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,
Opus Dei Survival Kit
story was translated by an ODAN supporter and posted
on the www.opuslibros.com website. To read the story in Spanish,
Dei: Kit de supervivencia.")
Dimitri Knobbe, Holland
August 1993 I was looking for housing in Amsterdam, preparing myself
for my freshman year in college. When I came across this beautiful
student house named Leidenhoven, which was led by apparently nice
people, I did not have to think twice about moving in. As usual
within Opus Dei, I did not hear anything about this organization
until some weeks after I had moved in. In an early stage I started
to find the atmosphere in the house quite suffocating and things
just did not feel right, although I could not exactly tell what
bothered me at that time. Even though I was feeling somewhat uncomfortable
with the Opus Dei members, I did come close to a vocational crisis
at one point, largely due to an excessive understanding of my personal
sinfulness and human sin in general. These thoughts were at least
triggered by the Opus Dei spirituality, by which I was surrounded.
After about six months, the pressure had built up to an extent that
I had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for two months. On
my return to Leidenhoven, I was advised by the director of Leidenhoven
not to talk about my situation with anybody since people would think
I was "crazy as a loon". He sent me to a "friend
of the house" as he called him, for psychological follow-up
counseling. You have to understand that all this time I was not
fully aware of the psychological pressure they were putting on me.
This Opus Dei psychiatrist told me basically that I should stop
mourning and that I should "pray and fight". He told me
that only the Catholic Church could save the world and that I should
break all ties with my parents, only to look them up on their deathbed.
Indeed my relationship with my parents was not a very good one,
but to say the latter exemplifies the practice of detachment advocated
by Escrivá: "Detach yourself from creatures until you
are stripped of them." During the rest of my stay in Leidenhoven,
I was treated by the Opus Dei members with cynicism due to my ongoing
emotionally unstable state. According to a book by Jef Geeraerts
 this sort of cynicism should be considered as givings of eleemosynae
spirituales, Latin for spiritual alms, as a way to become strengthened
in the Opus Dei spirituality. At the end of the second year, I was
asked to leave the house so that others "could get a chance".
will stop here writing about my own experience with Opus Dei. Although
it took me years to recover from it, my experiences are insignificant
compared to those of others.
few years later, I found out that my university was providing Opus
Dei with facilities in order to attract students to spend their
summer in Latin America working on a development program. Of course
the name Opus Dei was not mentioned - the organization was simply
named Studenten voor Ontwikkeling, Students for Development. I decided
to inform the university press about this and they gave the subject
considerable attention and, as is usual in these cases, received
an enormous amount of letters to the editor from angry people (all
Opus Dei members and sympathizers, without saying it) after they
had published a critical article.
Via this article, I was contacted by a girl who went on one of those
trips to Latin America. She told me about the fight she and some
other girls had had with the members of the organization because
nothing had been said about Opus Dei, while, in fact, the whole
trip appeared to have been organized by this organisation. As a
side note, I would like to mention that Opus Dei traditionally is
on the side of ultra-rightwing politics in Latin America.
was also contacted by a minister who wanted to talk to me. He had
experienced Opus Dei when he was working in the city of Maastricht,
Holland, where he had been consulted by parents whose children had
become just a little too close to Opus Dei. Proselytizing among
very young children is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects
of Opus Dei.
was also contacted by the parents of somebody I knew from boxing
practice. Their daughter had been staying in the student residence
for girls De Aenstal in Amsterdam. At one point, when their daughter
seemed to slip into Opus Dei, members of Opus Dei more or less forced
their way into the house, packed his daughter's belongings and took
her away. The girl stayed under psychological care for years, and
maybe still is. Curiously, after all this, when the guy I knew from
boxing practice happened to run into one of the female members of
Opus Dei at the university, she greeted him as if nothing had happened
between Opus Dei and his family.
Researching this paper
a way to form a proper opinion on Opus Dei I started to read many
books on this organization. And because of the cases just described,
I have come to the conclusion that I should get actively involved
in the worldwide criticism that Opus Dei has provoked over the years.
However, when reading about Opus Dei I was struck by the lack of
a more profound understanding of this organization. Although many
works are highly researched, many authors do not seem to capture
the inner world of Opus Dei. Often authors are paying too much attention
to subjects like the character of Josemaría Escriva ,
the quest for power within the Roman Curia , the financial and
political scandals  etcetera. Even worse, some authors come up
with strange theories, like Opus Dei being a secret Jewish organization
My understanding of Opus Dei
spirituality of Opus Dei should be understood against the background
of the typical form of Spanish religiosity. This religiosity often
takes the middle road between the mentality of a knight and that
of a monk, which could be considered the result of the centuries-long
struggle against Islam. Not surprisingly, many aggressive orders
have arisen from Spanish soil, for instance the Dominicans and the
Jesuits ("los de siempre", the usual ones, according to
Josemaría!). A famous member of the latter order was
Baltasar Gracián, a 17th century priest, who is often compared
to Machiavelli and the Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu. His maxim
was: "Use divine means as if there aren't any worldly and use
worldly means as if there are no divine." His book The Art
of Worldy Wisdom is literally full of opportunism but still ends
with: "Be a saint, that says everything." Apparently some
means are justified by the intention which underlies the means.
This has to be understood primarily by the way the Catholic Church
sees herself, as the only earthly provider of divine grace, in particular
by providing the gratia habitualis by way of the sacraments. The
Church as an intermediary has known many inner conflicts as to how
to operate her sacred task. The central question, in my own words,
was to what extent individual members of the Church could be allowed
to use pressure and lies as a means to benefit the Church. With
regard to this question, the Catholic moral theology has developed
several moral systems between the 16th and 20th century. All of
these systems looked for a solution to the problem of how the individual
consciousness, wavering between an objective law and subjective
freedom, could justify a (deceptive) utterance. On the one ultimate
side there was the system of probabilism, on the other probabiliorism.
The former learned that, when in doubt, the individual consciousness
had the freedom to judge his own pronouncements (lex dubia non obligat),
the latter learned the opposite.
my opinion, the way propagated by probabilism still persists in
the practices of Opus Dei, although the most extreme forms of this
system (characterized by rigorism or tutiorism) have been condemned
by the Church. I shall try to give an example.
all intimacy, I was once called "a friend for life" by
an Opus Dei member. Since Opus Dei discourages genuine friendships
between their members and since non-members certainly are not considered
friends, this apparently friendly gesture should be understood as
a form of reservatio mentalis; the inner reserve of somebody who
says or promises something, by choosing his words in such a manner
- in particular by giving them a different meaning than normally
is expected - that the hearer is deceived and the speaker can always
deny having said something. So the specific utterance of calling
somebody a friend for life should be considered a form of love-bombing,
which Opus Dei is often accused of. It is sometimes hard to tell
the difference between real love-bombing and genuine cordiality
in the world of Opus Dei. This has to do with the fact that the
Catholic teachings do not see the human nature as fundamentally
sinful, as in the traditional protestant churches, but rather lacking
the imago dei (since Adam's fall) which can only be restored by
following the Church. The combination of love-bombing and ego-destruction
is often the way of destabilizing people's minds and propelling
them into Opus Dei.
Dei has always dismissed any criticism by saying that all the criticism
is expressed by people who "just do not understand" their
organization or by former members, the latter often being accused
of flaqueza, Spanish for lack of character, which leads to a distorted
view of reality. At the same time however, Opus Dei has all the
characteristics of a sect, as formulated in a 1986 Vatican document
 and as every critical-thinking individual would agree.
 Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, wrote
in his booklet The Way: "Don't forget that you are just
a trash can [
]" (maxim 592).
Idem, maxim 149. A good analysis of The Way is provided by
André van Bosbeke in his book Opus Dei in België,
Breda 1985. You also might want to read the book by Klaus Steigleder
Das Opus Dei, eine Innenansicht, München 1996, in which
many maxims are cited. It is one of the best books on Opus Dei I
have read so far, because it captures the atmosphere around the
modus operandi of Opus Dei so well. The German author Peter
Hertel cites from Cronica as well as some other documents that Opus
Dei tries to hide from the public in his book Geheimnisse des
Opus Dei, Geheimdokumente - Hintergründe - Strategien,
Freiburg 1995 (published by the same author; Ich verspreche euch
den Himmel: Geistlicher Anspruch, Gesellschaftliche Ziele und Kirchliche
Bedeutung des Opus Dei, Düsseldorf 1991. A similar introduction
to Opus Dei is from the hand of the renowned author on religious
subjects Michael Walsh, The Secret World of Opus Dei, London
Author of two novels on Opus Dei; Het Rashomon complex (1992
Antwerpen/Amsterdam) and De PG (1999 Amsterdam).
You could check the homepage of Franz Schaefer (www.mond.at/opus.dei/)
for other people's personal experiences. Or read the book of Fergal
Bowers, The Work: An Investigation into the History of Opus Dei
and how it Operates in Ireland Today, Dublin 1989.
For instance Penny Lernoux, People of God, the Struggle for World
Catholicism, New York 1989.
In particular Javier Ropero Palaéz, Im Bann des Opus Dei,
Familien in der Zerreissprobe, Düsseldorf 1995.
For instance Luis Carandell, Vida y Milagros de Monseñor
Escivá de Balaguer, Fundador del Opus Dei, Barcelona
1992. I have not read this book yet, or any other in Spanish. Quite
interesting with regard to the supposed holiness of Josemaría
is the book by Kenneth Woodward, Making Saints: How the Catholic
Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't, and Why,
New York 1990.
For instance Matthias Mettner, Die Katholische Maffia, Kirchliche
Geheimbünde greifen nach der Macht, München 1995.
In particular Robert Hutchison, Their Kingdom Come, London
Alfonso Carlos de Borbón, Die Ganze Wahrheit über
das Opus Dei, Durach 1997.
The quotation of Josemaría is derived from the book by María
del Carmen Tapia, Beyond the Threshold, A Life in Opus Dei,
New York 1998. To understand more about the relationship between
Opus Dei and the Jesuits, see Joan Estruch's Saints and Schemers,
Opus Dei and Its Paradoxes, New York 1995.
The booklet Parents' Guide to Opus Dei (New York 1993) by
J. Garvey describes the sectarian character of Opus Dei using the
Vatican document Challenge of New Religious Movements (1986)
as a basis. The Parents' Guide is distributed by the Catholic organisation
'Our Lady and Saint-Joseph in Search of the Lost Child', 305 Madison
Avenue, suite 1146, New York 10165, USA (with many volunteers in
different countries). A second organisation in the USA is the 'Opus
Dei Awareness Network' (see www.odan.org).
Other initiatives from within the Catholic Church have led to the
publications of Harald Schutzeichel (Hg.), Opus Dei - Ziele,
Anspruch und Einfluss, Düsseldorf 1992 and Paulus-Akademie
(Hg.), Opus Dei - Stossgrupp Gottes oder 'Heilige Maffia'?,
Posted to website May 13, 2002