosen people, that its founder is a new Abraham,
and that it has an "'imperative command from Christ" to
recruit the rest of the human race, including the Catholic Church,
into the organisation. It should be no surprise therefore that its
almost exclusive goal is its own aggrandizement through religious,
political, and economic influence within the Church and in secular
society, and above all by recruitment.
understand the Work it is necessary to realise that "proselytism"
is its driving passion: "University residences, universities,
publishing houses ...are these ends? ...no, rather means ...and
what is the end? ...to promote the greatest possible number of souls
dedicated to God in Opus Dei." Every school, youth club, cultural
centre run by the Work has this goal as its first, hidden, purpose.
It has developed a variety of successful techniques to persuade
young people to join which are closer in spirit to the methods of
the more notorious contemporary cults. "Love-bombing"
has long been used, the provision of a total environment, and the
gradual alienation from family, friends, and the Church. Young people
are often encouraged to join at 14-1/2 years of age and are discouraged
from telling their parents. Various methods of "holy coercion"
are used in dealing with the reluctant which includes warning them
that "not to heed the clear call of God ...can be fatal for
the soul... a radical opposition to the Will of God."
who join as celibate "numerary members" live very narrow
lives and are worked relentlessly. Every detail of their lives is
regimented, they are bound by absolute obedience to their directors
who are "almost infallible," they are taught "to
give in to what in their consciences seems to be an error"
and "to cede all rights." They are told that "there
is no need to think, everything is written." and innumerable
other techniques of thought-control are used. They are taught that
Opus Dei is an "organism," that only the "whole is
efficacious," that "our ego has died and our only concern
is the collective ideal." Not only are members not allowed
to go to the theatre, cinema, or football games, they are only allowed
to watch approved television programmes and read a few approved
books and newspapers. Their spiritual reading is almost entirely
confined to the writings of the founder who is "a latter-day
Doctor of the Church," and from whom these quotations are mostly
drawn. As a result of this many members become depersonalised, stereotyped
and shadows of their former selves.
are tightly controlled financially, handing over their salaries
and being effectively persuaded to make out their wills to Opus
Dei seven years after they have joined. Their letters are read,
they are subjected to frequent "classes of formation,"
weekly "confidences" with their director and a priest,
and are coerced into submissive obedience. Some are pressed, against
their wills, into becoming priests. Members are trained to appear
joyful in their encounters with the public, to declare that they
are very happy in Opus Dei, and that Opus Dei is a wonderful family.
In fact Opus Dei is harsh and unbalanced, its members are locked
into the strange mentality of its founder, and live in a world totally
insulated from outside criticism. Many of the ordinary members are
sincere though misguided, but the higher the level of government
in Opus Dei the more reprehensible its conduct. Most alarmingly,
members are cut off from the life, thought, and protection of the
Church by the closed self-sufficiency of Opus Dei, by its hostility
and contempt for just about every element in the Church, by its
effective prohibition of anyone consulting a priest outside Opus
Dei, and by its siege mentality.
Dei is supervised internally by its more ardent "inscribed"
members who ensure that there is no public criticism within the
organisation. Criticism is effectively contained in private discussions
with a director. These also see to it that backsliding members receive
"holy coercion" to perform the many devotional norms,
and ensure that any deviation of conduct, speech or dress is rapidly
remedied by means of "fraternal correction." Members flagellate
themselves, wear a spiked chain, and the women sleep on boards nightly,
practices no longer recommended by the Church. Members who are thought
not to practice sufficient physical self-mortification, or not to
be sufficiently active in proselytism are sometimes criticised openly.
Opus Dei abounds in stories of the Founder's bloodied discipline.
Women members are not allowed to visit parents, sometimes even when
they are dying, and are not allowed to attend family gatherings
such as weddings or Christmas or even to sleep at home, causing
untold anguish to parents. Members are encouraged to practise the
of not giving," which they believe to be a Christian virtue,
and which means in practice that they are not allowed to give alms
to the Church or to the poor, are not allowed to give presents to
anyone, not even at family weddings and are pressed to cultivate
friendships with the wealthy to obtain gifts of money. Members are
allowed no holidays, receive no gratitude, are worked relentlessly,
and quickly learn the truth of the boast of the Father that "we
end up exhausted, squeezed out." Opus Dei is also anti-intellectual
and is virtually without interest in the cultural life of its members.
There is anxiety within Opus Dei about all of this, but it has no
voice. Both internal and external secrecy are practised, members
being supplied with caricatures of outside criticisms. Yet this
is what Opus Dei describes to potential recruits as "living
as ordinary Christian lay people in the middle of the World."
Dei is an Orwellian world employing much double-think and internal
and external deception. A glossy image has been elaborated for potential
recruits, church dignitaries, and the press, which is very misleading.
A general rhetoric of self-description has also been developed for
internal consumption, safe from the ears of the Church, which applies
to Opus Dei every imaginable flattery. The language of practical
directives, however, is harsh, and unambiguous. Although it is incompatible
with the rhetoric, few realise it. Members who criticize and think
of leaving are warned that they risk damnation, are told, untruthfully,
that those who leave bitterly regret it, are called traitors, and
if they persist are expelled without a penny. As a result there
are a lot of very disturbed people in Opus Dei living a kind of
horror without escape which only a religious conscience can experience.
I know of several cases of virtual house arrest and interrogation
and of attempted and perhaps even successful suicides. On the other
hand many members of Opus Dei are happy with their way of life,
and Opus Dei would still get recruits if it was honest about itself.
Most members have a strong sense of belonging and although their
thought on many matters becomes stereotyped and partisan, they live
in a world of certainties, with a strong sense of loyalty, purpose
and support. Those who do leave are sometimes subjected to systematic
defamation which also explains why many former members are afraid
to speak out. There is much talk of the Devil in Opus Dei; and critics
of the organisation, whether in the episcopate or among the laity,
are held to be either doing the work of the devil or to be Marxists.
Ridicule is also commonly used, a tactic recommended by the Founder.
On the other hand physical violence is not used against its detractors,
which is something to be grateful for in an age of violence.
Dei controls a vast multinational business organisation. It has
become enormously wealthy through its "Auxiliary societies,"
which are economic enterprises controlled by Opus Dei and run by
its lay members. Opus Dei's economic activities have a history of
scandals reflecting a very casual internal attitude towards social
ethics. Members were encouraged by the Founder to help each other
in securing "professional prestige," and titles and honours
sought after as "apostolic bait." The Founder himself
obtained the title of Marquis of Peralta. In pursuit of spreading
"the spirit of Opus Dei" everywhere it strives to secure
the friendship of, and to "impress" influential lay catholics,
politicians, industrialists, and churchmen. All of this is carried
out with the utmost "discretion," members ordinarily being
forbidden by their Constitution to reveal to outsiders that they
belong to Opus Dei.
Dei invests an enormous effort into spreading an attractive but
largely false image of itself in the media. It runs newspapers,
magazines, publishing houses, colleges of journalism, a news agency,
and it is involved in the cinema and television. Its many journalist
members use their influence to give publicity to its official image,
to suppress unfavourable articles about Opus Dei, and to persuade
apparently uninvolved friends to write "spontaneous" letters
defending Opus Dei in stereotyped language. Opus Dei is engaged
at present in winning control of various catholic newspapers and
magazines. It aims to "drown evil in an abundance of good."
It is fiercely energetic and unremittingly persistent in everything
Dei's drive to recruit parish clergy, who develop a narrow sectarian
commitment, is particularly worrying. They are used by Opus Dei
to gather intelligence about local clergy, and Bishops even, which
is sent to Rome. Another alarming feature is that it is potentially
self-perpetuating. Perhaps three-quarters of its members are married
and take partial vows. They learn to regard their membership of
Opus Dei "as more important than their wives and children,"
and to encourage their children to join the organisation. Opus Dei
also has Bishops among its members. In 1973 there was some discussion
in Opus Dei of the possibility of a schism, since the Founder intensely
disliked Pope Paul VI and the effects on the Church of the Vatican
Dei at present is engaged in the most ambitious venture of its entire
history. It is attempting to push through quickly the canonisation
of its Founder as to secure respectability for the organisation.
I understand that one of the Devil's Advocates is a priest of Opus
Dei. It has recently secured the status of a personal prelature
which will qive it independence from the local Bishops. Most ambitious
of all it is attempting to secure key positions in the government
of the Church, with the best intentions of course, just as it virtually
took over the government of Spain in the last years of Franco. The
personal prelature will allow Opus Dei to spread everywhere ignoring
the local bishops. It denies this but its record in telling the
truth is poor. Its members will now be even less protected by the
Church than they have been, and Opus Dei is one step closer to becoming
a sect. Should it gain control over key organs of government of
the Church, the spirit of the Vatican Council will be gravely threatened,
as also will be the unity and moral integrity of the Church.
Opus Dei needs is not more independence but more control by the
Church. It is high time a full investigation was carried out into
what is to some degree a malignant growth within the Church.
Written 7 September 1982
to website September 11, 2002