Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power Within the Roman Catholic Church by Michael Walsh

reviewed by Joseph I. B. Gonzales, former numerary
Originally published in a series of reviews of Opus Dei-related books on amazon.com, November 13, 2001

best critical book on opus dei
Michael Walsh has written what I believe to be the best critical book on Opus Dei. It methodically and accurately describes the religious ideology of Opus Dei, and then, using a critical framework that draws on important aspects of Roman Catholic understanding and practice, shows how this ideology is actually or potentially defective. Thus Walsh effectively identifies the problematic aspects of the spirit of Opus Dei, even citing the very basis by which it is justified. In this respect, the book is outstanding.

The primary documents by which Walsh delineates the spirit of Opus Dei are the Constitutions of 1950 and 1982 and The Way. Additional sources include Cronica and the personal testimony of former numeraries. With the exception of The Way, these sources represent information that is relatively inaccessible.

The book begins by constructing the history of Opus Dei with the startling insight that Opus Dei itself lacks a history. This characteristic is already accounted for very well by Joan Estruch et al., Saints and Schemers (1995), by demonstrating that Opus Dei delusively cultivates a mythic self-image.

Then, starting with the 1950 Constitutions, Walsh maps out the distinctive features of this organization, highlighting the objectionable: its specific bias against women; its devotion to hierarchy; its elitist aspirations; its subversion of the institutional church; and its legalistic predilection.

Moving on to The Way, the author adds revealing details to this portrait: the authoritarian clericalism; the Fascist affinities; the spiritual simplism; the Jansenist undertones; the institutional avarice; the doctrinal reductionism; the dubious profession of divine perfection.

Walsh incisively locates the rationale for the culture of dissemblance–so manifest in Orwellian doublespeak–in apostolate or the drive to recruit new members. Because various aspects of Opus Dei are objectionable, they represent obstacles to recruitment and are therefore hidden.

Perhaps worst of all is “the ideology of submission” (p. 118)–the abuse of the “confidence,” “circle,” and even the sacrament of confession, to enforce the psychologically damaging praxis of control.

At the end of the book, the author focuses in separate chapters on Opus Dei’s distinctively right-wing alignment in politics and business; the recruitment of impressionable youth according to a manipulative and deceptive modus operandi abusively injurious to parents; and the problematic character of Bl. Josemaria Escriva as a candidate for the “honors of the altar.”

Along with Maria del Carmen Tapia, Beyond the Threshold (1997) and Joan Estruch et al., Saints and Schemers (1995), Michael Walsh, Opus Dei (1992) represents the finest triumvirate of books on the negative side of Opus Dei.

Having been published nearly ten years ago, Walsh’s book is dated. Since then, along the lines of the mendacious revisionism so effectively depicted in Joan Estruch et al., Saints and Schemers (1995), Opus Dei has no doubt made adjustments in its ideology and praxis in order to elude or thwart criticism. Among the claims alleged by Opus Dei are that it no longer invades the private letters of numeraries; that it accommodates parents in the process of their child’s vocational discernment; and that it adequately informs the numeraries of the commitments they undertake before they join the organization.

Whether or not these claims are true, one of the most enduring values of this and other critical books is that they provide a historical record of the dead bodies Opus Dei has left in its wake.

Great book. Six stars.