Aired December 9, 2003 – 19:00 ET

COOPER: Well, tonight we continue our look at “Secret Societies,” and the controversial Roman Catholic group Opus Dei. Now you may have heard of the group if you read the best seller the “Da Vinci Code” which paints a picture of secretive organization with a dark side. But members they are following the light of God to be saint in everyday life.


COOPER (voice-over): Opus Dei, Latin for work of God, was founded in 1928. Its 85,000 members around the world practice a conservative brand of Catholicism. Their motto, posted on their Web site, “Finding God in work and daily life.”

PROF. THOMAS GROOME, BOSTON COLLEGE: They would prefer Catholic people, lay people, to bring their faith into the workplace, into the marketplace of life. Now, what could be more admirable than that?

COOPER: Opus Dei says there’s nothing secret about their organization. Critics, however, say Opus Dei has a darker side. They point to ritualistic self-abuse some members engage in. The bestselling novel “The Da Vinci Code” paints an unflattering portrait of Opus Dei though its members say that it is pure fantasy and has nothing to do with their faith.


COOPER: Last night we tried to bring you this next interview but we had some technical problems for which we’re sorry. You’re about to meet a woman named Tammy DiNicola. As a college student she joined Opus Dei in Boston. You’ll also meet her mother, Dianne, who started what she calls the Opus Dei Awareness Network because she believed the group was cult-like and she wanted to warn other people. Tammy is no longer part of Opus Dei. I spoke with both of them a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Is it really fair, though, to call it a secret society? I mean, on their Web site they say there’s nothing secret about us. I mean, they have a Web site. You know, they do charity work. They do good works. Where’s the controversy?

TAMMY DINICOLA, FORMER MEMBER OF OPUS DEI: Well, the controversy is in what they are actually doing behind closed doors and it’s very cult-like in their practices.

DIANNE DINICOLA, CO-FOUNDER, OPUS DEI AWARENESS NETWORK: Opus Dei has an underside that hurts people and tears people apart from their families.

COOPER: What does the membership entail? I mean, I understand at one point, I guess, you were giving all your money to the organization? Is that true? And there’s also — they talk about self- punishment or self-penance. How does that — how does that happen?

T. DINICOLA: They have, besides giving over all of your salary and your letters to be read both going and coming and all your reading and books and everything, they directed you to use the cilis which is a spike chain. [Tammy holds up the cilice.]

The purpose of it is penance and trying to identify with the sufferings of Christ and offering that up for the different people that you want to join Opus Dei.

COOPER: So it’s sort of a metal or barbed wire things with spikes that you put around your leg, is that it?

T. DINICOLA: Yes. You put it around your thigh and you tie it on for two hours each day. Most days of the week.

COOPER: And then there’s something else called the discipline.

T. DINICOLA: Yeah. And then this is the discipline. [Tammy holds up the discipline.] This is what you use — you whip yourself on the buttocks with this once a week. Even within Opus Dei they would talk about how the founder was so zealous in using these that he would splatter the bathroom walls with blood.

COOPER: Tammy, let me ask you, I mean, there are those who say, OK, look, you know, that’s not my cup of tea, using an item like this to flagellate myself but are they harming any other people? Are you making those kind of charges?

T. DINICOLA: The harm is that they — the way they get people to use these items, it’s one thing if somebody chooses to use it, but if you’re told that this is the only way you’re going to be faithful to God then there’s a lot of guilt and fear that’s involved.

COOPER: Let me ask you finally, you know, there are those who say look, faith takes many forms and if some people want to express their faith in this way through this organization, what’s so wrong with that?

T. DINICOLA: Well, I would say do it without manipulation and deception. Lay out all the details of membership ahead of time instead of deliberately holding it back. And then let people, you know, after six months or 18 months make a decision at that point whether they want to stay or leave without the guilt and without the deception and without the orchestration that goes on behind the scenes.

COOPER: All right, Tammy and Dianne DiNicola, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

T. DINICOLA: Thank you.

D. DINICOLA: OK. Thanks for having us.


COOPER: We’re now joined by Cathy Hickey who’s been a member of Opus Dei for 30 years. Cathy, thanks very much for being with us. Now, Tammy was a numerary. You are a supernumerary. You have a family, you have kids.

CATHY HICKEY, OPUS DEI MEMBER: That’s right. I’ve got seven children.

COOPER: How is Opus Dei different for you than her experience?

HICKEY: It’s the same vocation for everybody. I don’t think it is different. The difference between a numerary and supernumerary is really a difference of availability. If you’re married and have a family you can’t uproot yourself and leave but numerary vocations, you really — they could be asked, would they be willing, they would be asked, they have the freedom to say no, would you be willing to go to another country?

Would you be willing to start Opus Dei in another place? And for the most part because they’re trying to do the will of God, they will probably say yes but they have the freedom to say yes.

COOPER: The mother of that woman Tammy, Dianne, basically said that she felt it was sort of like a cult.

HICKEY: You know, every — that’s so silly. I mean, I’ve heard that said and it’s a silly thing to say in a way. Every path is different. Everybody has to choose their own path. Maybe it wasn’t Tammy’s path. Because particularly it’s not so easy to be a member of Opus Dei. I mean, to join — when she said six months, you know, they should be able to decide in six months — well, it’s longer than that. You have to be a certain age. You have to be living in the work and they can say, will this woman be able to do it?

COOPER: And how do you explain why you want to be part of it? What is it? Is it something you were searching for or is it something that you found in Opus Dei that you couldn’t find elsewhere?

HICKEY: Well, I’ll tell you my own experience. When I met people in Opus Dei, I thought, they have something that I want. They were just delightful. They were happy. They were fulfilled. And as I got to know them and admired them, I thought, this is what I want. And then I had found through the years it’s just — it’s a wonderful path to God. There are many paths to God. For me, Opus Dei was the one. It was a great help in raising my family. It’s just been wonderful.

COOPER: Well, Cathy Hickey, we really appreciate you coming in and talking about it. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to meet you.

HICKEY: It was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much.

COOPER: All right. Well, our series “Secret Societies” continues tomorrow. We’re going to look at Yale University’s ultrasecret Skull and Bones considered by many to be America’s most exclusive secret society. Captains of industry and presidents past and present have been Bonesmen. Is it a stepping stone of power or a glorified frat house. We’ll tell you or at least we’ll try to find out tomorrow.