Testimonies and Other Writings
The following is the work of the individual author and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc.
Opus Dei Recruits Minors and Deceives Church Officials
It was May 1979, the day after Margaret Thatcher was elected the first and, so far, only female prime minister of Britain. A bright sunny day in South London and my life was about to take a twist which, even now 27 years later seems difficult to believe. I was a 13 year old schoolboy and I had been invited by a friend on a weekend excursion with a local youth club. As I waited in the lounge of a large and well presented three storey house on the edge of Wandsworth Common I was totally unaware of a plan that was being formulated. A plan in which a group of older men would manipulate the mind of a young and vulnerable teenager and ultimately lead him to a fateful decision. That decision would be to become a numerary member of Opus Dei.
I know that such a plan existed because after I “whistled” (Opus Dei terminology for asking to join the organization) I became privy to such plans. A group of men aged from 21 to 40 with a Catholic priest (an Opus Dei priest, of course) would discuss the suitability of young boys aged from 12 upwards as candidates for membership of the “Work”. If a boy suited the conditions (usually the best academically and the most popular socially) then his name would be circulated to the numerary members and he would be subjected to a subtle and deliberate plan of action.
Initially I was enthralled by the youth club I was attending. It featured a range of activities from football to film-making, with excursions to exciting venues. The club had a study room for the weekend homework and an evening meal was available every Saturday. Suddenly, from spending the day in wistful contemplation of all-in wrestling from Preston and the morose tones of Dickie Davis my Saturday was full of interest and fun. I made lots of friends of my own age, boys like me who were just having a good time. The men who ran the club seemed different to other adults. They were intelligent and articulate and made us laugh with their witty comments and anecdotes. They were unstinting in their sacrifice to make our afternoon a happy one. I loved it, every minute of it. I would travel with two or three other boys from my home to the club every week, we were the first to arrive and the last to leave.
The only unusual aspect to the club was the oratory on the second floor of the house. This was a normal sized room converted with altar and tabernacle into a Catholic chapel. I was unperturbed. I was a Catholic, I attended Catholic school and went to Mass every Sunday with my mum. Each week just before the evening meal the priest, who was resident in the house, would give a short talk on some aspect of the Catholic faith. This would be followed by a Benediction Service.(Benediction is a service of devotion to the Holy Eucharist and I was very familiar with it). This was pretty low level conservative Catholicism and was at this stage peripheral to the main activity of having lots of fun.
As time went by I noticed a new activity was added to the day’s routine. At about 8.00 pm a small group of boys would disappear for a few minutes to the top of the house and would re-emerge a few minutes later and rejoin the rest of us. When I asked the lads what they were doing they answered cryptically that they were at a “circle”. It was kind of secretive but I knew that it was something vaguely religious. The boys who attended this “circle” were, as far as I was concerned, part of an elite. It was an elite that I wanted to be part of too. One of the youth club workers explained to me the secrets of the circle. It was not nearly as exciting as it sounds. The circle was a meeting held once a week in which an aspect of the faith would be discussed with particular relevance to the age group of the meeting. We would say some prayers and make some commitments to live our lives in accordance with the values we had discussed.
After one of these meetings I started talking to one of the club leaders, I will call him Peter, a man in his early 20’s. Peter was very friendly and very popular with all the boys. He gave me a book to read to help me understand my Catholic faith in more depth. The book was called “The Way” and contained a series of small thoughts or phrases grouped together under headings such as “Charity” and “Purity”. It was written by the founder of OD, Josemaria Escriva. This book is well known to anyone who has had any contact with OD and is the equivalent of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. The book is revered by OD members as a work of spiritual genius by which our whole life can be guided. In reality it is pretty asinine stuff, a collection of apparently meaningful quotes which under closer examination could mean absolutely anything. This book was the first time that I became aware that this club wasn’t just a Catholic boys club but was run by OD. Like most people in England I had never heard of this organisation though even at this stage I was aware that there was something mildly secretive, a little exciting about it. I devoured the literature I was given and questioned Peter about every detail of OD. My questions were always answered with a little more information about the history of OD or with a suggestion of reading a homily of Escriva.
The club offered trips away for weekends and longer. Camping in Scotland, skiing in France, a study weekend in Sussex. During these trips Mass would be attended daily, the rosary said daily, confession would be offered and the OD members accompanying the boys would always be available for a little spiritual advice.
The men leading the trips would often sleep in the same rooms as the boys but I must say that there was never any suggestion of sexual impropriety. Indeed though OD is involved in youth projects all over the world with many thousands of young boys and girls I don’t think there has ever been any accusation or suggestion of such behaviour and that is to the credit of the organisation.
I became more and more interested in OD and the way in which it interpreted the Catholic Faith. It had never been presented to me before as anything other than a series of mundane duties to be performed unwillingly and unenthusiastically. Now it was presented with fundamentalist zeal as the most crucial part of my life. Every aspect of my life from my waking hour to my last thought at night could form part of my faith. I could offer everything I did, my homework, my football games, my reading, my domestic chores to the glory of God.
I was now being actively courted by Peter and he would invite me to evenings out to a pizza parlour or to a school play where he would talk to me about schoolwork and my homelife. At home things were not going well. My parents had separated and my mother had been left to look after three children alone. Peter did come to my house on one occasion to talk to my mother. She was suspicious of him and I suppose, in retrospect I can see why. Here was a man in his early 20’s befriending a young boy of 15. It was not normal adult behaviour and although there was never any physical threat to me I can imagine to her eyes it was a worry. She like me had never heard of OD. Her Catholicism was of the old school Irish type. Mass and church were for a certain time in the week, prayers were said before you went to bed. Fundamentalism was treated as suspect, something to be avoided. My mother became hostile to the new youth club I was frequenting, but I was enjoying myself so much that she didn’t stop me. Anyway what teenage adolescent listens to the advice of his parents. She really didn’t know that I was being actively targeted for recruitment to what was effectively a cult.
Around the middle of 1981 I had a conversation with Peter in which I said that if we truly believe all the Church teaches, that we are an eternal soul destined for salvation or damnation, then our whole life must be guided by that principle. His reply was a decisive moment. He said that few people have this gift, this ability to see the true purpose of life. That my vision of this meaning was a moment which God had given to me. He was revealing something about my eternal destiny. I should consider whether I was being called to a different path from other boys my age. In short, God was calling me to a vocation as a numerary member of OD. A vocation, he explained, was an invitation to fulfill God’s will, that from the beginning of time a particular path has been laid before each of us and it is our responsibility to grasp the moment and do the will of God. Fiat voluntas tua are the lines from the Lord’s Prayer which he whispered.
The rest of the OD members at the youth club would now pay particular attention to me. This, I later learned, was because they had discussed my recruitment and I was now ripe for whistling. “Keep thinking about it”, they would say or “Have something on your mind?”. It was all quite jocular and I found it very exciting. This period has been described very accurately as the “Vocation Crisis” by other former numerary members of OD. The numeraries will provoke a period of intense and profound contemplation by the prospective numerary. This is your moment, take the chance, take the opportunity now before the clear vision you have is clouded by doubt or the devil.
On December 8, 1981 I wrote the letter to Don Alvaro del Portillo (former Prelate of OD) requesting entry to the work as a numerary member. I remember leaving the club that evening in a state of euphoria. A blanket of snow had descended on London and I walked across the Common with the sound of my feet crunching through the quiet stillness. I had found my meaning in life. Everything was clear, the way forward was safe and secure. This faith, I had been told, had all the answers. There was nothing, no problem or situation which could not be resolved by turning to the teachings of the Catholic Church. We were blessed with the one, eternal truth and this truth would bring us eternal happiness in the next life and a hundred fold in this.
On December 6 1981 Cardinal Basil Hume had issued instructions to OD regarding the treatment of youths. He instructed that any young person (I was 6 weeks past my 16th birthday) should not be allowed to join the group without discussing the decision with their parents. His instruction was ignored, knowing my mother’s hostility to OD, I was advised not to tell anyone, least of all my mother, anything about my decision. This is the obedience to the Church which OD practices. It is a selective obedience which can be dismissed if they choose.
This is the story of my early experience of OD. The sentiments and feelings were genuine but a boy of 15 cannot know enough to make a decision of this magnitude. OD will no doubt say that such active recruitment of young people is a thing of the past, that mistakes were made, that those (there are many) who had similar experiences to me are bitter or mendacious. The truth is OD’s ability for self-criticism is practically non-existent. It has a vision of itself as the work of God and how can the work of a supremely omnipotent being be at fault. The fault is always with the former member, the work is always the victim.
I hope I have given OD a fair hearing. I have tried to be objective and would not advise parents to avoid OD centres for young people. They will have a lot of fun and they will learn to use their time productively and effectively. The members of OD who run the centres will make sacrifices in time and effort which is virtually incomparable in other such clubs. My warning is to be aware that if your child fits the bill, if he or she is academically promising, is popular, is articulate and witty and full of promise, then they will be targeted at a young age for recruitment. OD has one priority in all of it’s activities and that is the self perpetuation of the organisation.
All young people are looking for an alternative to the drab existence of school, home and family. Some find it in music, in alternative fashion or some other normal expression of youthful rebellion. I found it by joining the “secretive, conservative and highly influential Catholic sect” OD. Well the hype may be just that, but the reality can still be disturbing.
Posted May 22, 2006