What happened during the
The exit counseling was planned
for June 1990 after I graduated from Boston College. My family asked
if I would speak with a counselor about Opus Dei - they did not
understand Opus Dei and wanted to improve our relationship. I agreed,
and the counselor arrived; also in attendance were other close family
members and friends. The exit-counseling itself was not coercive
– I genuinely wanted to be closer to my family and was willing
to speak with them.
My family and friends began to ask
questions about my involvement with Opus Dei and how I joined. As
I was giving the best answers I could to their questions, I began
to see that these answers were not good enough. I was frustrated
because I felt as if the water was under the bridge; yes, I had
made mistakes when I first joined, but why go over and over it?
At the beginning of the exit counseling, I put the blame for our
lack of communication and the devastation of our relationships entirely
on myself. It was an exhausting experience. Tension was high as
was the emotional level for all involved. I refused to answer certain
questions, such as "do you use the cilice and discipline?"
(the cilice and the discipline were shown and explained) See Corporal
Mortification. I was using them of course, but I did not want
to answer their question and be subjected to even more questions.
The exit counselor was a mediator
for our dialogue. He would attempt to soften the harsh questions
that were being directed to me by my family. He would re-phrase
the questions and attempt to help me see it in a different light.
He would often quote scriptures. One that stood out for me as I
was re-evaluating my commitment to Opus Dei was John 18:20 when
Jesus says "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always
taught in synagogues and in the temple...I have said nothing in
secret." The counselor was very professional and treated me
with great respect.
When I realized that the questions
were going in circles and my answers were not sufficient, I agreed
to look at some of the written material that was critical of Opus
Dei. This marked a shift in the exit counseling from my perspective.
As I read the printed material, which was written by former Opus
Dei member John Roche of England, I began to see aspects of Opus
Dei that were not as flattering as I had first thought. See John
Roche's "Inner World
of Opus Dei." I asked if I could take notes, because my
intention was to bring these new concerns back to Opus Dei for explanation.
I took notes of specific Opus Dei texts that I intended to look
at when I returned to the Opus Dei house; I wanted to see if the
quotes were taken out of context or mis-translated (from Spanish
to English). I discounted any of the personal accounts from ex-members
at the time thinking this would be unreliable information.
As I was reading the material, I
believe that pinpoints of truth were starting to break through.
I began to see the inconsistencies within Opus Dei – for example,
Opus Dei states that they engage in an “apostolate of friendship
and confidence”, and yet the reality is that it is not true
friendship, and it is far from confidential! On the contrary, members
regularly divulge intimate details about their recruits to their
directors and even devise strategies for each one to get them closer
to joining Opus Dei. Members are instructed to have between 10-15
friends at a time, with 5 close to joining Opus Dei. Members keep
monthly statistics on their recruits and are required to report
on their efforts to their directors each week at the "chat".
This naturally leads to the instrumentalization of friendship -
friends not likely to join Opus Dei are dropped for new friends
who are capable of becoming successful members.
Opus Dei even instructs their members
on how to find these "select" individuals. The Founder
of Opus Dei wrote in The Way 399 “If, to save an
earthly life, it is praiseworthy to use force to keep a man from
committing suicide, are we not allowed to use the same coercion
– holy coercion – in order to save the Lives of so many
who are stupidly bent on killing their souls?”
This is just one example of the
many inconsistencies I was beginning to see in Opus Dei. What I
had thought was so beautiful about Opus Dei, seemed manipulative
and deceptive to me at this point in the exit counseling process.
The teaching I had received from Opus Dei about the “apostolate
of friendship and confidence” did not seem to mesh with the
reality within Opus Dei.
I did this study independently for
quite some time. I could sense that family members were getting
restless, but this was actually a very important process for me,
because for the first time I was seeing Opus Dei in an entirely
I began to relax when it was time
to break for lunch on the second day. At the same moment, one of
my cousins was dropped off to participate in the counseling. Her
four little boys were in the van with their father. I ran out to
see them, as they were very dear to me, and I had not seen them
for a long time. As it is quoted in scripture, out of the mouth
of babes comes truth, one of the boys, Alex who was 4 years old,
said to me "Aunt Tam, I haven't seen you in a long year!"
It was the truth, and it made me think of all that I had abandoned
- mainly the love and support of my family who had loved and sacrificed
for me since I was a baby.
After the lunch break, I was confronted again by the family about
my decision to join Opus Dei. At a decisive moment, my mom picked
up an apple and asked me “Tammy, is this a peach or an apple?”
I did not want to answer the question. For some reason, I knew that
the apple was symbolic of the truth about Opus Dei. I was reluctant
to answer the question because somehow it meant admitting that Opus
Dei was flawed. I was so conditioned for double speak in Opus Dei
that it took a long moment before I finally answered “it’s
an apple.” My mom said “yes!” and hugged me, and
at that moment, which I attribute to the Holy Spirit allowing me
to see the truth, I saw the deception and manipulation of Opus Dei
so clearly that I immediately decided to leave. I have often likened
the whole process to me being in a dark closet. When I was in Opus
Dei, I was in the closet with my eyes closed. When I began to look
at the critical material, I had opened my eyes and was beginning
to see the pinpoints of light and truth. The moment when I decided
to leave, the door was flung wide open and I was flooded with light
For me, the exit counseling had
many dimensions that allowed me to see the truth. There was an intellectual
dimension, where I was privy to new information that had not been
available to me before; there was an emotional dimension, which
allowed me to see all that I had cast aside in my pursuit of Opus
Dei, mainly the love and communion of family and true friends; there
was also a spiritual dimension of being set free from the bondage
that is Opus Dei.
The primary reason I decided to
leave Opus Dei was because I saw clearly the cult-like techniques
employed by Opus Dei. Opus Dei employs the same means of recruiting
and controlling members as other totalistic groups. In 1986 the
Vatican released a document detailing the means used by destructive
religious movements, and I could relate all that was written to
the techniques used by Opus Dei. This booklet (Parents’
Guide to Opus Dei) examines Opus Dei and compares its practices
to those the Vatican cautions against.
For example, Characteristic One:
“a subtle process of introduction…gradual discovery
of the real host” along with the general approach “deception
and affection”, with love-bombing and overpowering techniques.
In Opus Dei, new members making just an initial commitment without
knowing any of the details of Opus Dei life are treated as full
members. Instead of allowing new recruits to examine the details
of membership and then re-evaluate their commitment, Opus Dei deliberately
withholds information and then exerts tremendous pressure on new
recruits to remain in Opus Dei, even if the recruits object to one
or more aspects of Opus Dei life. The new members are typically
told that if they leave Opus Dei they may be damned and will absolutely
live their whole life without God's grace. They are told that they
must be faithful in all that the directors say or they will not
be living "the spirit of the Work” and they will be letting
the mute devil into their soul. Opus Dei twists the truth so that
it sounds like members are making free decisions but they really
are not! If the choice is between damnation and a life without God's
grace, and living ALL the details of Opus Dei life, there really
is no choice at all.
Other characteristics mentioned
include the eventual surrendering of control of nearly every aspect
of life. In Opus Dei, the numerary or celibate members hand over
their entire salaries to Opus Dei and are accountable to the penny
for whatever they spend, which they must ask for each week; yet
Opus Dei does not reveal how the rest of the money is spent; incoming
and outgoing mail is read; all reading must be approved; members
are typically not allowed to attend movies or sporting events; numeraries
do not watch television, listen to radio or read magazines or newspapers
Blind obedience to directors is
also expected. The Founder wrote in Maxim 941 of The Way
“Obedience, the sure way. Blind obedience to your superior,
the way of sanctity. Obedience in your apostolate the only way,
for in a work of God, the spirit must be to obey or to leave.”
I learned after I left Opus Dei that blind obedience is a characteristic
employed by other totalistic groups. This obedience is monitored
through required weekly confessions and the chat with the director
along with fraternal correction where members are expected to report
on the failings of their fellow numeraries. Guilt and fear are used
to maintain this obedience. The Founder wrote “If one of my
children abandons the fight…let him know that he betrays us
all, Jesus Christ, the Church, his brothers and sisters in the Work…It
would be treason to consent to the tiniest act of unfaithfulness.”
ii, 1972) See Opus
Dei's Secret Magazines.
After I decided to leave Opus Dei,
the counselor spent several days with me explaining the dynamics
of totalistic control and helping me understand what had happened
to me through videos and written materials. I learned that the same
process of deception and manipulation can be used by almost any
kind of group, whether it’s the Moonies or Jehovah Witnesses
or Opus Dei. I studied Lifton’s eight basic means of exerting
mind control and could relate all of it to my experience in Opus
Dei. This basis of therapy was extremely important in my recovery.
A few days later I went to a cult
recovery facility that existed at the time in Iowa that was very
similar to Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio.
My learning about mind control and totalism continued and was augmented
by the opportunity to speak with the counselors about my own personal
concerns and learn again how to function as an individual. I had
to re-learn how to make decisions; how to relate with others; how
to take control of my own life and emotions.
Even though I had no doubt about
my decision to leave Opus Dei, I still went through a very difficult
time of adjustment after leaving. I soon realized that Opus Dei
had squashed my true emotions, and so every day was an emotional
roller coaster ride for months. In the same day, I could be on the
highest mountain, and later on, in the depths of despair. It was
supremely difficult to make even the simplest of decisions. I would
sit on the bed and cry because I could not pick out an outfit to
wear...When I did move out into an apartment with my sister some
months later, I almost had a panic attack in the grocery store because
of all the choices.
Over the span of several months after leaving Opus Dei, we had some
communication with Opus Dei. I think Opus Dei was shocked when I
left, because nothing like this had happened before. They went to
extreme lengths to try to find me and talk to me, even resorting
to calling an aunt. Eventually I did talk with them, but I was very
clear about my intentions to leave Opus Dei. I never doubted my
A few months later, my family and
I and a priest who specializes in cult-like groups within the Church
met with the Opus Dei vicar of the United States and presented our
concerns. At the meeting the vicar appeared to agree with what we
considered legitimate concerns, but a subsequent letter and the
testimony of hundreds of individuals since that time reveals that
Opus Dei has not changed its deceptive and manipulative techniques.
Opus Dei may have made some cosmetic changes over the years since
I left, but the central way of dealing with members and recruits
is still wrought with deception and manipulation.
With time and the love and support
of family, the effect of my experience began to lessen. My experience
with Opus Dei created a hunger to know God, and I embarked on a
new journey of faith, receiving counseling and support from kind
and wise priests. Over time, God led me to a new type of relationship
based on trust in Him alone, not in a group, and grounded in the
daily reading of scripture for wisdom, guidance and peace. I am
now a practicing Catholic with a deep faith that guides me each
day; I am happily married and the mother of three beautiful boys;
I work as a tax preparer.
My activities with ODAN have also
been healing for me. A guiding scripture for me and motivator for
my work with ODAN has been 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "Blessed be
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies
and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction,
so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction
with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God."
"A Family Intervention"
for Tammy's mother's complementary account.