the Threshold: A Life
in Opus Dei
By Maria del Carmen Tapia, Continuum Publishing Company, NY, 1997
Summary and Review by Tammy DiNicola
soon as the book arrived, I eagerly began reading Beyond the
Threshold, knowing that its words would be relevant to my own
life as a former numerary member of Opus Dei.
Absorbingly written, Maria del Carmen Tapia’s Beyond the
Threshold captivated me with the frightful picture it painted
of Opus Dei.
though I had been involved with Opus Dei for nearly four years,
I was still shocked by much of what I read in Tapia’s book.
In particular, the personality of the Founder which Tapia
described was more abusive than I had ever imagined.
I was a member of Opus Dei much later than Tapia, I can verify that
much of what happened behind closed doors during Tapia’s time in
Opus Dei, still goes on to this day.
Tapia was an Opus Dei member from 1946 to 1966; I was a member
from 1988 to 1990. Amazingly,
the book does not reflect bitterness or revenge; rather, it is filled
with careful reflections and the wisdom acquired when many years
lessen the pain of wounds inflicted years before.
the first chapters of the book, Tapia details how she came in contact
with Opus Dei, and what made her decide to become a member.
She describes the harshness of her early years in Opus Dei,
which was motivated by her desire to follow the path God had laid
for her, no matter what the cost. One deep cost was the abandonment of her fiancÚ to become a
numerary (celibate) member of Opus Dei.
her years in Opus Dei passed, Tapia was given more and more responsibility
within the government of Opus Dei, culminating in six years spent
in Rome as one of two secretaries for the Founder, Josemaria Escriva
the chapters describing her stay in Rome, Tapia writes of the subtle
“shift” in her thinking and behavior.
While her initial commitment to Opus Dei was inspired by
her desire to please God and follow His will, in the chapter entitled,
“The Making of a Fanatic,” Tapia soon began to place more importance
on “the will of the Father (Escriva),” rather than on “the will
of God.” She writes
“to please the Father, pleases God and not the reverse....The Father
is turned into the likeness of God.” (p. 100)
likely, the shift in Tapia’s thinking and behavior came about subtly,
as if through osmosis. The
same shift occurred in my own experience in Opus Dei.
One of the first beliefs that Opus Dei members acquire is
that Opus Dei itself is perfect, in need of no correction; criticism,
even constructive criticism, is not tolerated.
the height of her “fanaticism,” Tapia made the trip to Rome to become
one of Escriva’s secretaries.
There she experienced the extreme difficulty of working each
day with the Founder. Vain
and prone to tantrums, Escriva berated and ridiculed anyone in his
presence who did not accomplish tasks with absolute perfection.
Yet, despite Escriva’s outbursts and harshness, Tapia still
considered herself most fortunate to be working at his side.
had become an Opus Dei fanatic, almost worshipping the Founder.
This adulation of the Founder continues to this day within
Opus Dei, even now, more than 25 years after his death.
Even his predecessor, Alvaro del Portillo, was regarded as
a saint by Opus Dei members while he was still alive; at times,
members acted almost hysterically in his presence, like teenagers
following a pop star.
her time in Rome, Tapia was transferred to Venezuela in 1956, where
she was regional directress of all the Opus Dei women there.
During her time in Venezuela, Tapia gained perspectives that
she had been unable to see while in Rome, where she was practically
blinded by her fanaticism.
by doing so she became guilty of the greatest sin in Opus Dei:
lack of unity. As
regional directress, Tapia made decisions based on her experience
and common sensibilities; however, these decisions often went against
the grain of the other directresses and priests in Venezuela.
became more “human,” and less “fanatic.”
For example, during her time in Venezuela, Tapia received
a directive from Rome that all Opus Dei numeraries should take a
monthly outing to the countryside.
Because of the jungle terrain in Venezuela, Tapia did not
think the directive was relevant, so she decided that numeraries
would go to a private beach instead.
also made a remark to a counselor and a priest in Venezuela that
Opus Dei members should be allowed to go to confession to whomever
they wanted as long as the confessor was an Opus Dei priest.
(Normally, each Opus Dei house is assigned one Opus Dei priest
with whom all the members confess.)
This comment was considered “murmuring” against the Founder,
even though “such freedom is written into Opus Dei documents; it
is ‘bad spirit’ if anyone actually uses it.
[Tapia] considered all this a serious lack of freedom opposed
to the freedom of which Opus Dei members were supposed to be pioneers.”
also became disturbed at the lack of charity exhibited by her superiors
in Rome, including the Founder himself.
She described the cruel treatment Opus Dei superiors had
inflicted on a young Venezuelan numerary who had had a breakdown
in Rome. Tapia was
told to pick up the young girl at the airport on her return trip
from Rome; however, Tapia did not know of her condition.
In such a delicate state, the young girl was sent from Rome
to Venezuela traveling alone, and Tapia was horrified when she realized
that she had been sedated.
No longer wanted by Opus Dei, the girl was cast off with
no regard for her safety.
independence Tapia exhibited would cost her dearly.
Suddenly in October 1965, she was called to Rome without
being told why. The
vague answer she received was that she was going there to rest for
two weeks, and then she could return to Venezuela.
When Tapia asked to see the note which the Founder had sent,
she was refused, which heightened her anxiety.
The Opus Dei priests and directresses who had disagreed with
her style of governing in Venezuela behaved furtively and would
give no straight answers.
This only added to Tapia’s apprehension.
in Rome, Tapia’s anxiety grew daily as she waited for weeks to hear
why she had returned to Rome.
Under constant supervision, Tapia was not allowed to go anywhere
without being accompanied by other Opus Dei members.
soon became apparent to her that she was being watched and that
she would not be leaving Rome in two weeks as had been promised.
confession and the “confidence” made with Marlies Kucking, prefect
of studies in the central advisory, Tapia was told that she was
guilty of intense pride. However,
when she asked for specifics, they would not elaborate; instead,
they told her that they could not understand how she wouldn’t know. They hinted that she had committed atrocities in Venezuela,
yet Tapia could not imagine what they were.
great anguish, Tapia suffered immeasurably; yet the treatment she
received in the Opus Dei “prison” began to open her eyes.
She began to see disturbing things in the central house in
Rome. She writes,
than a sense of inclusiveness of all countries, everything revolved
around Spain; Italian was hardly spoken.
In addition, the directors lacked warmth, and there was servility
rather than affection for the Father along with a cultic worship
of his personality. Family
life was not spontaneous, and people were not free to come and go.
Above all, there was such a sense of discretion and secrecy
that everything had become sheer misery.
For example, you were never told when a numerary was coming
from another country; you simply met her in the hall or saw her
in the oratory.” (p.
Tapia was called to meet with Escriva.
Escriva shouted at her, telling her that she would never
return to Venezuela. When
Tapia expressed her desire to live and die in Venezuela, Escriva
became irate, and told her that she was full of pride.
by the Founder’s anger and disdain, Tapia wept most of all because
she realized that the man she had almost worshipped all of her Opus
Dei years, had lied to her.
Not only had he sent her to Rome on false pretenses, he also
made a lie of the Opus Dei mandate which stated that Opus Dei members
may choose in which country they would like to live.
began to realize that only those people who obeyed to the letter
whatever Escriva dictated, enjoyed his affection and “love.”
suffered even more at the
hands of the Opus Dei superiors and the Founder.
She could not receive or send mail, nor could she receive
or make telephone calls. She
was constantly watched, and could not leave the house in Rome.
She was continually interrogated, forced to go to confession,
and denied any privileges at all. In several meetings, Escriva screamed at Tapia, calling her
a whore, a sow, a wicked woman, full of “bad spirit,” worthless.
October 1965 to May 1966, Tapia was a prisoner in the Opus Dei house
in Rome. In the end,
she was deemed a “hopeless case” by the Founder, who threw her out
of the house. Almost
everything Tapia owned had been searched and taken by the Opus Dei
members; they even took all her identifying papers from Venezuela.
she left, the Opus Dei members told her that she was in mortal sin,
and that only after a lifetime of penance and prayer may she possibly
Founder threatened Tapia if she ever spoke about her years in Opus
Dei, he personally would see that she be dishonored.
Tapia returned to Spain, she remembered the Founder’s threats, and
was reluctant to tell anyone the truth of what happened to her.
After five months, she explained to her parents the threats
she received from the Founder, among them, not to return to Venezuela,
and how Opus Dei kept her personal documents, which were never returned
to her. Slowly she
was able to recover from the hideous ordeal Opus Dei had put her
through. While in Madrid
she began to work in a prestigious law firm and after a year, she
moved to the United States; first to Harvard University, and years
later to the University of California where she works presently
at the System-wide Office of the Education Abroad Program, located
in Santa Barbara.
went by before Tapia published in Spanish, Tras el Umbral, Una Vida
en el Opus Dei, (Beyond the Threshold:
A Life in Opus Dei) which was a best-seller in Spain.
Now published in several languages and several editions,
the book has also been a best-seller in Portugal, Germany and Italy.
details the efforts she made to make her story known during the
entire beatification process for Escriva. Opus Dei attacked her character during that time, insinuating
that Tapia was guilty of sexual misconduct and rebellion within
Dei has been very effective in silencing its critics in this manner;
they simply make vague accusations insinuating scandalous behavior.
In Spain where Opus Dei is a household word, former Opus
Dei members who have the courage to speak out against Opus Dei and
its practices often suffer consequences.
though I had spent several years in Opus Dei, much of the book surprised
me. It became clear
to me that all of the Founder’s less than perfect traits were not
communicated to anyone; the people who wrote about the Founder while
he was alive were not allowed to write down anything negative he
may have said, nor could they describe the many rages the Founder
had. The Founder’s
behavior was often crude and inhumane, and self-aggrandizing.
As proof of his self-aggrandizement, Escriva not only appointed
a person to write about his virtuous behavior, he told her what
she could and could not write!
inner workings of Opus Dei that Tapia described were also appalling
to me. There was no
real concern for the people who had offered their lives to Opus
Dei, especially if they chose to leave or became incapacitated in
some way. When Tapia
expressed concern about a Venezuelan numerary who was sick with
Hodgkin’s disease, the Founder and the directors in Rome did not
know who she was and expressed no concern at all for her.
my own case, this lack of concern for those who leave Opus Dei was
demonstrated. The members
that I knew while I was in Opus Dei had no interest in me once I
was not “part of the fold.”
Opus Dei members are subtly taught that it is a waste of
time to spend time with anyone who will never be an Opus Dei member.
also demonstrated clearly that despite Opus Dei members’ commitment
to a life of sanctity, backstabbing in Opus Dei was common, and
jealousy and envy seemed to be motives behind many of the decisions
the directors made.
also described some of the “cult-like” tendencies within Opus Dei,
namely the following: excessive
adulation of a charismatic leader (the Founder); indoctrination,
the subtle process used by controlling groups to turn ordinary people
into loyal “fanatics”; “discretion” or “silence,” effectively used
by totalist groups to control members, to make them “pure,” while
at the same time not revealing the true motives of decisions made
by superiors; an inability by the controlling group to accept even
constructive criticism, especially among members who are expected
to obey blindly.
reading Beyond the Threshold, I was amazed to hear of the
surprisingly large number of people who leave Opus Dei, voluntarily
and involuntarily. Many
suffer breakdowns or attempt to commit suicide.
like Tapia, become disillusioned with the practices and uncharitableness
of Opus Dei. Many of
these have been publicly slandered by Opus Dei in their attempts
to discredit anyone who criticizes them, constructively or not.
Because of this, I admire Maria del Carmen Tapia for her
courage and determination in exposing the truth about Opus Dei.
the end of Beyond the Threshold appear a number of letters
written by Tapia and others, including several letters to the Holy
Father admonishing him to hear her criticisms of Opus Dei for the
good of the Church and for souls.
the Threshold is a book for anyone who has been even remotely
in contact with Opus Dei.
The description Tapia gives of her “imprisonment” in Rome,
may remind some readers of George Orwell’s 1984, such are
the atrocities committed against her “for the good of Opus Dei.”
to website May 13, 2002