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,
The Spirit of Opus Dei Harms People
story was translated into Spanish by an ODAN supporter and posted
onto the www.opuslibros.com website. To
read the story in Spanish, click on "El
Espíritu del Opus Dei hace daño a las personas.")
Former Numerary, Asia
your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is
from the evil one." (Mt 5:37)
I could write a book about my experience in Opus Dei, but I do not
wish to burden myself with the curse of Opus Dei any more than necessary.
So I will try to focus on what I believe to be the essentials of
my overall negative experience.
begin with, I had a strong conversion experience in third year high
school. There came a point when I stopped believing in God and I
decided not to attend Mass on Sunday. This went on for about one
month. Then, during Holy Week, I watched some shows on TV about
people like Padre Pio or about the Shroud of Turin, and they convinced
me of the truth of the Catholic religion. I started to read religious
books, and I felt very consoled by the stories of the saints, like
St. Francis of Assisi. Quite eagerly, I decided I wanted to become
a monk, and my first choice was Carthusian. This is natural, because
I was experiencing the fervor of conversion. I later found out there
were no Carthusians in my country, so I decided that I would join
the Trappists, who live in a somewhat remote location here. I got
this idea by watching them on a TV documentary, and I grew enthusiastic.
I was also inspired by reading Thomas Merton's books.
in the Jesuit high school where I was studying, there was a strong
orientation in religious education toward serving the poor. I was
good in every area of academics, but I scored well in the science
aptitude tests. I decided to become a medical doctor. I thought
of opening a clinic outside the monastery, and so fulfilling my
desire for a prayerful monastic life combined with service to the
in the first year of college, I was feeling strong desires for a
deeper spiritual life. I wanted to join the monastery that year.
But I also wanted to finish medical school--nine years' schooling
at that time. I started going to spiritual direction and confession
with an Opus Dei priest. But at that time, I didn't know anything
about Opus Dei. Opus Dei assigned me a friend who taught me some
norms of piety. After about a year, my mental prayer became a very
satisfying and happy experience. It was like the opening of a wonderful
friend asked me to join Opus Dei. I wrote the letter thinking that
it would be a good thing to continue with my spiritual practices
with the help of Opus Dei until I could finish my medical studies
and enter the
monastery. That was all that I really wanted. I did not intend to
undertake ANY of the commitments that were later imposed on me,
consider this event to be possibly the greatest single misfortune
of my entire short life, even exceeding in unfortunate ramifications
the death of my mother.
several months, I was told to go on a retreat. I did not want to,
but because of the insistence, I went. I had a very positive experience
during the retreat. I felt a real horror of sin and a great desire
to serve God. At that point, I was ready to accept anything Opus
Dei told me.
was instructed by the director of the center to lie to my parents
that I had joined Opus Dei. Initially, my conscience was very disturbed
by this instruction, but because of my positive spiritual experience
under the sponsorship of Opus Dei, I thought that the director must
somehow be right. This concession on my part marks the very beginning
of the brainwashing. I can say this now, Opus Dei is wrong to require
the numeraries to lie about their membership, especially to their
parents. It is a sin, an injustice, and a betrayal of trust. "Holy
discretion" cannot justify it.
know of religious who joined the order at a young age and their
parents caused them much suffering and rejection. But the religious
never lied about their decision to enter the novitiate. That Opus
Dei is not, legally speaking, a religious order is irrelevant in
this situation because the commitment of the numerary is de facto
the same as that of a religious. In fact, Opus Dei asks of the numerary
a commitment that in certain respects even exceeds that of a religious,
without the protections of canon law afforded to religious.
lack of regulation in canon law of the life of numeraries opens
the door to abuse, as has been well documented, with children 14
years old or even younger being recruited to make a lifetime commitment
a period of over two years, I lived a very intense prayer life.
My life of mortification was quite severe, and I fasted often. The
priest who was my spiritual director took no steps to counsel moderation.
I experienced a great deal of spiritual consolation, especially
in seeing the Virgin and feeling her special presence.
I got sick with hepatitis. My mother saw her chance to get me out
of Opus Dei. She bought airplane tickets to another country where
Opus Dei did not have an established presence--she was a diplomat
working there--and forced me to stay in bed. I was also isolated
from my spiritual director and experienced terrible temptations
and felt the presence of the devil. But I also experienced the heights
of mystical prayer, at one point feeling the wonderful presence
of the Virgin, more intensely than in the past.
mother had by this time developed a hatred for Opus Dei. Her words,
"I hate Opus Dei!" The main reason why she hated Opus
Dei was because she thought it was "sneaky." Both my parents
resented the fact that I never consulted them about my decision
to join Opus Dei. But if you recall, I was instructed by the director
of the center to lie about this.
I was experiencing severe interior trials, I steadfastly adhered
to Escriva's ill-advised rule not to seek the counsel of other priests
outside the Work. I kept insisting that I had to return to my country
so that I could speak to an Opus Dei priest. This insistence stoked
the already intense anger my mother felt for Opus Dei. Some of this
anger was directed, naturally, at me.
I was allowed to return to my country. My spiritual director would
not talk to me about my experiences. My parents said that I had
been confined to bed after my bout with hepatitis because I was
sick in the head, meaning that my illness was a delusion. The truth
is, my mother wouldn't allow me to get out of bed!
result of this experience was anguish and confusion, initially.
I had undergone so much suffering that I was filled with fear. My
spiritual director would not speak to me about what was going on
inside me. This was a very big mistake. But I also think he was
incapable, honestly. Lack of adequate theological education or poor
make this evaluation because I am familiar with the formation of
numeraries. All the spiritual director is taught to do in Opus Dei
is to imbibe a specific way of thinking and to dispense it. No understanding
of counseling, which in some cases intersects with spiritual direction.
In theology classes, there is a dearth of genuine scholarship and
an almost complete absence of critical understanding. No questions
are allowed. Religious education in Opus Dei is indoctrination.
on, I was assigned a new spiritual director. This time, when I would
speak directly about what was troubling me deeply, I would not receive
helpful advice. Usually, I got a laugh as a response. Believe it
or not. The laugh meant something like, "Why are you making
up problems?" It was largely dismissive and plainly obtuse.
One hundred percent unhelpful. Because of deficient spiritual direction,
many internal issues pertaining to my spiritual experiences remained
unresolved and festering.
I lost faith in my spiritual director. Three years later, I left.
system was full of contradictions. The straw that broke the camel's
back was when the director said that everything I owned belonged
to Opus Dei. This statement was inconsistent with what I had been
told almost six years earlier, that we were lay people who owned
our own private property. There was no such thing as common property
because Opus Dei members were not religious.
that time, I could not think straight because of the brainwashing.
What I had learned in Opus Dei was inconsistent with logic, my own
knowledge of the Catholic faith, and my own spiritual instinct.
I was in a state of severe cognitive dissonance.
plans to finish medical school and to become a monk were in shreds.
I was extremely unhappy. This condition persisted for many, many
years. I never became a medical doctor or a monk.
had to sort out why I had such a bad experience in Opus Dei. And
I am convinced that the reason is in significant measure because
the system is defective. I have many critical views about the system,
and they are consistent with what other former members, especially
John Roche, have written.
many aspects of the religious way of thinking in Opus Dei, the Opus
Dei spirit, are unsound. They harm people. I believe that if I had
had the benefit of a knowledgeable, experienced spiritual director,
I would not have had such a bad experience.
in the Opus Dei spirit turns peculiar ideas in theology in general,
and spirituality in particular into dogma, just because Josemaria
Escriva espoused them. For example, Escriva believed that personal
holiness--whatever he means by that--is often sufficient qualification
to give spiritual direction. He allowed very young numeraries--we
are talking here of late teens to early twenties--to become spiritual
directors, urging them to "mature quickly"--again, whatever
he means by that. However, in my opinion, you can't have children--and
numeraries at this age are children when it comes to spiritual direction--counseling
a person who is undergoing mystical experiences. You need a mature,
experienced spiritual director.
the age of 21, I myself was required to be a spiritual director.
I was extremely distressed by the responsibility. I accepted this
role only out of obedience--at that time, I had a vow to keep. I
decided that all I would do would be to report to the committee
what I had been told by the directee--spiritual direction was overseen
by a group consisting of the priest, the director of the center,
and sometimes, one other member of the local council--and then communicate
their advice to the directee. "Tell him to exercise fortitude,"
the priest would say. So I would tell the directee, "You have
to exercise fortitude." But the truth is, I was clueless.
would add that Opus Dei priests are inbred in the bad sense of the
word and often lack the knowledge, breadth, and depth to be good
spiritual directors. Once again, I make this evaluation based on
my own experience. The preparation of Opus Dei priests is inadequate
because it is narrow. And there is no justifiable reason why the
training of Opus Dei priests should be so limited because Opus Dei
plainly has the resources to train them very well.
me give an example. At one point, I asked the Opus Dei priest why
I had seen a vision of Escriva in the living room, years after he
had died. The priest said, "God is sending you this vision
to strengthen you." Now, that didn't sound right. It didn't
ring true. Years later, when I had left Opus Dei, I asked a secular
priest about this experience, and he replied, "Visions can
come from God or the devil." Then he repeated St. John of the
Cross' counsel about treating mystical experiences as "glowing
embers," saying, "Feel the heat but do not grasp."
Opus Dei priest is trained to think along premeditated grooves and
may not be sufficiently exposed to traditions in Catholic spirituality
outside the ambit of the Opus Dei spirit.
Escriva allowed children or priests inadequately trained to direct
souls who are treading upon tricky and dangerous spiritual paths.
think that my horrible experience with spiritual direction in Opus
Dei would have not occurred had the following sound principles of
spiritual direction been followed:
person must be encouraged to use reason.
person must be encouraged to follow conscience.
person must be encouraged to use discernment.
person must be allowed the opportunity to seek truth for themselves,
which means no censorship and freedom to consult other priests
and spiritual guides, without the Opus Dei guilt trip.
person must be encouraged to make decisions knowingly and independently
and to accept full responsibility for decisions. Blind obedience
produces blind people.
person must be encouraged to develop and grow as a normal human
being and not live in the artificial Opus Dei environment. It
has been called a "hothouse."
point about censorship of information and freedom of choice in spiritual
direction is a very important one. Opus Dei loves to exclaim that
every member is free, free to come, go, leave, etcetera. Why the
insistent repetition? Because individual freedom is a major sticking
point in the testimonies of former members.
can freedom exist when Escriva denigrated reason and conscience
in the practice of obedience, which, by the way, in Opus Dei really
derives not from any influence of lay spirituality but from the
centuries-old tradition of religious spirituality? The same observation
has been made by James Martin, S.J., Michael Walsh, and others.
can a member truly exercise freedom if the choices are limited?
Opus Dei limits the choices of members by identifying free access
to information as a mortal sin, consultation with clergy outside
Opus Dei as the direct influence of the devil, and departure from
Opus Dei as a trip to Hell. No one with a sincere religious conscience
and trustful of Opus Dei clergy will want to commit a mortal sin,
dally with the devil, or jump into Hell. Therefore, the choices
Opus Dei presents to members, misappropriating the name of God,
are not choices at all.
lame man is free, yet he cannot walk. It is more meaningful, therefore,
to speak of constraints upon the exercise of freedom, not freedom
in an absolute sense.
essential problem in Opus Dei, as I have expressed it before, is
that the institution represents its own opinions as dogma. Opus
Dei's opinions are Escriva's rather narrow ideas. Maria del Carmen
Tapia in Beyond the Threshold (1998) expresses this way of
thinking rather well: "No divergence from [Escriva's] opinion
was allowed. Dialogue does not exist in Opus Dei. You do things
because they are done 'just so.' 'Just so' means that everything
is carried out according to the instructions sent by the Father.
No one with 'good spirit' dares to deviate a fraction of an inch
when the Father gives suggestions
Everything is always based
on the claim that 'God wants things thus.'"
way of thinking makes Escriva more infallible than the pope. So
the joke goes, Opus Dei is more Catholic than the pope.
don't care if Escriva is a saint--he is wrong, as many other illustrious
saints in Church history, like St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine
of Hippo, St. Thomas Aquinas, or St. Alphonsus de Liguori. We can
add St. Gertrude the Great to this list, which is predominantly
male. No surprise here for those who are familiar with the history
of the Catholic Church.
to clarify this point, let me excerpt St. Augustine on the theology
of slavery, which the Church condoned for centuries. In Peter Garnsey's
Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (1996), St. Augustine
is quoted: "The condition of slavery is justly imposed on the
The prime cause of slavery, then, is sin, so that man
was put under man in a state of bondage; and this can be only by
a judgment of God, in whom there is no unrighteousness, and who
knows how to assign divers punishments according to the deserts
of the sinners." In other words, if you are a slave, God is
punishing you justly, so live with it.
teaching of the Church on slavery is considered the classic example
of how the non-infallible magisterium was shown to be untrue. Sixteen
centuries after St. Augustine, the Second Vatican Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965), declared:
"Whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such
as mutilation, torture inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce
the will itself, whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman
living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery,
prostitution, and selling of women and children
all these things
and others like them are infamous
be bulwarks against any kind of political or social slavery and
guardians of basic rights under any kind of government." This
active stance is very different from the passive condoning of earlier
opinions that are questionable or outright wrong can be found in
the writings of the other saints I have mentioned. All the males,
by the way, are Doctors of the Church, the title that Opus Dei would
like the Church to bestow on Escriva.
Dei's strategy is somewhat obvious on its quest to legitimize Escriva's
ideas. The argument goes something like this: "Escriva is a
saint and a Doctor of the Church, so he can't be wrong." Well,
the argument is flawed because it assumes a rule that is rendered
false by exception.
Gertrude the Great was a mystic, just like Escriva. She reports
many private revelations, of which the following example, noted
in Augustin Poulain, S.J., Revelations and Visions (1998),
can hardly be considered true: "St. Gertrude relates that on
Easter Sunday Our Lord said to her, when speaking of the Alleluia:
'Observe that all the vowels, except the o, which signifies grief,
are found in this word; and that, instead of this o, the a is repeated
twice.'" How odd that Jesus should be understood to establish
a necessary association between a vowel and an emotion!
believe that Escriva's mistakes, which are the source of harm for
many devout Catholics, should be recognized for what they really
are--skewed and even erroneous opinions. His ideas have been institutionalized,
to the detriment of many. I think that many of Escriva's ideas should
be subject to critical examination and some of them eventually discarded.
critical review would indeed be possible if Escriva's complete writings
were not always locked up in Opus Dei's cabinets. Some members have
testified that portions of his writings have already been burned
to ashes, entirely lost to the world.
1996, Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek had this to say about
Escriva's writings: "There is the matter of the banality of
his writings, especially the axioms. Not the sort of stuff, I think,
to build a spiritual community around." When Escriva's story
about a boy picking his nose becomes incorporated into spiritual
reading, then we know that Woodward has struck the right chord.
asked me about this story, so I will expand on it. The story about
the boy picking his nose appears in a set of internal documents
that was prepared for spiritual reading, the primary source being
Cronica. They were photocopied, inserted into clear plastic
sheets, and then bound together using aluminum fasteners. We numeraries
were told to use these documents as spiritual reading in our mental
prayer. Apparently, in order to limit the wear and tear to copies
of Cronica, the distilled wisdom of this publication was
compiled into these bound volumes.
tells a story about a boy who picks his nose, so that his mother
says, "Oh, he's going to be an explorer!" The story is
supposed to illustrate the mother's love for the boy, how it colors
her interpretation of his behavior. Escriva uses the story as a
religious metaphor, illustrating, I believe, how God relates to
am very disturbed that a lot of what has been exposed from Cronica
is quite old. It dates from the fifties and sixties, the main source,
I suspect, being John Roche, who seems to be the only former member
who has managed to smuggle out copies of this publication. Based
on my own reading of the bound volumes that I described above, I
can say that there is a significant amount of information in Cronica
since that time that is objectionable that has not seen the light
of day. It is unfortunate that these ideas have been identified
with the mind of God.
believe I am an example of how someone with good intentions ends
up being twisted and harmed by an oppressive religious system.
their fruits you will know them." (Mt 7:16) We see the fruits--many
hurt people who complain about the same things in Opus Dei.
This account is anonymous because I talk about some of my spiritual
experiences, which I think are necessary to the coherence of the
narrative. Saints and spiritual writers in the Catholic tradition
warn against speaking in public about these experiences. Sometimes,
Jesus' words are advisedly cited: "Do not give what is holy
to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them
underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Mt 7:6) I have
decided not to follow this counsel in order to write for my own
sake and those of others. My identity is known to ODAN.
March 9, 2005