1950 Constitutions of Opus Dei — Latin and English
The secret 1950 Constitutions of Opus Dei (see link below), erecting Opus Dei as a Secular Institute, have just recently been made public in the English-speaking world, both in Latin and in English. This document is important because the 1982 Statutes, which erected Opus Dei as a Personal Prelature, do not tell the whole story. The 1982 document was necessary because Opus Dei changed its canonical status from a Secular Institute to a Personal Prelature. This gave them the opportunity to rewrite their governing documents. They wrote them according to the criteria relevant to them at the time and the legal criteria (especially how priests were to be members within the norms of Canon Law, and the Prelature’s relationship to the bishops) were the driving force of the revision. The revision was not a complete revision and the authors carried forward many of their foundational traditions, rights and obligations by stating in the concluding paragraphs of the 1982 Statutes that anything not directly abrogated or superseded by the 1950 Constitutions is still in effect. This allowed a certain efficiency; the 1982 document is significantly shorter and more compact. It also allowed the 1982 document to be more inspiring and less revealing than the 1950 one, should it ever become public, which was increasingly likely as Opus Dei grew and became more widely known and accepted. (Opus Dei has kept their governing documents secret from their very first erection as a diocesan pious association.) The 1950 document tells a lot more about the internal manner of being of Opus Dei. Opus Dei continues to hold this document as secretly as possible.
In the interest of openness, Opus Dei has always claimed that they have presented the bishops of the dioceses in which they operate a copy of their statutes. Since 1982, the most relevant document, and the legal document, has been the 1982 Statutes. It has only been available in Latin. It is presented to the bishops under the condition of secrecy. It is doubtful that Opus Dei has presented current bishops with their 1950 Constitutions, even though the operational and governing paragraphs, not the legal ones, are still in effect.
If one reads the complaints about Opus Dei, one sees they are clearly prone to certain absolute, authoritarian and voluntaristic excesses. The Opus Dei Awareness Network website has a link to the Opus Dei 1982 Statutes.
The major importance of the 1950 document is that it has to be reconciled with Opus Dei’s continual recruiting statements that they are completely lay, nothing at all like a religious order, and without vows; they say they are simply living the Christian vocation that all people are called to — as it was in the first century. Opus Dei constantly makes public statements that they are just like the rest of Christian faithful. This is a statement which only has validity as legal truism. The majority of members are not priests or religious, so technically they have to be lay. But when you read the 1982 Statutes, and especially the 1950 Constitutions, you see there is a lot more involved. For the Numerary members and some of the Associates (Oblates) the life one is expected to live is so much like the religious orders of past centuries — to the extent of having your mail reviewed before you receive it, having to ask your director for something as insignificant as an aspirin if you have a headache, having to ask permission for every book that you read, never buying clothing without being accompanied by your director, and not attending family events, such as the funeral of your parents, even if you are living in the same town. And they tell you that you can go to hell for leaving Opus Dei. See the testimonies page for other examples of the life-style. These practices are exercised by word of mouth in Opus Dei and you will not find them written, but the statutes do reveal a lot about Opus Dei which show they are much more focused in the direction of a “lay religious order” than being just like the lay faithful in the rest of the Church that they claim to be. Having both documents available for review lends a lot more credibility to the complaints of ex-members, which are denied categorically and with significant ambiguous nuancing by Opus Dei.
Opus Dei states publicly that they are a completely lay organization, although when you read the 1950 Constitutions,
Number 2 says that —
“the principal offices are mostly reserved to priests.”
Without stating it so explicitly, one sees in reading the 1982 Statutes that nothing has changed. In the broader picture, Opus Dei waxes poetic in that they are a priestly organization to which the lay people are intrinsically attached and they share in this priestly character in all eternal realities and benefits. Opus Dei creates this image that their lay people, spirit and nature are so completely intermingled by their priests and priesthood that they are all going to heaven with special charisms, privileges and benefits not available to the rest of the world. As glorious as this may sound, that is the purpose of Christ’s original priesthood and every religious order or priestly organization, including the diocese, in some way or another, vicariously strives to save the rest of the human race in the same way. This is not an original idea with Opus Dei.
It is interesting that the 1950 Constitutions have some more to say.
Number 31, Section 2 states —
“However, the priests and clerics always take precedent over those laity, who do not exercise the power of government over them, and to them, all render the greatest honor and reverence.”
And Number 31, Section 3 states —
“Whenever there are two members of the Institute, lest they be deprived of the merit of obedience, a certain subordination is always observed, in which one is subject to the other according to the order of precedence, unless there should be a special delegation from the Superiors, always respecting the subordination to one’s respective Superior.”
Neither of these statutes jives with the concept of a completely lay organization.
Opus Dei constantly touts their married members, called Supernumeraries, as pristine examples of the “vocation” to Opus Dei. These people, with their large Catholic families, give all manner of cheerful testimony in the press of how happy they are with their vocation. But Number 26 says that the Supernumeraries are not members, in the strict sense, which calls into question, how much one can rely upon their testimony, in view of the many complaints appearing about the inner, absolute leadership of the Numeraries.
Number 26 says —
“Although the members, in the strict sense, of Opus Dei are Numeraries, who are immediately followed by the Oblate members, furthermore, all those men and women, single and married, who moved by an apostolic vocation and desire for perfection, want to cooperate with the ends of the Institute in keeping with the norms of these Constitutions can also belong to Opus Dei as Supernumeraries. Married people, nevertheless, may not belong to or be associated with Opus Dei other than as Supernumeraries or Cooperators (No. 29).”
In Number 25, Paragraph 3, the Constitutions make explicit reference to a state of acquiring perfection in language serving to justify and substantiate the intermediate category of Oblate (now called Associate) membership. These members might be described as half-way between Numeraries and Supernumeraries. One asks how this is in keeping with a completely lay state? And if they are in this state of acquiring perfection, so are the Numeraries, who are members in the strict sense.
“Since they have all the requisites for consecrated life for members of Secular Institutes in the strict sense, Oblates are in a complete state of acquiring perfection, although in the Institute they are to be distinguished from members in the strict sense.”
When a departing member first complained to a bishop about Opus Dei, to ask his assistance, the bishop said he couldn’t see what the problem was. His understanding was that the relationship between a person and a lay Prelature was simply one of mutual acceptability. Opus Dei, in its public statements, wants to give that impression of a free association based upon mutual acceptability, but one can see in reading the 1982 Statutes and the 1950 Constitutions that there is a lot more to it. The 1950 document discusses the case of a person who abandons the house he is assigned to (Numbers 102 and 103). He is declared a fugitive. If the person has made a permanent commitment to the organization and leaves with the purpose of removing himself from obedience, after a month’s absence, he is declared an apostate, subject to punishment.
Number 102, Section 1:
“A Numerary or Oblate member, who lives family life in the Institute and abandons the house to which he is assigned by obedience without legitimate license from the Superiors or who does not return to it without just cause, with nevertheless, the intention of returning, is considered a fugitive according to the norms of these Constitutions. He must return, as soon as possible, to his house or Center and in the interim is not absolved from the obligations assumed by the incorporation. A major Superior should seek him out solicitously, and if he is moved by true repentance, receive him back paternally.”
Number 103, Section 1:
“A member who, after taking the Fidelity, illegitimately separates himself from the Center to which he pertains with the intention to remove himself from obedience is said to be an apostate from the Institute. This malicious intention may be lawfully presumed if the member does not demonstrate his will to the Director, within one month, of returning or surrendering himself.”
The question of vows (and the obligations involved) has always been a point of difficult and questionable nuancing by Opus Dei. They have always said that they don’t have vows, with the implication that their commitments are not strongly binding. Under the 1950 Constitutions establishing Opus Dei as a Secular Institute, Opus Dei insisted that the Founder, in his divinely-revealed vision, wanted people to be completely free; but the Church (read, “God did not want vows in Opus Dei; but the big legalistic Church made us have them”) insisted that they take vows. They were called “social” vows, or “private vows, recognized”. The Constitutions say in Number 53, Section 2 —
“These social vows, although they are not recognized as public vows according to the law (Canon 1308 S1), they are, nevertheless, recognized by the Church; wherefore they can also be called private vows, recognized. These cease in the case of dismissal or dissolution of the bond by which Numeraries are bound to the Institute, conceded by the Holy See, or the Father, as the case may be.”
Regarding their binding authority, any ex-member will tell you that these are binding under pain of serious sin (note they are recognized by the Church) and transgressions need to be told in Confession. Any ex-member will also be able to tell a story in which he was asked to do something that was unexpected. He tells the director that he had other plans or that he didn’t expect his commitments to cover the circumstances in question; and his director always has some wording alluding to the fact that he has signed his “contract of admission” on the dotted line; and that, combined with other general statements of vocation or formation bring the present circumstances under the binding area of the “contract”. One obvious example is that everyone agrees to be bound in obedience to carry out the apostolic work of the Institute/Prelature. And most coercive arguments center around the activity of the organization which is always (it couldn’t be any other way) focused on expanding and getting new apostles to join.
Since the erection of the Prelature in 1982 under the new statutes, the reference to vows has disappeared. The bond of incorporation is referred to legally as a juridical bond established by formal declaration before two witnesses (in any other context this would sound like swearing an oath). It is described to the public as a civil contract based upon one’s solemn word as a Christian gentleman (or woman). Anyone familiar with Opus Dei knows that the binding nature has not changed. Does it need to be pointed out that civil contracts are also binding under pain of serious sin besides civil law? Of course, a civil court is not in the business of admonishing and absolving sinners. They only deal with damages, injunctions and punishments. Opus Dei has priests who will do the absolving. The 1982 document does say that the bond is undertaken with the motivation of divine vocation, which is confirmed by the Prelature. It is under this phrasing that the bond is understood to be made for life, and to break it incurs the penalties (or, at least, the very real threat) of eternal damnation. It is important to have the 1950 document available in evaluating the nature, focus and being of Opus Dei. Promoters of Opus Dei argue that things are now different under the 1982 Statutes. But in the historical context and their public statements, Opus Dei has always said that their calling is the One, same, complete and integral vocation which was revealed definitively, in its entirety and fullness, to the Founder on October 2, 1928. It is only the juridical status that can change with the introduction of new documents, because even the Church cannot change the vocation. And to repeat, the concluding paragraphs of the 1982 Statutes state that all members are bound by the same rights and obligations as in the preceding juridical government except in those things directly abrogated or superseded by the current document.
The following attest to the secrecy/discretion kept about admitting one’s membership in the organization.
“By virtue of this collective humility, which is proper of our Institute, whatever is done by the members is not attributable to itself; but rather, whatever good is attained by them is attributable to God alone. Consequently, even membership in the Institute admits no external manifestations. The number of members is kept hidden from outsiders; and indeed our people do not discuss these things with outsiders.”
“This collective humility leads our people to live the life which they consecrate to God with the same discretion which is most suited to the desired fruitfulness of the apostolate. The lack of this discretion can constitute a grave obstacle to exercising apostolic work or create some difficulty in the environment of one’s natural family or in the exercise of their office or profession. Thus the Numerary and Supernumerary members should know they are to live a prudent silence regarding the names of other members; and that they are never to reveal to anyone that they themselves belong to Opus Dei, not even to spread the Institute, without express permission from their local director. This discretion especially binds those who are newly accepted in the Institute and also to those who, for whatever reason, have left the Institute. The Institute and some of its members, however, need to be known, because all our apostolic works develop and are carried out within the bounds of civil law and likewise, with the same strength of soul, each one of us, altogether shuns secrecy and clandestine activity, for the only thing which moves us to maintain this discretion is humility and a deeper and more fruitful apostolic efficacy.”
“The business and essence of our vocation are not discussed with outsiders, except with extreme caution, and only rarely. For how are they able to offer correct advice in this matter when they are ignorant of the Institution or show hostility toward it?”
There are many complaints about the absolute nature of spiritual direction in Opus Dei. Members are expected to bare their souls completely and absolutely to their director. It is all cast in rather exalted language, but the following statutes bear witness to this phenomenon.
“All members, each week, have an informal and confidential conversation with the local Director, in order to better coordinate and develop the apostolic action.”
“By the name of the Confidence in Opus Dei is meant an individual, informal meeting with open and sincere conversation with the Director, the Counselor, the Major or Supreme Superiors, or those delegated by them, whose primary purpose will be threefold; namely:
— a clearer, fuller and more intimate understanding of the members on the part of the Superiors and the communication and application to the life of each one of the mentality of Opus Dei;
— to strengthen and confirm the will to the holiness and apostolate which correspond to the spirit of Opus Dei;
— the intimate fusion and compenetration of the souls of the subordinates and the Superiors.”
Permission To Expand in a Diocese
Number 406 says that members can form subordinate Centers, which do not require the bishop’s venia (permission) as long as they do not exercise a corporate apostolate. This allows them to exist in a diocese, or a least a new location, for long periods of time until they have built up a number of positive local relationships, at which time they apply to the bishop for permission to erect a formal Center, which can sometimes be presented as a “fait accompli”, to which the bishop may be left with little option but to agree.
“When members constitute a subordinate Center, this does not require the consent of the local Ordinary; they can live materially common family life only, not juridical family live, and they are able to freely exercise the apostolate proper of members of the Institute, not corporately, but in an individual and personal manner unless the permission of the local Ordinary is given to carry out apostolate otherwise.”
These are only a few comments on the 1950 Constitutions and nature of Opus Dei. But they give rise to a lot of questions which need to be considered in view of the complaints of many people about Opus Dei, and Opus Dei’s various denials and misleading counter-arguments.
|Download the English translation of the 1950 Statutes of Opus Dei (RTF file – 643 KB).|
(Note: If you have problems opening the link above, you can try right-clicking on the link and saving the file to your hard drive first before opening it.)
January 25, 2005