and Other Writings
following is the work of the individual author and does not necessarily
reflect the views or opinions of the Opus Dei Awareness Network,
is Opus Dei? The Alternative Version
By M. Miki, former male numerary, Brazil, São Paulo
In this text I would like to discuss
Opus Dei (or The Work) and my aim is to give support to former members.
Each of the histories of former members is unique, but at the same
time the histories could be quite similar. For this reason, I decided
not to tell my own personal history, but my personal questions,
insights and thoughts about Opus Dei.
I believe that to outsiders who
do not belong to Opus Dei, some questions receive more attention
than others, but in my opinion are not so important, for example,
the cilice and the disciplines. In my opinion, it is more important
to discuss other things, like the manipulation of the mind.
In this text, I will answer the
question: “What is Opus Dei?” For the former member,
an explanation of this question can give support to the existential
conflict. Many times, the former member can not rebuild his own
life, because this question acts like an anchor. If we can’t
give an answer to this question and many others related to Opus
Dei, it will be very difficult to go ahead in life to develop other
personal projects. I hope the former members, especially the numeraries,
receive some support from this text. I don’t want to be a
model to anyone. I only want give an alternative vision. If you
don’t like what you read in this text, there is no problem.
My desire is that the former member find his own answers about Opus
Dei and with these answers I hope the former member can be born
At first, we will introduce the
problem about Opus Dei by asking some questions.
How could an institution have so many different opinions about it?
Some people love it. Some people hate it. Is it a matter of personal
preference? Or it is like supporting a baseball team or something
else? Is it only a matter of faith? Is it like saying “Believe
it or not”?
These different positions about
Opus Dei can be defended by two types of groups. The people who
support Opus Dei say the founder of Opus Dei, Escriva, gave Catholics
the option of sanctity different from the way of monks, nuns, priests
etc. Escriva’s message was that the ordinary person, who has
a job or takes care of the home, can become a saint. Catholics didn’t
have this option of life before the foundation of Opus Dei. With
this revolutionary message, Catholics can offer their work to God.
A professional and job well done is an offering to God. With the
message of Escriva, people can approach God and do activities like
participate in the community, go to the mass, pray in a church etc.
These are good things that we can’t deny.
On the other side, there are people
who were manipulated by this institution for years and many were
expelled for some simple excuse. Others suffered from depression
and were asked to leave this organization. Most of the people that
we are talking about were numeraries. These facts can´t be
denied either. The defenders of Opus Dei could say that it is normal
-- that there are human errors in a Divine Institution like Opus
Dei. But now we know that these types of error are very common (there
are lots of testimonies around the world) and it is no longer possible
to accept this kind of apology. Other people say that Opus Dei uses
some questionable practices like alienation from their families,
control of information and the environment etc.
With these facts in our hands, we
can defend or we can condemn this institution. With this in mind,
is it really possible to make a productive discussion about Opus
Dei? Who is right? Is everybody right? Is everybody wrong? Is it
a matter of framework? Depending on the context, are you right and
he is wrong?
According to Popper ,
the way to solve a problem is: problem – theory – criticism
– new problems. After describing the problem I will present
a theory about “What is Opus Dei?”. This theory could
be tested in many ways. If the theory “survives” after
much criticism we can say that it is valid. But after accepting
this theory, new problems will appear.
What is Opus Dei?
know that many people will not accept the proposed theory. Some
members will say that this is an anti-Catholic speech. Others will
say that the former members are frustrated people with a lot of
anger and sadness. Other people will say that we are against God.
Normally the critics of the former members are not creative and
they always say the same things. The theory/the model is a simple
way to explain this complex institution. It is so simple and so
obvious. We will present this theory only by a symbol. And the symbol
is presented below:
explanation of this symbol is:
The Work is an institution with the following characteristics:
It is an end unto itself;
• God and Catholic Church are the means of the Work.
who know Opus Dei will recognize the symbol as a modification of
the official symbol of Opus Dei. In Opus Dei, we were taught that
the official symbol is represented by the Circle, which means the
Globe, and the Cross, which is Christianity. The message is Christ’s
Cross in the World. In the modified symbol, the Circle is a snake
biting its own tail, or it is an end unto itself. This symbol is
explained in the book The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell:
power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon
sheds its shadow. The serpent sheds its skin to be born again,
as the moon its shadow to be born again. They are equivalent symbols.
Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own
tail. That’s an image of life. Life sheds one generation
after another, to be born again. The serpent represents immortal
energy and consciousness engaged in the field of time, constantly
throwing off death and being born again. There is something tremendously
terrifying about life when you look at it that way. And so the
serpent carries in itself the sense of both the fascination and
the terror of life.
the serpent represents the primary function of life, mainly eating.
Life consists in eating other creatures. You don’t think
about that very much when you have a nice-looking meal. But what
you’re doing is eating something that was recently alive.
And when you look at the beauty of nature, and you see the birds
picking around – they’re eating things. You see the
cows grazing, they’re eating things. The serpent is a traveling
alimentary canal, that’s about all it is. And it gives you
that primary sense of shock, of life in its most primal quality.
There is no arguing with that animal at all. Life lives by killing
and eating itself, casting off death and being reborn, like the
moon. This is one of the mysteries that these symbolic, paradoxical
forms try to represent.”
symbol of the snake means that the main objective of the Work is
not God. The main objective of the Work is itself. It is like other
cults. The instruments used by the Work are God and the Catholic
chapter six of her book, Ser Mujer en el Opus Dei (Being
a Woman in Opus Dei), former numerary Isabel de Armas describes
this hair-raising vision of life in Opus Dei by using an Opus Dei
priest's description of Opus Dei.
the Work, we want flesh; because the flesh is able to assimilate.
There are persons who are gold, but gold is never able to assimilate:
what comes in, goes out. How do I tell you, we search for flesh
which is the food, and it feeds the living organism which is the
Work. But when we find gold, we don’t refuse it, because we
buy flesh with gold; you can buy a lot of flesh."
(Original text in Spanish "En
la Obra lo que queremos es carne; porque la carne se asimila. Hay
personas que son oro, pero el oro no se asimila nunca: igual que
entra, sale. Como te digo, nosotros buscamos carne que alimente
y nutra el organismo vivo que es la Obra, pero cuando encontramos
oro, tampoco lo desechamos, porque con el oro compramos carne; se
puede comprar mucha carne.")
In the movie Conan, the Barbarian, there is a similar quotation
from the killer of Conan’s parents and supreme leader of a
cult: "Steel isn’t strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. That
is power! The strength and power of flesh! What is steel compared
to the hand that wields it?"
Consequences of the Model
At the proposed model, Escriva (or the Work) is higher than God
and the Catholic Church. It means that Escriva is superior to God,
which means that he was a megalomaniacal person. The readers of
this text could think that we are trying to ridicule Escriva. This
is not the objective of this text. In this text we are making a
supposition of the mental health problems of Escriva.
Opus Dei, we were taught to admire Escriva more than Jesus Christ.
Escriva is the model to imitate Christ. Escriva is always the reference
to the virtues. This excessive cult to Escriva began when Escriva
was alive and by himself. He was always the center of attention
and he used to get angry when someone had an opinion different from
When Escriva made a visit to Brazil, some members collected his
fingernails as relics.
Escriva liked to tell his own histories about Opus Dei and these
histories are told and retold by the members with an importance
higher than the Bible. For example, the official biography of Escriva
dedicated a lot of pages to an incident called the Passage through
the Pyrenees. And after many versions, the published version became
more important than the facts.
of the main characteristics of a megalomaniac is the conviction
of some idea which is impenetrable. We can find this impenetrable
thinking in Escriva’s vision of the Work on October 2, 1928,
the date of the foundation of Opus Dei. It is difficult to understand
why this “vision” of the foundation was “revealed”
in steps, with the introduction of the women’s branch of the
Work not introduced until February 14, 1930, and the introduction
of the Priests in the Work on February 14, 1943. On this day, Escriva
saw the sign of the Work (the circle and the cross) and he made
the foundation of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.
are other examples of difficulties in understanding the “Spirit
of the Work.”
In the Work, the numeraries have spiritual direction with a lay
person and not with a priest because a lay person is a person of
the streets. But when we saw the “vocation,” before
becoming a member, we had spiritual direction with a priest and
not with a lay person. Only after becoming a member, did the Work
teach us that we must talk with a lay person, or with the director
of a center of Opus Dei. But this director has very little experience
in the real world where it is necessary to work day after day for
8 hours. This lay person works more in the internal works of Opus
excuse of using a lay person is difficult to understand when at
the top of the hierarchy there is a priest and not a lay person.
The official definition of Opus Dei is a Personal Prelature. But
what is a Personal Prelature? A Personal Prelature is something
unique in the Catholic Church, and Opus Dei is the only one. Again
are not allowed to keep pictures of their parents, family, and friends.
This means that the numeraries must cut the bonds with their families.
The only pictures of the family permitted in the centers are the
pictures of the Escriva´s family. It means that Escriva didn’t
give the example of cutting the bonds with his own family. The law
is valid to the others, but not to Escriva.
the Work we were taught to be extremely sincere with the director
by telling everything about ourselves. But there is no obligation
on behalf of the directors of the Work to tell everything about
the Work to the members. Before joining Opus Dei, the numeraries
didn´t know anything about cilice, disciplines, having their
mail opened, etc.
The Catholic Church as an Instrument
this model, it is possible to understand the behavior of the current
members and the behavior of the former members. People who are in
favor of Opus Dei only see the Cross and not the Snake. These people
only see the things related to the Justice, the Grace, the Love
etc. And these are the good things that attracted the former members
as well, like the good messages from the books Friends of God
and The Way. The supernumeraries belong to a part of the
Work’s engine, different from that of the numeraries, and
for them the Work is an instrument of God. We can not deny the good
things in Opus Dei. But these good things are only instruments that
feed the Work’s engine.
proposed model could be considered a heresy by the Catholic Church
and we will fail to demonstrate this theory because there will be
a dogma which will ignore the modified symbol. If this occurs, the
problem will continue unsolved.
official model of the Work can’t explain the existence of
the former members and the abuses against the former members. The
subject of the former members is something prohibited in the Work.
that our model is true, we can make interpretations of other things
like the Intercessors of the Work. We learned in the Work of the
existence of the Intercessors of the Work, like, John Vianney, Thomas
More, Saint Catherine of Siena etc. Using our model we can have
an interpretation that Escriva used the devotion to the Saints to
build the Work. The day to day of a numerary is controlled by the
Work. But the Work is not controlled by anyone. Even the Pope doesn’t
have time to control what happens in the Work. There are a lot of
people near the Vatican that speak only of the good things of the
Work to the Pope. The information about the abuses of the Work doesn’t
reach the Pope.
An End Unto Itself
main objective of the Work is its own development and growth. Any
threat to the Work must be destroyed.
the Work we know that it is almost impossible to take money from
this institution if the benefit is not the Work. There are lots
of testimonies, where a member or the family of a member, had problems
with health and the Work didn’t help with money. If there
is a negative balance between the inputs and the outputs of money
from a member, it signals a threat to the Work, because the system
will not grow. The Work should not take money from its vaults to
save a member or the family of the member.
kind of situation is only clear to a member when it happens to him
or herself. If it happened to myself, the greed of the Work would
become extremely clear to me. The Work doesn’t give money
to poor people, because the Work says that they are the poor people.
If the Work were to give money to poor people they will give it
to themselves, like the schools or the institutions of the Work.
These schools could be understood as a means of marketing for the
Work. People would look at them and say: “The Work helps poor
people.” But we understand it another way: “The Work
helps itself and does everything possible to give a good image of
itself, even help the poor people.”
people became members as teenagers and made some decisions about
their professions based on the necessities of the Work, and not
on their personal capabilities. Because the interests of the Work
are higher than the interests of each person, some people left their
jobs or their countries only to satisfy the greed of the Work. It
doesn’t matter if this person will like it or not. This person
must accept the will of the Work.
numerary is only a source of energy that feeds the engine of the
Work. It is like the movie “The Matrix.” The numerary
is only a battery to be used up. If the battery can not be recharged,
it must be thrown away. The battery could be used in different equipment
and the battery doesn´t ask where it will be placed in the
could be described as a magician, because in one hand he held the
attention of the good things (the vocation of sanctity, the devotion,
the participation of the mass) and in another hand he hid the main
objective, which is the Work itself. These tricks become clearer
to the numeraries because they are closest to the hierarchy, but
it is not so clear to the supernumeraries.
are my thoughts about Opus Dei and my objective was to share my
vision with other former members about this institution that I belonged
to for 4 years. This alternative version could be considered a madness
or a heresy. But I couldn’t find any other explanation for
the bad and good facts around Opus Dei.
hope this text could give some form of support to the former members,
who suffered mental abuses and to people who believed in a dream,
but in fact lived a nightmare.
And my best wishes to the former members who say the truth and are
giving any type of support to other former members, like the Web
sites ODAN and Opus Libros.
Sir Karl Raimund Popper (July 28, 1902 - September 17, 1994), was
an Austrian-born, British philosopher of science. He is counted
among the most influential philosophers of science of the 20th century,
and also wrote extensively on social and political philosophy.
Power of Myth
by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, Doubleday, 1988.
mujer en el Opus Dei (Being a Woman in Opus Dei) by Isabel
de Armas, Editorial: Foca, 2002.
February 7, 2005