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Opus Dei are referred to in The Da Vinci Code as an archaic and strict religious order. In Dan Brown's story they are the power-driven nemesis of the Priory of Sion; both groups fighting for ownership of the ultimate secret of the Holy Grail.
Founded in Spain in 1928, Opus Dei (meaning 'the work of God') do still exist and have grown into an international institution. Officially, they are a part of the Catholic Church and according to their website were first approved by the Bishop of Madrid in 1941 and then by the Vatican City in 1947.
Opus Dei adhere to the more extreme teachings of the Catholic Church. To the most committed members, this includes a vow of celibacy, a life of penance and the practice of corporal mortification – all of which brings devotees in line with the suffering of Christ and the remission of sin. There have been suggestions that members routinely inflict pain on themselves, but the truth is hard to discover. Opus Dei insist that they place emphasis on less severe sacrifices.
Although Opus Dei do exist as a fundamentalist sect, the truth of their involvement with the Grail is doubtful. Their image as a group of cold, almost ascetic, monks, makes the perfect foil for Dan Brown's Grail hunter, Sophie Neveu, grand-daughter to Sion Grand Master, Jacques Saunière. And so the link is probably fiction. But it certainly makes sense that any sect or branch of Christianity would do their best to suppress evidence as potentially damaging as a bloodline of Mary and Jesus.
And so the truth is hard to come by, especially once it is shrouded in the marvellous mystery of Grail legend.
Josemaría Escrivá ©
Opus Dei is a Catholic organisation with around 85,000 members worldwide and about 500 members in the UK.
Members are encouraged to promote their faith through their professional work and their everyday lives.
Critics accuse the organisation of being secretive and elitist but members wholeheartedly reject this.
Despite these very public criticisms, thanks to the publicity the organisation has been getting from The Da Vinci Code phenomenon, UK numbers are rising. Jack Valero, Opus Dei spokesman in the UK, claimed that they got two to three enquiries a day - up to 50 a month - from people looking to join.
Opus Dei describes itself as "a personal prelature of the Catholic church that helps people seek holiness in their work and ordinary activities". In other words, they try to help others through their regular work and their day-to-day life.
Joining Opus Dei is a long process. Often people are invited along to a meeting, although according to their website any lay Catholic may ask to join Opus Dei as long as they are at least 18 years old. It takes over five years to join, with a person's commitment to joining having to be renewed each year, before a lifelong commitment is possible.
Opus Dei is a strong advocate of traditional Catholic values, focusing particularly on spreading the Catholic teaching that every individual is called to become a saint and an apostle of Jesus Christ and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. It also lays particular stress on the unique character of Roman Catholicism - as compared with other churches and faiths.
There are three types of members of Opus Dei: numeraries, associates and supernumeraries. Associates and numeraries make up about 25% to 30% of members. They are celibate, live with other members and, on occasion, practice corporal mortification - the most controversial of Opus Dei's traditions.
Corporal mortification is the practice of physically enduring a minor amount of suffering. Some of the celibate members of Opus Dei sometimes practice traditional Catholic penances such as using the cilice (a light metal chain with prongs which is worn round the thigh) and the discipline (a woven cotton strap). These are practices which Opus Dei states Catholics have used for centuries. The Opus Dei website states the motivation for these voluntary penances is to imitate Christ and to join him in his redemptive sacrifice (cf. Matthew 16:24), and that they can also be a way to suffer in solidarity with the many poor and deprived people in the world.
The majority of Opus Dei members are supernumeraries. They account for around 70-75% of members and they are usually non-celibate, married men or women.
Contributors from Opus Dei and a Greek Orthodox church discuss self-denial, fasting and corporal mortification with a Muslim chaplain.
The fact that Opus Dei was designated a personal prelature in 1982 by Pope John Paul II has meant that some critics have referred to its position as being similar to that of a "church within the Church". Admittedly this is a unique position to be in - it is the only personal prelature within the Catholic Church. However Opus Dei's members argue that this unique position does not in any way mean that its members are held in a specifically high regard by the Vatican, or given any special treatment.
Personal prelature is a canonical term meaning that the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church over Opus Dei covers the members of Opus Dei rather than a geographical area like a diocese. A personal prelature operates in a very similar way to a religious order; however, there are no geographical limits, and its members are lay-people rather than monks or nuns. Those Catholics who belong to Opus Dei also continue to be part of the congregation at their local church. Unlike members of religious orders, the members of Opus Dei join by means of private contracts and not vows. In order to join a member must ask to do so, and they must also be convinced that they have received a vocation.
Opus Dei is seen by many to be a fairly wealthy organisation. Members have to donate a significant part of their income to Opus Dei. It is a decentralised organisation and does not publish its general accounts so it is difficult to be precise over the state of its finances.
The orgranisation has sponsored a network of institutions across the UK, such as Netherhall House and Kelston Club for Boys in Wandsworth. Some estimates put the number of centres and charitable ventures owned by Opus Dei at more than twenty-five.
Opus Dei appeared frequently in the press in 2003 because of its importance to the plot of The Da Vinci Code. The novel (and film adaptation) paints it as an all-powerful, wealthy and secretive cult-like Catholic sect.
Beyond this portrayal, the methods Opus Dei members employ to encourage others to join the organisation have been attacked by critics. Much of this stems from a statement by Opus Dei's founder, Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá. In 1975 he was quoted as saying "...we must be a little crazy ...you must kill yourselves for proselytism."
The Opus Dei Awareness Network is one of the most vocal opponents of Opus Dei. Dianne DiNicola, its executive director has said: "The biggest problem we have with Opus Dei is that a person is not free to make their own decisions. They live in a controlled environment and all the while Opus Dei hides behind the Catholic Church."
Critics have also described it as a sort of Catholic freemasonry - accusing it of being secretive and manipulative.
Opus Dei members respond to these allegations by emphasising the fact that all members are free to join, and leave, as they please. The allegations of secrecy and aggressive recruiting tactics are more often than not attributed to misinterpretations of the way Opus Dei was viewed in the past - the existing organisation has taken great pains to present itself in a more moderate way.
It has been suggested that Opus Dei has a wealth of important and powerful members in both the religious and the political spheres. However, Opus Dei does not publish official lists of members, believing membership is a private matter.
Opus Dei's UK spokesman Jack Valero denies the belief that many key figures at the Vatican are Opus Dei members: "The number of people from Opus Dei working in the Vatican is very reduced: five or maybe six people, including the spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. The influence of Opus Dei in the Holy See has been exaggerated."Ruth Kelly, British Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
An Opus Dei member in the British government attracted questions in May 2006. Questions were raised over Ruth Kelly's suitability for the role of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; however, she insisted as a practising Catholic her faith would not influence decisions she needs to make for her job.
Asked if she thought homosexuality was a sin, Ruth Kelly stated: "I don't think it's right for politicians to start making moral judgements about people. That's the last thing I would want to do. What I think the question is, is what are my political views and as a politician those are the ones I'm accountable for to the public. As a politician I think anybody should be free from discrimination and I'll fight to the absolute end to make sure that is the case."
1928 Josemaría Escrivá, a 26-year-old Spanish priest, creates Opus Dei. His vision is to extend the Sunday religiosity of working people into their everyday lives. He is initially seen as a heretic by the church hierarchy.
1933 The first Opus Dei centre opens in Madrid, an academy teaching law and architecture.
1936 The Spanish civil war unleashes anti-clerical persecution and Escrivá goes into hiding.
1939 Escrivá supports General Franco's victory and starts to proselytise throughout Spain.
1946 Opus Dei extends to Britain, Portugal and Italy. Escrivá regularly visits Britain and calls it a "crossroads of the world".
1950 Opus Dei's secretive constitution is published. It states: "No one must reveal to anyone that they themselves belong to Opus Dei." Opus Dei is given final and complete approval by Pope Pius XII.
1975 Escrivá dies, leaving behind a thriving and affluent movement with about 60,000 members.
1981 Revelations in The Times about Opus Dei's practices, such as corporal mortification, prompt Cardinal Basil Hume to announce he is against the recruitment of members into Opus Dei who under 18 in Britain.
1982 Pope John Paul II establishes Opus Dei as a personal prelature, confirming its growing status in the Catholic Church.
2002 John Paul II canonises the founder of Opus Dei, Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, in a 'fast track' process only 27 years after his death. Thousands of supporters pack St Peter's Square for the canonisation.
2003 The Da Vinci Code is published.
2006 Opus Dei uses The Da Vinci Code movie to promote its work. A website competition offers the chance to meet a genuine Opus Dei member.
Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei (Latin: Prelatura Sanctae Crucis et Operis Dei), is an organization of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. The majority of its membership are lay people, with secular priests under the governance of a prelate (bishop) appointed by the pope. Opus Dei is Latin for "Work of God", hence the organization is often referred to by members and supporters as "the Work".
Founded in Spain in 1928 by the Catholic priest St. Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei was given final approval in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. In 1982, by decision of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church made it into a personal prelature—that is, the jurisdiction of its own bishop covers the persons in Opus Dei wherever they are, rather than geographical dioceses.
Members of the Prelature numbered almost 90,000 with almost 2000 priests in the year 2009. They are in more than 90 countries. About 70% of Opus Dei members live in their private homes, leading traditional Catholic family lives with secular careers, while the other 30% are celibate, of whom the majority live in Opus Dei centers. Opus Dei organizes training in Catholic spirituality applied to daily life. Aside from personal charity and social work, Opus Dei members are involved in running universities, university residences, schools, publishing houses, and technical and agricultural training centers.
Opus Dei has been described as the most controversial force within the Catholic Church. According to several journalists who studied Opus Dei separately, most of the criticisms against Opus Dei are mere myths created by its opponents, and Opus Dei is considered a sign of contradiction. Several popes and other Catholic leaders have endorsed what they see as its innovative teaching on the sanctifying value of work, and its fidelity to Catholic beliefs. In 2002, in a move interpreted by both sides of the debate as signaling his approval of Opus Dei, Pope John Paul II canonized Escrivá, and called him "the saint of ordinary life."
Controversies about Opus Dei have centered around criticisms of its alleged secretiveness, its recruiting methods, the alleged strict rules governing members, the practice by celibate members of mortification of the flesh, its alleged elitism and misogyny, the alleged right-leaning politics of most of its members, and the alleged participation by some in authoritarian or extreme right-wing governments, especially the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978. Within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei is also criticized for allegedly seeking independence and more influence. . Members and people who have knowledge of Opus Dei activities however agree that this is not the truth.
In recent years, Opus Dei has received international attention due to the novel The Da Vinci Code and its film version of 2006, both of which many prominent Christians and non-believers protested as misleadingly inaccurate and anti-Catholic.
Below, courtesy of Wikipedia
See also: Timeline of Opus Dei
 Foundational period
Opus Dei was founded by a Catholic priest, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, on 2 October 1928 in Madrid, Spain. According to Escrivá, on that day he experienced a vision in which he "saw Opus Dei". He gave the organization the name "Opus Dei", which in Latin means "Work of God," in order to underscore the belief that the organization was not his (Escrivá's) work, but was rather God's work. Throughout his life, Escrivá held that the founding of Opus Dei had a supernatural character. Escrivá summarized Opus Dei's mission as a way of helping ordinary Christians "to understand that their life... is a way of holiness and evangelization... And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and training they need to put it into practice."
Initially, Opus Dei was open only to men, but in 1930, Escrivá created a women's branch. In 1936, the organization suffered a temporary setback with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, as many Catholic priests and religious figures, including Escrivá, were forced into hiding (the Catholic Church actively supported the Nationalist rebels). The many atrocities committed during the civil war included the murder and rape of religious figures by government loyalists. After the civil war was won by General Francisco Franco, Escrivá was able to return to Madrid. Escriva himself recounted that it was in Spain where Opus Dei found "the greatest difficulties" because of traditionalists who he felt misunderstood Opus Dei's ideas. Despite this, Opus Dei flourished during the years of the Franquismo, spreading first throughout Spain, and after 1945, expanding internationally.
In 1939, Escrivá published The Way, a collection of 999 maxims concerning spirituality. In the 1940s, Opus Dei found an early critic in the Jesuit Superior General Wlodimir Ledochowski, who told the Vatican that he considered Opus Dei "very dangerous for the Church in Spain," citing its "secretive character" and calling it "a form of Christian Masonry."
 Post-foundational years
In 1975, Escriva died and was succeeded by Álvaro del Portillo. In 1982, Opus Dei was made into a personal prelature. This means that Opus Dei is part of the universal Church, and the apostolate of the members falls under the direct jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei wherever they are. As to "what the law lays down for all the ordinary faithful", the lay members of Opus Dei, being no different from other Catholics, "continue to be ... under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop", in the words of John Paul II's Ut Sit. In 1994, Javier Echevarria became Prelate upon the death of his predecessor.
One-third of the world's bishops sent letters petitioning for the canonization of Escrivá. Escriva was beatified in 1992 in the midst of controversy prompted by questions about Escriva's suitability for sainthood. In 2002, approximately 300,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square on the day Pope John Paul II canonized Josemaría Escrivá. According to one author, "Escrivá is... venerated by millions".
There are other members whose process of beatification has been opened: Ernesto Cofiño, a father of five children and a pioneer in paediatric research in Guatemala; Montserrat Grases, a teenage Catalan student who died of cancer; Toni Zweifel, a Swiss engineer; Tomas Alvira and wife, Paquita Dominguez, a Spanish married couple; and Bishop Álvaro del Portillo.
During that same year, Opus Dei received some unwanted attention due to the extraordinary success of the novel The Da Vinci Code, in which both Opus Dei and the Catholic Church itself are depicted negatively. The film version was released globally in May 2006, further polarizing views on the organization.
Main article: Teachings of Opus Dei
Opus Dei places special emphasis on certain aspects of Catholic doctrine. A central feature of Opus Dei's theology is its focus on the lives of the ordinary Catholics who are neither priests nor monks. Opus Dei emphasizes the "universal call to holiness": the belief that everyone should aspire to be a saint, that sanctity is within the reach of everyone, not just a few special individuals. Opus Dei does not have monks or nuns, and only a minority of its members are part of the priesthood. A related characteristic is Opus Dei's emphasis on uniting spiritual life with professional, social, and family life. Whereas the members of some religious orders might live in monasteries and devote their lives exclusively to prayer and study, members of Opus Dei lead ordinary lives, with traditional families and secular careers, and strive to "sanctify ordinary life". Indeed, Pope John Paul II called Escrivá "the saint of ordinary life".
Similarly, Opus Dei stresses the importance of work and professional competence. While some religious orders encourage their members to withdraw from the material world, Opus Dei exhorts its members and all lay Catholics to "find God in daily life" and to perform their work excellently as a service to society and as a fitting offering to God. Opus Dei teaches that work not only contributes to social progress but is "a path to holiness", and its founder advised people to: "Sanctify your work. Sanctify yourself in your work. Sanctify others through your work."
The biblical roots of this Catholic doctrine, according to the founder, are in the phrase "God created man to work" (Gen 2:15) and Jesus's long life as an ordinary carpenter in a small town. Escrivá, who stressed the Christian's duty to follow Christ's example, also points to the gospel account that Jesus "has done everything well" (Mk 7:37).
The foundation of the Christian life, stressed Escrivá, is divine filiation: Christians are children of God, identified with Christ's life and mission. Other main features of Opus Dei, according to its official literature, are: freedom, respecting choice and taking personal responsibility; and charity, love of God above all and love of others.
At the bottom of Escrivá's understanding of the “universal call to holiness” are two dimensions, subjective and objective, according to Fernando Ocariz, a Catholic theologian and Vicar General of Opus Dei. The subjective is the call given to each person to become a saint, regardless of his place in society. The objective refers to what Escrivá calls Christian materialism: all of creation, even the most material situation, is a meeting place with God, and leads to union with Him.
Different qualifiers have been used to describe Opus Dei's doctrine: radical, reactionary, faithful, revolutionary, ultraconservative, most modern, and, probably the most common, conservative.
See also: Interior life (Catholic theology)
All members – whether married or unmarried, priests or laypeople – are trained to follow a 'plan of life', or 'the norms of piety', which are some traditional Catholic devotions. This is meant to follow the teaching mentioned in the Catholic Catechism to "pray at specific times...to nourish continual prayer," which in turn is based on Jesus' "pray always" (Luke 18:1), echoed by St. Paul's "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). According to Escriva, the vocation to Opus Dei is a calling to be a "contemplative in the middle of the world," who converts work and daily life into prayer.
Additionally, members should participate yearly in a spiritual retreat; a three-week seminar every year is obligatory for numeraries, and a one-week seminar for supernumeraries. Also members are expected to make a day-trip pilgrimage where they recite 3 5-decade rosaries on the month of May in honor of Mary.
See also: Mortification of the flesh
Much public attention has focused on Opus Dei's practice of mortification — the voluntary offering up of discomfort or pain to God. Mortification has a long history in many world religions, including the Catholic Church. It has been endorsed by Popes as a way of following Christ who died in a bloody crucifixion and who gave this advice: "let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me." (Lk 9:23) Supporters say that opposition to mortification is rooted in having lost (1) the "sense of the enormity of sin" or offense against God, and the consequent penance, both interior and exterior, (2) the notions of "wounded human nature" and of concupiscence or inclination to sin, and thus the need for "spiritual battle," and (3) a spirit of sacrifice for love and "supernatural ends," and not only for physical enhancement.
As a spirituality for ordinary people, Opus Dei focuses on performing sacrifices pertaining to normal duties and to its emphasis on charity and cheerfulness. Additionally, Opus Dei celibate members practice "corporal mortifications" such as sleeping without a pillow or sleeping on the floor, fasting or remaining silent for certain hours during the day.
Critics state that self-mortification is a "startling," "extreme," and "questionable" practice — one that borders on masochism. Critics assert that "due to modern psychology and thinking, the practices which inflict pain are sometimes considered to be counterproductive to one's spiritual development, as they can easily lead to pride and an unhealthy attitude toward one's body."
 Organization and activities
Main article: Personal prelature
In Pope John Paul II's 1982 decree known as the Apostolic constitution Ut Sit, Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature, a new official structure of the Catholic Church, similar to a diocese in that it contains lay people and secular priests who are led by a bishop. However, whereas a bishop normally has a territory or diocese, the prelate of Opus Dei is pastor to the members and priests of Opus Dei worldwide, no matter what diocese they are in. To date, Opus Dei is the only personal prelature in existence. In addition to being governed by Ut Sit and by the Catholic Church's general law, Opus Dei is governed by the Church's Particular Law concerning Opus Dei, otherwise known as Opus Dei's statutes. This specifies the objectives and workings of the prelature. The prelature is under the Congregation for Bishops.
The head of the Opus Dei prelature is known as the Prelate. The Prelate is the primary governing authority and is assisted by two councils — the General Council (made up of men) and the Central Advisory (made up of women). The Prelate holds his position for life. The current prelate of Opus Dei is Monsignor Javier Echevarria, who became the second Prelate of Opus Dei in 1994. The first Prelate of Opus Dei was Monsignor Álvaro del Portillo, who held the position from 1982 until his death in 1994.
Opus Dei's highest assembled bodies are the General Congresses, which are usually convened once every eight years. There are separate congresses for the men and women's branch of Opus Dei. The General Congresses are made up of members appointed by the Prelate, and are responsible for advising him about the prelature's future. The men's General Congress also elects the Prelate from a list of candidates chosen by their female counterparts. After the death of a Prelate, a special elective General Congress is convened. The women nominate their preferred candidates for the prelate and is voted upon by the men to become the next Prelate — an appointment that must be confirmed by the Pope.
Main article: Types of membership of Opus Dei
Opus Dei has about 87,000 members in more than 90 different countries. About 60% of Opus Dei members reside in Europe, and 35% reside in the Americas. For the most part, Opus Dei members belong to the middle-to-low levels in society, in terms of education, income, and social status.
Opus Dei is made up of several different types of membership:
Supernumeraries, the largest type, currently account for about 70% of the total membership. Typically, supernumeraries are married men and women with careers. Supernumeraries devote a portion of their day to prayer, in addition to attending regular meetings and taking part in activities such as retreats. Due to their career and family obligations, supernumeraries are not as available to the organization as the other types of members, but they typically contribute financially to Opus Dei, and they lend other types of assistance as their circumstances permit.
Numeraries, the second largest type of members of Opus Dei, comprise about 20% of total membership. Numeraries are celibate members who usually live in special centers run by Opus Dei. Both men and women may become numeraries, although the centers are strictly gender-segregated. Numeraries generally have careers and devote the bulk of their income to the organization.
Numerary assistants are unmarried, celibate female members of Opus Dei. They live in special centers run by Opus Dei but do not have jobs outside the centers — instead, their professional life is dedicated to looking after the domestic needs of the centers and their residents.
The Clergy of the Opus Dei Prelature are priests who are under the jurisdiction of the Prelate of Opus Dei. They are a minority in Opus Dei— only about 2% of Opus Dei members are part of the clergy. Typically, they are numeraries or associates who ultimately joined the priesthood.
The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross consists of priests associated with Opus Dei. Part of the society is made up of the clergy of the Opus Dei prelature — members of the priesthood who fall under the jurisdiction of the Opus Dei prelature are automatically members of the Priestly Society. Other members in the society are diocesan priests — clergymen who remain under the jurisdiction of a geographically defined diocese. These priests are considered full members of Opus Dei who are given its spiritual training. They do not however report to the Opus Dei Prelate but to their own diocesan bishop. As of 2005, there were roughly two thousand of these priests.
The Cooperators of Opus Dei are non-members who collaborate in some way with Opus Dei — usually through praying, charitable contributions, or by providing some other assistance. Cooperators are not required to be celibate or to adhere to any other special requirements. Indeed, cooperators are not even required to be Christian. There were 164,000 cooperators in the year 2005.
In accordance with Catholic theology, membership is granted when a vocation, or divine calling is presumed to have occurred.
Main article: Opus Dei in society
Leaders of Opus Dei describe the organization as a teaching entity, whose main activity is to train Catholics to assume personal responsibility in sanctifying the secular world from within. This teaching is done by means of theory and practice.
Its lay people and priests organize seminars, workshops, retreats, and classes to help people put the Christian faith into practice in their daily lives. Spiritual direction, one-on-one coaching with a more experienced lay person or priest, is considered the "paramount means" of training. Through these activities they provide religious instruction (doctrinal formation), coaching in spirituality for lay people (spiritual formation), character and moral education (human formation), lessons in sanctifying one's work (professional formation), and know-how in evangelizing one's family and workplace (apostolic formation).
The official Catholic document which established the prelature states that Opus Dei strives "to put into practice the teaching of the universal call to sanctity, and to promote at all levels of society the sanctification of ordinary work, and by means of ordinary work." Thus, the founder and his followers describe members of Opus Dei as resembling the members of the early Christian Church — ordinary workers who seriously sought holiness with nothing exterior to distinguish them from other citizens.
Opus Dei runs residential centers throughout the world. These centers provide residential housing for celibate members, undertake recruitment, and provide doctrinal and theological education. Opus Dei is also responsible for a variety of non-profit institutions called "Corporate Works of Opus Dei". A study of the year 2005, showed that members have cooperated with other people in setting up a total of 608 social initiatives: schools and university residences (68%), technical or agricultural training centres (26%), universities, business schools and hospitals (6%). The University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain is a corporate work of Opus Dei which has been rated as one of the top private universities in the country, while its business school, IESE, was adjudged one of the best in the world by the Financial Times and the Economist Intelligence Unit. The total assets of non-profits connected to Opus Dei are worth at least $2.8 billion.
 Relations with Catholic leaders
Main article: Opus Dei and Catholic Church leaders
The bishop of Madrid where Opus Dei was born, Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, supported Opus Dei and defended it in the 1940s by saying that "this opus is truly Dei" (this work is truly God's). Contrary to attacks of secrecy and heresy, the bishop described Opus Dei's founder as someone who is "open as a child" and "most obedient to the Church hierarchy."
In 1960, Pope John XXIII commented that Opus Dei opens up "unsuspected horizons of apostolate". Furthermore, in 1964, Pope Paul VI praised the organization in a handwritten letter to Escrivá, saying:
The relationship between Paul VI and Opus Dei, according to Alberto Moncada, a doctor of sociology and ex-member, was "stormy". After the Second Vatican Council concluded in 1965, Pope Paul VI denied Opus Dei's petition to become a personal prelature, Moncada stated.
Pope John Paul I, a few years before his election, wrote that Escrivá was more radical than other saints who taught about the universal call to holiness. While others emphasized monastic spirituality applied to lay people, for Escrivá "it is the material work itself which must be turned into prayer and sanctity", thus providing a lay spirituality.
Criticisms against Opus Dei have prompted Catholics like Piers Paul Read and Vittorio Messori to call Opus Dei a sign of contradiction, in reference to the biblical quote of Jesus as a "sign that is spoken against." Said John Carmel Heenan, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster: "One of the proofs of God's favour is to be a sign of contradiction. Almost all founders of societies in the Church have suffered. Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer is no exception. Opus Dei has been attacked and its motives misunderstood. In this country and elsewhere an inquiry has always vindicated Opus Dei."
One of Opus Dei's most prominent supporters was Pope John Paul II. John Paul II cited Opus Dei's aim of sanctifying secular activities as a "great ideal." He emphasized that Escrivá's founding of Opus Dei was ductus divina inspiratione, led by divine inspiration, and he granted the organization its status as a personal prelature. Stating that Escrivá is "counted among the great witnesses of Christianity," John Paul II canonized him in 2002, and called him "the saint of ordinary life." Of the organization, John Paul II said:
One-third of the world's bishops petitioned for the canonization of Escrivá. During the canonization, there were 42 cardinals and 470 bishops from around the world, general superiors of many orders and religious congregations, and representatives of various Catholic groups. During those days, these Church officials commented on the universal reach and validity of the message of the founder. For his canonization homily, John Paul II said: With the teachings of St. Josemaria, "it is easier to understand what the Second Vatican Council affirmed: 'there is no question, then, of the Christian message inhibiting men from building up the world ... on the contrary it is an incentive to do these very things' (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, n. 34)."
Concerning the group's role in the Catholic Church, critics have argued that Opus Dei's unique status as a personal prelature gives it too much independence, making it essentially a "church within a church" and that Opus Dei exerts a disproportionately large influence within the Catholic Church itself, as illustrated, for example, by the unusually rapid canonization of Escrivá, which some considered to be irregular. In contrast, Catholic officials say that Church authorities have even greater control of Opus Dei now that its head is a prelate appointed by the Pope, and its status as a prelature "precisely means dependence." Allen says that Escriva's relatively quick canonization does not have anything to do with power but with improvements in procedures and John Paul II's decision to make Escriva's sanctity and message known.
The current pope, Benedict XVI, is also a particularly strong supporter of Opus Dei and of Escrivá. Pointing to the name "Work of God", Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), wrote that "The Lord simply made use of [Escrivá] who allowed God to work." Ratzinger cited Escrivá for correcting the mistaken idea that holiness is reserved to some extraordinary people who are completely different from ordinary sinners: Even if he can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life, a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend, allowing God to work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy.
Ratzinger spoke of Opus Dei's "surprising union of absolute fidelity to the Church’s great tradition, to its faith, and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, whether in the academic world, in the field of work, or in matters of the economy, etc." He further explained:
Main article: Controversies about Opus Dei
Throughout its history, Opus Dei has been criticized from many quarters, prompting journalists to describe Opus Dei as "the most controversial force in the Catholic Church" and founder Saint Josemaría Escrivá as a "polarizing" figure.
The organization has been criticized for issues relating to the Catholic Church, especially the practice of mortification of the flesh. Controversies about Opus Dei have centered around criticisms of its behaviors, such as alleged secretiveness, aggressive recruiting methods, and its strict rules governing members. The organization's members have also been cateogorized by critics as right-leaning elitists, with some individuals supporting extreme right-wing governments, such as the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978.
 Supporting views
According to several journalists who have worked independently on Opus Dei, such as John Allen, Jr., Vittorio Messori, Patrice de Plunkett, Maggy Whitehouse, Noam Friedlander many of the criticisms against Opus Dei are myths and unproven tales. Allen, Messori, and Plunkett say that most of these myths were created by its opponents, with Allen adding that he perceives that Opus Dei members generally practice what they preach.
Allen, Messori, and Plunkett also state that accusations that Opus Dei is secretive are unfounded. These accusations stem from a clerical paradigm which expects Opus Dei members to behave as monks and clerics, people who are traditionally known and externally identifiable as seekers of holiness. In contrast, these journalists continue, Opus Dei's lay members, like any normal Catholic professional, are ultimately responsible for their personal actions, and do not externally represent the organization which provides them religious education. Writer and broadcast analyst John L. Allen, Jr. states that Opus Dei provides abundant information about itself. These journalists have stated that the historic roots of criticisms against Opus Dei can be found in influential clerical circles.
As to its alleged participation in the Francoist regime, British historians Paul Preston and Brian Crozier state that the Opus Dei members who were Franco's ministers were appointed for their talent and not for their Opus Dei membership. Also, there were notable members of Opus Dei who were vocal critics of the Franco Regime such as Rafael Calvo Serer and Antonio Fontan, who was the first Senate President of Spain's democracy. The German historian and Opus Dei member Peter Berglar calls any connection made between Opus Dei and Franco's regime a "gross slander." At the end of Franco's regime, Opus Dei members were 50:50 for and against Franco, according to John Allen. Similarly Álvaro del Portillo, the former Prelate of Opus Dei, said that any statements that Escrivá supported Hitler were "a patent falsehood," that were part of "a slanderous campaign". He and others have stated that Escriva condemned Hitler as a "rogue", a "racist" and a "tyrant". Opus Dei spokespersons also deny claims that Opus Dei members worked with General Pinochet. Various authors state that Escriva was staunchly non-political, and detested dictatorships. Allen wrote that, compared with other Catholic organizations, Opus Dei's stress on freedom and personal responsibility is extraordinarily strong.
While Opus Dei spokepersons have admitted mistakes in dealing with some members and do not, as a rule, contest their grievances, supporters have rejected generalizations merely based on negative experiences of some members. Sociologists like Bryan R. Wilson write about some former members of any religious group who may have psychological motivations such as self-justification to criticize their former groups. Wilson states that such individuals are prone to create fictitious "atrocity stories" which have no basis in reality. Many supporters of Opus Dei have expressed the belief that the criticisms of Opus Dei stem from a generalized disapproval of spirituality, Christianity, or Catholicism. Expressing this sentiment, one Opus Dei member, Cardinal Julian Herranz, stated "Opus Dei has become a victim of Christianophobia." Massimo Introvigne, author of an encyclopedia of religion, argues that critics employ the term "cult" in order to intentionally stigmatize Opus Dei because "they could not tolerate 'the return to religion' of the secularized society".
Opus Dei is not "elitist" in the sense in which people often invoke the term, meaning an exclusively white-collar phenomenon, concluded John Allen. He observed that among its members are barbers, bricklayers, mechanics and fruit sellers. Most supernumeraries are living ordinary middle-class lives, he said.
Regarding alleged misogyny, John Allen states that half of the leadership positions in Opus Dei are held by women, and they supervise men. The Catholic Church defends its male priesthood by saying that "the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints."
 Critical views
In the English-speaking world, the most vocal critic of Opus Dei is an internet-based blogging website called the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN). ODAN describes itself as an organization that exists "to provide education, outreach and support to people who have been adversely affected by Opus Dei." ODAN is headed by Diane DiNicola, mother of a former member, Tammy DiNicola. Other major critics include Maria Carmen del Tapia, an ex-member who was a high-ranking officer of Opus Dei for many years, liberal Catholic theologians such as Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit writer and editor, and supporters of Liberation theology, such as journalist Penny Lernoux and Michael Walsh, a writer on religious matters and former Jesuit.
Critics state that Opus Dei is "intensely secretive"— for example, members generally do not disclose their affiliation with Opus Dei in public. Further, under the 1950 constitution, members were expressly forbidden to reveal themselves without the permission of their superiors. This practice has led to much speculation about who may be a member.
Opus Dei has been accused of deceptive and aggressive recruitment practices such as showering potential members with intense praise ("Love bombing"), instructing numeraries to form friendships and attend social gatherings explicitly for recruiting purposes, and requiring regular written reports from its members about those friends who are potential recruits.
Organisations such as ODAN allege that Opus Dei maintains an extremely high degree of control over its members— for instance, past rules required numeraries to submit their incoming and outgoing mail to their superiors for inspection, and members are forbidden to read certain books without permission from their superiors. Critics charge that Opus Dei pressures numeraries to sever contact with non-members, including their own families. Exit counselor David Clark has described Opus Dei as "very cult-like".
Critics assert that Escrivá and the organization supported radical right-wing governments, such as those of Augusto Pinochet and Alberto Fujimori of Peru during the 1990s. Both Pinochet's and Fujimori's ministries and prominent supporters allegedly included members of Opus Dei. There have also been allegations that Escrivá expressed sympathy for Adolf Hitler. One former Opus Dei priest, Vladimir Felzmann, who has become a vocal Opus Dei critic, says that Escrivá once remarked that Hitler had been "badly treated" by the world and he further declared that "Hitler couldn't have been such a bad person. He couldn't have killed six million [Jews]. It couldn't have been more than four million."
After conducting a critical study of Opus Dei, journalist John Allen, Jr. concluded that Opus Dei should (1) be more transparent, (2) collaborate with monks and nuns who belong to religious orders, and (3) encourage its members to air out in public their criticisms of the institution.
 Other views
Sociologists Peter Berger and Samuel Huntington suggest that Opus Dei is involved in "a deliberate attempt to construct an alternative modernity," one that engages modern culture while at the same time is resolutely loyal to Catholic traditions. Van Biema of Time magazine emphasises Opus Dei's Spanish roots as a source of misunderstandings in the Anglo-Saxon world, and suggests that as the United States becomes more Hispanic, controversies about Opus Dei (and similar Catholic organizations) will decrease.
In her 2006 book on Opus Dei, Maggy Whitehouse, a non-Catholic journalist, argues that the relative autonomy of each director and center has resulted in mistakes at the local level. She recommends greater consistency and transparency for Opus Dei, which she sees as having learned the lesson of greater openness when it faced the issues raised by The Da Vinci Code and other critics.
 Opus Dei in popular culture
 See also
 Further reading
Main article: Opus Dei: Bibliography
 External links
 Opus Dei Official sites
 Sites supporting Opus Dei
 Sites critical of Opus Dei