Opus Dei/Work of God
Last updated: January 5, 1989
Published by the International Relations Center / Interhemispheric Resource Center.
Opus Dei/Workof God.Acronym/Code: ODUpdated: 6/89 Categories:ReligiousBackground:Opus Dei (“Work of God”) was founded in1928 by a young Spanish priest named Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer in responseto a divine command. (2) He founded this Catholic lay organization to “tellmen and women of every country and of every condition, race, language,milieu, and state of life… that they can love and serve God withoutgiving up their ordinary work, their family life, and their normal socialrelations."(1) Opus Dei displays features of a cult, however, including[intense veneration] of the founder–known as the “Father”–and self-mortificationby its followers. (3) Josemaria Escriva wrote his most famous book, called”The Way," a compendium of 999 “maxims” that became Opus Dei’s spiritualhandbook. (3) He also saw himself as a latter-day knight, leading the faithfulinto battle against godless communism. (3) Msgr. Escriva, whom Pope JohnPaul II called “an unforgettable figure," died in 1975. (1) In 1981, abeatification process was begun in Rome. (4) Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo,who had spent 40 years as Msgr. Escriva’s chief aide, was named the firstPrelate of Opus Dei in 1982. (1,3,4)Ascetism, anticommunism, a rigid hierarchicalism,religious militancy and secrecy have become the distinguishing marks ofthe organization. (3) Opus Dei has followed a deliberate policy of keepingits membership, hierarchy, rituals and rules hidden. (3) In an interviewfor the Catholic diosesan newspaper, the Brooklyn Tablet, Fr. Angel dela Parte Paris observed that Opus Dei professes a fundamentalist theology,condemns Liberation Theology, has no concern for social problems, leaveslittle freedom to an individual’s conscience, and is associated with secularpower structures. (5)Opus Dei finds a strong supporter in PopeJohn Paul II. Barry James, in an article published in the Los Angeles Times,says that the Pope is “giving clear indications of his esteem for the conservativeOpus Dei as a force that could regenerate lax moral values in the Westand stand as a bulwark against communism."(2) The Pope has also takenpart in the ordination of an Opus Dei priest. (1,2) In 1982, Opus Dei receivedthe status of personal prelature by decision of Pope John Paul II. Thepersonal prelature status means that the organization is more autonomous,more flexible, and answers directly to the Pope through Msgr. Alvaro Portillorather than through a bishop. (1) According to Penny Lernoux, The Nation’sLatin American correspondent, Opus Dei forms part of a powerful group of Catholic organizations of U.S. originthat promote the Pope’s political agenda. (6)Opus Dei has a hierarchical organization.Numeraries–a select group of people who belong to themiddle or upper classes– hold a university degree, must be unmarried,and must pledge vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Below the numerariesare the associates, who have the same obligations as the numeraries, butcome from the working class. A final category consists of “co-operators,"or sympathizers, who can be Catholics or non-Catholic. This class divisionis rigorously enforced. (3)To join Opus Dei, according to Msgr. Alvarodel Portillo, it is necessary that “each person musthave received from God the specific vocation to dedicate himself (herself)to the specific aims of Opus Dei, and must meet the requirements necessaryto undertake responsibly the commitments involved in that dedication."(4)Membership with Opus Dei requires a contract which spells out the rightsand the obligations which the members assume. (1)Opus Dei has some 73,000 members in eighty-sevencountries, the largest number being in Spain and Latin America. It alsoinfluences 487 universities and high schools, 52 radio and television stations,694 publications, 38 news and publicity agencies, and 12 film distributioncompanies. (3)The group has received criticism for beingconnected to powerful institutions and for enteringthe field of education for the middle and upper classes. (2) Critic JohnRoche, a professor at Oxford University, has said,"I am convinced [OpusDei] is a sect, a cult, a malignant growth upon the body of the church."(2)Funding:Funding comes from the tithing practiceand voluntary donations of its members."Co-operators” also donate to OpusDei. (1,3,7)Activities:According to Opus Dei, its main purpose isthe general mobilization of Catholic lay men and women with the aim ofmaking them clearly aware of their rights and responsibility in fulfillingtheir duties as consistent Catholics. (4) This religious task is carriedout by Opus Dei members taking part in all human Activities: social, cultural, and scientific. (4) Intheir professional and familiar surroundings, members carry out a constantpersonal apostolate on a one-to-one basis with those around them. (4)Opus Dei works with worker groups in Spain,Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil; with youth clubs in Kenya, Nigeria, Japan,Puerto Rico, England, Canada, Australia, Portugal, Mexico, Belgium, Ecuador,Kenya, and Spain; with students in Costa Rica, Australia, Austria, Spain,the United States, England, Nigeria, Belgium, Uruguay, Philippines, Italy,Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Canada, Ecuador, and Switzerland; with universitiesin Spain, Peru, and Colombia; and with women’s study centers such as theEscuela Tecnica de Hosteleria y Hogar Montemira in El Salvador, and othersin Mexico, France, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, Philippines, Peru,Brazil, United States, England, Argentina, and Italy. (7)Spain: Opus Dei has its main base in Spain,where it has raised the largest contributions and enjoyedthe most substantial political and economic influence. Opus Dei retained a strong influence on Spain’s banking systemand industry. (3) The Spanish branch has the largest membership (24,000,some 5,000 of whom are numeraries), the biggest network of centers andschools, including Pamplona’s University, and a business school in Barcelonawith ties to Harvard University. Opus Dei members claim to control morethan 150 companies and financial entities known as the “Holy Octopus."(3)Critics allege that Opus Dei served the Franco dictatorship and works throughrightwing parties in Spain. (2,3)El Salvador: It entered in El Salvadorin 1958. In 1985, the Catholic church appointed two non-nativebishops. One of them, Fr. Fernando Saenz, is a member of Opus Dei. Accondingto the Salvadoran Jesuit magazine, Estudios Centroamericanos, these appointmentsshowed the Vatican’s determination to control socially activist sectorsin the church. (3,6) Opus Dei supports right-wing political groups in thecountry through its religious courses and schools, and through newspapers,magazines, and television outlets influenced or owned by members in ElSalvador. (3,6)Guatemala: Opus Dei runs a dormitory formale students who attend a university but receive additional educationthrough the group. Opus Dei holds seminars “to change attitudes” of workersof all religions in Guatemala. (8) They also have programs for women andbusiness owners and run a worker center called “el Centro de Formaciony Capacitacion Obrera Kinal."(8)United States: U.S. membership remainssmall, at approximately 3,000. the U.S. branch was founded in Chicagoby a Spanish priest in 1949. Opus Dei has established several student centersin Chicago, New York Ci
ty, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Indiana, and WashingtonDC (3) A priest from the American Catholic church said that Opus Deiis a “devious, antidemocratic, reactionary, semi-fascist institution, desperatelyhungry for absolute power in the church. It ought to be forced either tocome out into the open or be suppressed."(3)Government Connections:Private Connections:Opus Dei is inseparably linked to the priestlyOrder of the Holy Cross, whose President General is the Prelate of OpusDei. (4)Misc:Comments:U.S. Address: Opus Dei, 330 RiversideDrive, New York, NY 10025. Phone: 914-235-1201.Principals: Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo (Prelate). (1) Sources:1. Russel Shaw, Working for God The WorldOver: What is Opus Dei, U.S. Information Office, 1985.2. Barry James,"Unusual and Powerful LayOrganization Stirs Criticism in Roman Catholic Church," Los Angeles Times,Oct 7, 1985.3. Penny Lernoux, People of God: The Strugglefor World Catholicism, New York: Viking, 1989.4. Prelate of Opus Dei,"20 Questions forMsgr. Alvaro del Portillo," brochure, 1985.5. Maryknoll Justice and Peace Office,"Salvadoran Military Cheer New Bishops," News Notes, vol. 12,no. 1, 1987. 6. Penny Lernoux,"Opus Dei and the Perfect Society," TheNation, April 10, 1989.7. Dominique Le Tourneau, El Opus Dei,Barcelona: Oikos-tau S. A. Editiones, 1986.8. Interview with Fr. Julio Ortiz, June4, 1987.The underlying cites for this profile arenow kept at Political Research Associates, (617) 666-5300. www.irc-online.org.