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.
Seventeen Years in Opus Dei
by Former Numerary, United States
I am a practicing Catholic. I am writing to warn Catholics and non-Catholics about Opus Dei. Non-Catholics can be recruited as Cooperators of Opus Dei. As a member for seventeen years, I saw Opus Dei do a lot of things which are repugnant to the consciences of decent and upright people; they will continue to do so until people object to them in public and hold them accountable.
Opus Dei, the name is Latin for “Work of God” (or simply the “Work”), is a Personal Prelature of the Catholic Church which claims to teach a lay person how to make a special offering of his professional, social, cultural, spiritual and family life to God in order to convert these works into an instrument for sanctifying her own life and bringing the rest of the world close to God.
This is a very noble calling. Opus Dei has many members who are very good people and do an undeniable amount of good. However, Opus Dei is a very tightly structured and controlled organization. Many people are members for years and still do not know what goes on in the leadership. In the words of the Gospel, “those who have ears ought to listen.” (Matt 13:43) Before you get deeply involved with them, you need to see if Opus Dei is really the vocation you are looking for.
My story – recruitment and the first years
I was recruited by Opus Dei when I went to Boston to study physics as an undergraduate at M.I.T. in 1969. Opus Dei had converted an historic home on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay neighborhood to a student residence called Trimount House. It was closed after a year or two, and the apostolate moved to a center called Elmbrook on Follen Street just behind Harvard in Cambridge. Opus Dei opens centers in university towns to meet competent young people who many years down the line will have worked themselves into critical positions of society.
Opus Dei also uses the “cell technique” which the Communists used. People are organized into cells or circles based upon their profession or community, and one never talks about other members and doesn’t meet other members unless they are working on similar projects or apostolates.
Opus Dei found out which students came from Catholic high schools, and they came knocking on our doors during “rush” week at the university when many fraternity houses were inviting freshmen to their residences to recruit.
I was not particularly interested in their house, but I was a Catholic and wanted to meet other Catholics. It was clear that certain people (some of the leadership and priests) lived a celibate lifelong commitment to the organization, and the director of the center explained the extent of his commitment. When I asked if he could leave, he smiled and said “yes” he could leave, but then immediately came the guilt trip which is so much Opus Dei. He said he could leave Opus Dei, but he would have to account for that action before God on the Last Day.
Having grown up in a Catholic environment, I found the environment of a secular university quite a shock to my faith, and the university chaplaincy did not provide me with much assistance. I was concerned about maintaining and nurturing my faith, so I continued to visit the center. Besides the “obviously committed” members who I later found were called “numeraries,” there were other members who were young, friendly students from all over the world, had career plans and intended to return to their homes and have families after they completed their education. After a few months, my mentor who was one of those students from Brazil asked me to join. He had told me his commitment was completely lay, nothing at all like a religious order, and without vows; he was simply living the Christian vocation that all people are called to. I decided to join in the same way I joined the university Catholic club. I was surprised that I had to write to some priest in New York whom I had never heard about. I was also told to request membership of a certain type which had no meaning to me. I found the process a little irregular and in any other situation, I would have walked out. Opus Dei said they were fully approved by the Catholic Church, and they were constantly parading their priests around to prove it. Trusting the Church, I joined.
I was told to request membership as a “supernumerary” member. My mentor had told me these are the members who usually get married. The leadership is drawn from among the numeraries. I was later accepted as a numerary member. The contrast between the two categories is quite striking. The founder of Opus Dei wrote in The Way (Point # 28) “Marriage is for the soldiers and not for the General Staff of Christ’s army.” This is an important point in evaluating the public relations material posted by supernumeraries on the Internet or press interviews that they give. The supernumeraries are supposed to be the majority of the membership and are often the “poster” people for Opus Dei — the ones who present the “salt of the earth” image of large Catholic families in the community. The supernumeraries do not really know what goes on in Opus Dei. If you want to find out the nature of an army and where it is going, you need to decide if you are going to ask the soldiers, or the generals.
Before you join Opus Dei, you are introduced to a priest who starts to “fish” you and explore your “way of being” in a context of spiritual direction. In the process of formation, you learn that in order to grow in the spiritual life you have to open yourself — in confidence — to an experienced director. With the priest, this is easily done under the “seal of Confession” (face to face), and following a process of “gradualism” you get used to baring your soul to a person whom you know. After you join, you are assigned a formal spiritual director, and the process moves outside of the “seal” and into the realm of “confidence” with your lay director. They still haven’t told you a lot about Opus Dei. It is a process of exploring you to see how much they can get from you and testing your mettle.
As my freshman year came to a close, and I prepared to return home to California, three thousand miles away, they told me the “good news” that there was a center of Opus Dei in San Francisco, an hour’s drive from my home. In retrospect, I can see I was targeted as a way of helping Opus Dei to spread to the West Coast.
That Fall I returned to college. Opus Dei had made it very clear we were not a religious organization, and our obedience only applied to our spiritual life and apostolate. We were all supposed to have a profession, and the specific charism of Opus Dei as a lay organization was that we were supposed to sanctify ourselves through that profession by offering well-done work to God and doing apostolate to build the kingdom of God on this earth. We were supposed to choose our profession and exercise it freely in keeping with our conscience and the highest professional standards. Not only were we supposed to be financially independent, but we were supposed to work hard enough to have extra money to support the Work and its apostolates.
Halfway through the term, my director told me they were organizing a “weekend away” with a bunch of guys to talk about apostolate and make plans for the year, and I was “invited.” In actual fact, it was quite late to be doing annual planning since the semester was so far advanced that we were already into mid-term exams. I had a big mid-term on Monday for which I needed to study, and, from a professional point of view, I couldn’t afford to take the time off to attend some event organized on such short notice. My director expressed extreme disappointment in me but said “OK.” When I went to receive spiritual direction the next week, my director sat me down and explained that directors have weighty responsibilities for souls and plan these weekends of formation very carefully! My failure to attend was a formal disobedience, and I had set the apostolate back severely for the year. That was when they started to explain the first “fine print clause” (of the membership contract) to me that apostolate takes precedence over your professional work – and, as I was to find out eventually, over everything else.
I pointed out to my director that I didn’t think my refusal to attend was a big problem, and that I would be leaving Opus Dei anyway when I finished my degree and went home to California. That was when my director explained the second “fine print clause” and told me everyone in Opus Dei joins for life … Yes. … for Life! With the perspective of hindsight, I can’t help thinking my membership was rushed so my mentor, who was himself a recent recruit, could meet his apostolic quota. I knew I could not be held bound by an uninformed decision, but it gets really heavy when you start talking about the authority of the Church and God and vocation. I had spent the previous six months trying to grow in my interior life. I didn’t feel threatened by Opus Dei, but it was quite a shock to hear these things. We managed to work around this little problem. My directors told me there was still “another letter” to write, but that wouldn’t interfere if I still wanted to attend their program of spiritual formation. Eventually I did write the “letter of Admission” two and half years later. In the years which followed, I was told more about the structure of Opus Dei. It turns out there are several letters to write before you are actually a member. The first one I wrote which is called “whistling” has no validity or place in Church law. It is a letter requesting entry to a secret probationary status. I use the word “secret” because you ask to become a member, and you are told your letter was accepted. As I have shown, even though you are not technically a member, they tell you you are, and they start the process of disciplining you to their directors in obedience. The second letter, which is formally called the Admission, in the law of the Church is apparently of a nonbinding nature because according to their statutes the member can leave at anytime without penalty and without asking permission, but the directors never tell you that. You only find out years later as you are being trained in leadership.
The move to Australia
As graduation approached, and I started making new career plans, my directors asked me to go to Australia for graduate work to assist in the beginning of a corporate apostolate, Warrane College, a 200-bed men’s dormitory on the campus of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, which was in its third year of operation. In Australian society, a “college” is a residential entity or dormitory which has official status with a university. After my previous experiences, we sat down and had a very clear discussion about this request. They agreed this was just a simple request not binding under obedience in my case, but I would be doing a good thing and building up stock in heaven by going and spreading the Work of God.
I went to Australia at my own expense and made my own arrangements for graduate study. It was not my first choice for graduate school, but, for the sake of the apostolate, I freely chose to do so as I continued to fall under the “spell” of Opus Dei.
This student dormitory was a new apostolate for Opus Dei. It was larger than the ones they ran in other university towns, and it was not completely private. The dormitory was built on the University campus with financial support from the government and had official recognition from the University as an affiliated residence. The Australian government which owned and administered all of the universities did not have the “American hang-up” over separation of church and state. They recognized there is an almighty God, Who created the world, and they were quite willing to work with religious organizations to promote the common good of the community. The University wanted to foster good moral values and contracted with Jewish, Protestant and Catholic organizations to administer dormitories with a large degree of autonomy. As a result, students would come to town to study at the University and apply to Warrane College to live in the “Catholic” dorm. It was only after moving in that they found out about Opus Dei.
To my great surprise there was a lot of opposition to the presence of Opus Dei in running an all-male dorm on a secular campus. There is no doubt much of the opposition was due to the fact that female guests were not allowed in the living quarters which was in sharp contrast with most of the other dormitories in Australia which had recently gone co-educational. As a Catholic with a deep respect and love for our gift of sexuality, I felt quite confident supporting Opus Dei in this policy.
There were a lot of other rules — spoken and unspoken — regarding guests, dress, cleaning times, meals and curfew which were not explained very well in the admission process, and there was a lot of unrest as students found out about the rules after they moved in. Opus Dei was trying to run this dormitory and control the environment the way it ran its private residences like Trimount House in Boston. As a member, I was required to support the rules, and I began to see why they needed members to travel halfway around the world to help them. The most difficult rule was that even male visitors were not permitted beyond the visiting areas on the ground floor. My directors had spent four years telling me (and I had spent those years telling others) we had a lay spirituality; and here they were trying to turn this university residence into a cloister.
In 1970, the year Warrane opened its doors, the University student union staged a demonstration against this all-male dormitory. The demonstration degenerated into a riot, with broken windows, police, burnings in effigy and tear gas. In the aftermath, the University ruled the policy of restricting male visitors was beyond the limits of reason, and the University made them back down and permit male guests. There continued an unspoken policy of attempting to deter, limit and restrict those guests.
I arrived in 1974, four years after the riot. There was still a lot of tension within the dormitory over the rules. We were constantly supposed to be doing apostolate with the residents by inviting them to the meditations by the priest, spiritual direction, Mass on Sunday and circles of formation given by our directors. Our directors were very demanding and taught us never to take “no” for an answer when inviting people to spiritual events. Obedience is required in the spiritual life and apostolate. I was doing my best to be fair and honest with people, but the pressure to meet our apostolic quotas put a big strain on all my relationships.
Then I started having reservations about the things I was seeing. Opus Dei says its apostolate is based upon friendship, but it is also based upon professional prestige, public status and peer pressure. One of our directors was a Cuban who was educated in Spain. He was a graduate student in physics and a “senior” tutor in the dormitory. He put on such airs as a foreign graduate student and demanded the undergraduate students respect him in a manner befitting his dignity. I myself was personally offended by his attitude and behavior toward the students. English was not his first language, and he used to try to embarrass the undergraduates and show them how uneducated they were by using multi-syllabic English words he had learned. I watched him insult them and attack their beliefs, and when they attacked his beliefs in return, he would call down the authority of the Church upon them to support himself. Students complained to me about him, but as a member of Opus Dei, I was supposed to close ranks with him and encourage the students to respect him and follow his advice and indications. In Opus Dei, a member never corrects another member (or admonishes him for his behavior) without invoking a formal process called “fraternal correction,” which is reviewed by a director. I tried a couple of times to make such a fraternal correction to him. Under review, I was told that this person was testing and challenging students for vocational qualities, and I could not correct him. He persisted in testing people for vocation and one day a student insulted him back. He got upset and punched the student. All the members of the Work were told not to talk about the incident with anyone or comment on it if anyone asked about it. Our directors wouldn’t tell us what happened other than the student had “unjustly provoked him.” We were forbidden to ask any witnesses what had happened, so to this day, I can’t tell you exactly what the insult was. Eventually the incident blew over.
A couple of years later, this director moved from the dormitory to start an official Opus Dei center in the suburb of Roseville. It was called Dartbrooke Study Centre on Oliver Road. After one spiritual event there, people were chatting in the hallway, saying goodbye’s and preparing to go home. I saw this director slap a young potential member across the face. The student was taken completely by surprise. Then he started to clench his fist and raise his arm. The director took a step back, pointed at the fellow’s feet and told him not to dare to hit back — he said he was the director of the house and was to be respected. In the same instant, the Vicar (priest) intervened. He stepped between the two, gave the young fellow a hug, and said people should not hit him because he was a good fellow. It was not really a reprimand or correction. I saw it as a play of “good director and bad director”. The fellow continued to come to our spiritual talks for a while, but he never joined. Secretly, I rejoiced at his “escape”.
One of the techniques of Opus Dei is to appoint young directors to positions of spiritual direction and government. We were told from the very beginning to expect this. Among other things, this is a method of controlling people and events because older members are expected to obey these youngsters regardless of their experience or behavior. I was finally assigned to a director who was being trained in spiritual direction. This person became known for throwing tantrums when things didn’t go his way. He had completed one course in theology, and he knew absolutely nothing about spiritual direction although he had great confidence in his ability. He had been appointed to the Regional Commission and told us a strange thing one day. He said that the foundation of Opus Dei in a new country was a critical time, and only the best could be appointed to government.
This director had great “insight” into my soul, and he proceeded to find imaginary faults in my character regarding my use of time. “Use of time” is a virtue which is given a lot of emphasis in Opus Dei. Since we were supposed to sanctify our lives with our professional work, it is a grave offence to waste the time God has given us. People are constantly being chastised for not using their time well. When I asked for assistance in identifying and rooting out these evils, he discerned that I had bad will for not admitting them. As punishment, he imposed a formal silence upon me and forbade me to ask questions in spiritual direction. When I tried to object to this treatment, he would go into a rage and give me a long dissertation on what it meant for him to direct my soul; he said he had a solemn responsibility before God to correct my faults within this structure called Opus Dei which was set up by our holy Founder, and that our Founder had suffered and had crossed the Pyrenees in great danger and want in the middle of winter during the Spanish Civil War to make all this possible; I had a solemn obligation to obey, and I needed to repent for my great lack of gratitude. This happened for several weeks until I learned to agree with everything he said. When I later tried to complain about him, the director I complained to only grinned and would not admit any wrong doing on the part of this director. On the contrary, he calmly said we always obey our directors. In itself this form of spiritual direction was simply a waste of time, but what it taught me was that the directors intended to stay in control at all times. They would not tolerate any opposition. And it left me, for the rest of my “vocation” under the continual threat of formal silence.
An outsider might wonder how such things can happen. They happen by increasing levels of extremism which occur when members and directors are constantly being pushed to reach apostolic quotas and are told they have the Divine assistance and blessing. As an example, Opus Dei states officially that their Founder, Saint Josemaria Escriva, died on June 26, 1975. Yet this spiritual director tried to tell a group of us that Saint Escriva died of a diabetic fit in a well-known incident on April 27, 1954, and then had to be miraculously raised from the dead to complete the holy foundation of Opus Dei before his second death in 1975. This revelation had been confided to him by one of the oldest living members of Opus Dei in a quiet hallway of the central headquarters in Rome. This director had met and touched the raised flesh. Several of us said this was ridiculous. He threw another of his tantrums and formally silenced us. He insisted we were not to question his authority when he was passing on the verbal traditions of our family. This was very unorthodox behavior, but in Opus Dei, I learned to always obey first and ask questions later.
The Founder claimed for Opus Dei a charism for the sacrament of Confession. To assist in the living of this charism, he designated the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, (who lived in France from 1786 to 1859) as an Intercessor of Opus Dei. St. John Vianney had special graces of discernment to see into a person’s soul and would often remind his penitents of sins they had forgotten to mention, so with all the hype and hoopla of a Founder who was blessed with so many miracles and privileges, even apparitions from the Blessed Virgin, it is easy to see how this young director might claim for himself such gifts of discernment (bordering on magic) when he was part of an absolute power structure which always closes rank around its directors.
One of my first apostolic assignments was to write letters to people asking for money. I was required to do it on a monthly basis. My mailing list was a set of donation cards on which people had written their names and addresses, and there were several options to choose from in making a donation. Almost all of them indicated a one-time donation, but my director told me they had promised to give regular contributions. I never got any replies to my letters, and I began to notice the space for a regular contribution had been left blank on the cards — which I thought was curious.
Opus Dei says, officially, they only ask things in a spirit of friendship. And when you are in Opus Dei, you only hear about the success stories of a member who persevered and chased after a potential recruit until he joined. Since leaving Opus Dei, I have read so many complaints on the Internet from people who say they have been hassled and chased by Opus Dei, long after they had any desire to be involved. After what I have seen inside the Work and the quotas which are set for members, I believe the complaints of these people.
My appointment to government
Government in Opus Dei is highly centralized and shrouded in a cloak of confidentiality called “discretion.” Individual centers of Opus Dei are administered by a local council under a director which is subject to a regional (or national) commission under a vicar (sometimes also called the counselor who is a priest), and both are subject to the General Council in Rome under the almost absolute authority of the Prelate (who is called the “Father”). Members are informed who the directors are because they are supposed to recognize them and obey them, although there is very little information given on what responsibilities any given director holds, and there is a significant amount of ambiguity in their roles and authority. After seventeen years of membership, I still did not have a clear impression of what some directors actually did.
The time came when my directors decided I was ready to be appointed to an office of government. I was appointed to the external position of Bursar of Warrane College. I was the business manager. I supervised a staff of three — a maintenance man, a desk clerk and an office manager — as well as some part-timers. I was responsible for the day-to-day operations, maintenance, budgets, and financial management both externally for the dormitory and internally for our apostolic operations. I was also appointed to the local council for Warrane, but, practically speaking, as the lowest ranking and least experienced among five directors, I had very little to say in how the dormitory was run.
I had been taught for many years that Opus Dei had no secular teaching or “schools of thought” on worldly matters because it only had spiritual goals. We would never be told how to do our professional work or resolve secular problems because these were matters for our “glorious” personal freedom as laymen in a lay organization. If there was ever a question of how to do secular work, things were always supposed to be done in keeping with the highest professional standards. After believing that and teaching it to others for nine years, on the day I was appointed to office as the Bursar, my director took me aside and told me, contrary to what I had been told, there were exceptions. He said we didn’t always follow standard accounting practices because they were wasteful and legalistic, and it was more important to do the apostolate and bring souls to God and Opus Dei. I was beginning to find there were a lot of exceptions in Opus Dei.
The first thing I discovered was that there was money missing. The dormitory had been submitting false audits for many years. The directors had convinced our auditor we were a holy Catholic group, and he used to sign the audits without seeing them. When I tried to correct some of the abuses, my directors became verbally abusive and told me I was disobeying by not making good “use of my time,” and I was given tight deadlines to submit financial reports which were completely unrealistic. The directors, in the words of the Founder of Opus Dei, “are the sole criteria for what constitutes an obedience” (and disobedience). By this definition, I committed disobedience by failing to submit a single financial report on time during the ten months I had that responsibility.
When the directors appointed me to office, they were getting rid of the only qualified accounting personnel available to them — two accountants who were supernumerary members of Opus Dei. I didn’t know what was going on, and I was told not to get involved. The accountants were livid that they had not been permitted to carry out their work in a professional manner. Their professional expertise and objections had been overridden by “indications” of obedience, and now I was being brought in to sweep them out. At the time, I had no accounting experience, but I was a quick learner and within two months began to understand what was happening. Opus Dei uses the approach of “divide and conquer.” I was told not to talk to these accountants because they were having “personal problems.” There was also a Board of Directors who had legal responsibility for the dormitory, but it was nothing more than a “rubber stamp” for the policies of the Regional Commission. I was told I couldn’t talk to them for a variety of reasons. I could see that each of them was also being hassled, intimidated and browbeaten, like the accountants were, into “freely” approving the policies which the directors of Opus Dei “indicated” to them. One of them was a professor of accounting at the University, and we were told to keep information from him. Even I who was Bursar did not have the power (or authority) to see all of the accounts. I found this limitation of powers also extended to members of the Regional Commission where certain directors had information withheld from them. Opus Dei is truly a secret organization. I can say this with the perspective of hindsight. When it is happening to you as a young director, you get blindsided from the right, the left, and from behind when all you are trying to do is find out what is going on, fulfill your responsibilities and avoid the sanctions of disobedience.
To this day, I don’t know fully what was going on. Because of Opus Dei’s “need to know” policy, you don’t find out about anything until you are directly involved and made partly responsible for it. Then you are only permitted to speak and get advice through your chain of command, and the directors put the blame back on you and tell you to stop wasting the time God has given you to sanctify your soul. The accounts were in a state of total chaos and disarray:
All of the above may be considered irregular or problematic, by people who run large companies or government departments but not formally wrong, so let me make clear what was wrong. I had a responsibility to manage the financial resources of the dormitory. We owed money to people and contracted financial obligations, and people owed money to us. Our accounting process was so corrupted by my directors that none of us could carry out the management process in any reasonable way. I was expected to make sure our bills got paid, and I could not find out how much money was in our bank account. I am talking about the basics. We had two bank accounts. Our internal ledger for one bank account was negative. Although occasionally I was permitted to see the bank statement, and it always had a positive balance in it. Our petty cash balance was negative even though there was cash in the drawer. Since the balance was negative, there was no indication that the money was stolen, but it means you have no control over your cash. Our Accounts Receivable looked like our petty cash was negative. It is not so easy to see what a negative balance means in that situation, but it was basically composed of fictitious debts which when reconciled at the proper moment, translated into an apparent profit. We also had unsupported Accounts Payable which had the same effect.
I had been taught for many years, and I had taught others that the fundamental charism of Opus Dei — the means by which we were to reach our eternal salvation — was the sanctification of our professional work. Our whole raison d’être and position in the Church was to teach the world how to participate in creation by transforming a professional work into a prayer which begins in God and through Him is fully accomplished. Then, as Bursar of Warrane College, my directors foisted upon me a professional work which could not be sanctified.
Everything was confused. In the midst of it all, there was one event which stood out for me as an example of strangeness which was independent of everything else. We were told to write a check for several thousand dollars to the Regional Commission, and the Secretary of the Commission (we were told) lost it. He didn’t discover it was missing for a whole year. We were then told to issue a new check, and we had no way of finding out from our records if the original check was ever cashed.
This was an extremely stressful time for me in which I found it difficult to sleep. At one point, my directors wanted me to take sedatives which they would get from one of our doctors. This was a complete abomination! It was a lack of everything spiritual! Here were directors who claimed to have special spiritual gifts to carry out their God-given responsibilities, and rather than taking away the silencing, the false accusations of disobedience and the inexperienced and bad-tempered directors, they suggested covering up the effects with drugs! That was scary. I refused, and I will say to the credit of those directors, they didn’t try to force me under obedience to take the drugs.
At the end of the year, our auditor who had been signing the accounts unseen died. We were forced to get a new auditor who came in and shut the office down for three months, so he could figure out what was going on. At the end of that time, he said the directors were guilty of gross negligence by appointing an inexperienced person like myself as Bursar. The truth is I knew things were wrong, and I had learned how to correct them. My directors intervened and created barriers and excuses which prevented me from making any changes. They did not seem to want a paper trail for transactions. When the results of the audit were announced to the Board, I was told not to talk to anyone under pain of disobedience. The audit was sealed and distribution of it was limited to the Board of Directors. This audit was for Warrane College and our holding company, Educational Development Association, for the financial year of 1979.
I had prepared some notes to go to the restructuring meeting in which the new chart of accounts was to be discussed. My director met me just before the meeting and told me my powers had been suspended. I was not invited to attend, or speak at, the meeting. All the restructuring was done behind closed doors, and I was removed from office shortly thereafter. I was made the scapegoat. It was obvious to anyone who inspected the accounts that the problems and policies predated me, but none of that mattered. The auditing firm was –
Young, Barnsdall & Company
L18 MLC Center, 19 Martin Place
Sydney, N.S.W., 2000, Australia
The lead auditor was a partner of the firm. I think he was a man of integrity. I could have lived peacefully for the rest of my life if I had been able to talk to him and know he had full access to the accounts, but everything was done behind closed doors, and I came to learn the directors convinced him to limit the audit to the front office accounts which only covered one third of our operation.
I believe they told him the same stories they had told the first auditor. The majority of our accounts were handled by the women in domestic administration. Many of them did not (or pretended not to) speak much English. Opus Dei is split into two sections, one for men and one for women, and I never had access to the accounts run by the women. The only communication between us was done anonymously through a secure telephone line or registered documents. That is a particular reason why Opus Dei needs its priests — to make the connection between the two sections. There are priests with functions of government who are supposed to provide whatever is missing in continuity arising from having two separate sections – and yet, Opus Dei insists it is a completely lay organization. The Women’s Section administered large sums of money in purchasing food and supplies and payment of staff. To our auditor, it was probably believable that he could rely on the summaries of expenses submitted by the women, but I knew of the existence of financial transactions carried out by the women with a number of unnamed bank accounts which did not appear on our balance sheet.
One of the things which bothered me working in the dormitory was that we, a Secular Institute (at the time, we were not yet a Personal Prelature) of the Catholic Church, in the name of “smart business” used to bully our small vendors if we thought we could get away with it. In some cases, we succeeded. We perceived it was cumbersome for them to manage their Accounts Receivable, and by delaying and bluffing, we managed to avoid paying some of our just debts. This was verified by the audit, and we were told by the auditors to discontinue this practice.
There was another event which illustrated how members are “free” to do what they are asked by their directors. Some of the students in the dormitory were opening the fire doors and setting off the alarms. It was thought they were sneaking girls in, so the directors locked all the fire escapes of our eight-story 200-bed dormitory. We were told it was better for all of us to burn in this life than for a few to burn in hell. One director said if there was a fire his Guardian Angel would wake him and he would go out the front door and run around the dormitory unlocking the fire doors from the outside. After a few days, the locked doors were reported to the University. The University said this was an unacceptable policy and told us to unlock the fire escapes. This was done, and we made a big public statement about how thankful we were that the University had noticed this oversight and assisted us in providing a safe environment for our students. Then our director locked the doors again. A professor from the University who was a member of Opus Dei and who had agreed to “freely” serve on our Board of Directors didn’t believe the doors were unlocked. He decided to see for himself. Within a day, the University sent out another directive that the fire doors were to be unlocked and to remain unlocked permanently, but we heard immediately from the regional directors of Opus Dei that this member had no authority or business doubting the word of a director of Opus Dei. We were told our directors were accountable to God alone for their actions, and members are supposed to choose to spend their time doing apostolic work rather than checking the word of our directors.
Since I was no longer working in the dormitory, I returned to full-time graduate studies at the University and completed my Ph.D. in polymer physics. I had a grant from a government agency to do research related to the marketability of wool. I then did a post-doc in magnetic resonance spectroscopy. I did work in medical imaging and completed another post-doc in medical physics.
There is so much more I could say. Some of it becomes repetitive. It is very easy to see and describe these things in hindsight, but when it is happening to you, and your directors are accusing you of disobedience and telling you you don’t have the power to see certain things or talk to certain people, the individual is at a clear disadvantage.
There are other dimensions of Opus Dei which could be discussed theoretically, but this story would become exhaustive. Opus Dei says, for instance, that members don’t take vows. This is a legal technicality because you are required to make solemn promises “on your honor as a Christian gentleman (or woman)” which are binding under pain of sin just like vows. I do address some of these issues at the end.
The confusion started to clear one day when our second in command, the Regional Defensor, told us it was not wrong to cheat as long as you do it for God, the Church and Opus Dei. He had cheated on his medical exams to get ahead. Then the Vicar came by to see me and make sure I understood it.
In Opus Dei, we were not supposed to have personal friendships. One day, a member who lived in the same house with me had a nervous breakdown. He tried to speak to me, but the director came between us. The director told me to mind my own business and told him to be quiet. This person’s condition was apparently so fragile he could not be left alone, and he was under the constant supervision of the director for the next three weeks until someone was found to accompany him out of the country. Even though I saw him at breakfast and dinner every day, he made no further attempts to talk to me.
We also had a young vocation who was working in the same office I had worked in. I found him sobbing one day in the chapel, and in less than a week, he was put on a plane out of the country. After seeing some of these events, I started to speak up when I felt something strange was happening. I refused to be silenced anymore.
Periodically, in Opus Dei, there is an official visitor sent by the Father in Rome, and this visitor is supposed to talk with everyone who wants to see him. Eventually the time for the next visitation arrived. The first thing this visitor said when he was introduced to a group of us, was that we should learn to grow quietly in the spiritual life like mushrooms in a dark cave not bothered by the hassles of the secular world. Someone must have pulled him aside and told him this was a very bad example because he never used it again. This person was a Spaniard living in Rome. I have to assume he had never seen the poster which is quite common in the English-speaking world in which workers complain that management treats them like mushrooms because they are kept “in the dark” and only fed manure.
In my subsequent talk with this visitor, he allowed me an hour for the interview. At the end of the hour, he gave me a pained look of boredom and frustration, and he stopped me. He looked me straight in the eye and told me the things I was complaining about simply do not happen in Opus Dei, and he showed me the door.
Return to the United States and dismissal
I continued to speak up as a matter of conscience when I saw strange things happening and felt people were being manipulated, and I was returned to the United States in 1986 and processed out of the organization within a year. I was not permitted to speak to any directors I had previously known. I was sent to a part of the country where I didn’t know anyone or have any family, and I was told to leave. I asked about writing to the Vatican since I was a permanent member with many years of service, but my director told me we were a completely lay organization (the first Secular Institute and later the first Personal Prelature) and our statutes which were kept secret allowed us to dismiss members without intervention from the Vatican. The statutes are handled with the tightest discretion and circumstance. In the interest of showing how open they are, Opus Dei states they give copies of their statutes to all the bishops in whose dioceses they operate. When I asked some bishops to see the statutes, they refused me access. Fortunately, thanks to ODAN, I have recently been able to see a copy, and Statute #32 says a permanent member IS entitled to appeal his dismissal to the Vatican. Opus Dei continues to insist that they have no secrets. [Statutes of Opus Dei]
The circumstances of my vocation were a burden in conscience for me. Since leaving Opus Dei, I have discussed these with diocesan priests and these priests have told me quite clearly these things were wrong. The priests in Opus Dei always told me I should believe and obey my directors. There were one or two occasions when a priest made a small suggestion, which might have helped me, but as soon as the suggestion came to the attention of my directors, it was over-ridden. I was clearly informed Opus Dei was a layman’s organization, and I was to do what my lay director told me.
There was another time when I was discussing these burdens with a priest of the Work in Confession looking for moral guidance. I was getting fed up with the moral ambiguity and demanded to know why he was just sitting there and wouldn’t say anything. He looked at me for a moment, then got angry and said if I didn’t have any of my own sins to tell, he was terminating this Confession and walked out.
Some years later, I was in Rome. Since I was no longer under obedience, I felt I could finally speak freely without being silenced. I went to the central offices of Opus Dei to confront one of their major directors who had lied to me. I went first to pray and pay my respects to the dead Founder. Opus Dei has everything all set up to take advantage of the “dead Founder” situation. They have escorts primed and ready to create the right environment to promote a “vocational moment”. The woman who interviewed me before she would let me visit the tomb wanted to know about me and how I knew about the Founder. I replied with the generic but true answers which answered her questions without telling her anything she could use. Then she asked if I wanted to go to Confession. She said the Founder had inspired many people to lead holy lives and people liked to go to Confession in the chapel where he was buried. I told her, “no, thank you.” She lead me downstairs to the crypt chapel and as we passed the confessional, a priest arrived to hear Confessions. He recognized me and asked if I wanted to go to Confession. I told him, “no,” but asked where I could find the director I wanted to see. He said we could not talk in the chapel because we would disturb the people praying, and he suggested we could talk privately in the confessional. Once inside, I asked again where I could find the director. He said he didn’t know — that I would have to go to another entrance and inquire there — but since we were in the confessional, why didn’t I go to Confession? In my view, Opus Dei gets so obsessed with their vision of holiness they become oblivious to reality. Here I was in Rome; I had arrived at the central house of Opus Dei to accuse one of their directors of grievous misbehavior in a serious matter, and they expected me to kneel down before one of their priests and confess my “sins” first!
One of the ways Opus Dei controls a situation is by controlling whom you can talk to. As I mentioned above, when I was processed out of the organization, I was not permitted to talk to directors I had known before. After a number of years of prayer, discernment and “putting myself back together,” I called my old spiritual director, and the priest, who as Vicar, had asked me to go to Australia. They had been moved to other parts of the country, but I called my old center and was told where I could contact them. From the point of view of human decency and morality, it only made sense to me that these people should listen to the consequences of their actions, so they could make fully informed moral decisions in the future. Both of these directors said they were only responsible for obeying their respective directors and had no further responsibility for or to me. They both hung up on me.
End of my personal story
This is the end of my story. It has been a real burden in conscience to find out the true nature of Opus Dei after I had already committed years of my life and resources to it. In the beginning, I learned to pray, studied theology and started living a spiritual life, and I wanted others to enjoy these spiritual benefits. Then my membership became a two-edged sword as I found I had to stifle the voice of my conscience because the vehicle for transmitting these benefits to the world was enmeshed with a leadership which believed the miracles involved in founding Opus Dei had placed them above basic morality and accountability to any authority on earth — even that of the Church. It was a sword which cut me through to the deepest parts of my being. Again, in the beginning, I met some admirable self-sacrificing people who gave up so much in personal desires and possessions; but then I saw how these same people, through blind obedience were manipulated into participating in a social movement which was false. Opus Dei pushed themselves into my life. They told me I had a vocation given to me by God and approved by the Church. Now, after living through the devastation of seeing that vocation shredded before my very eyes, I have experienced a sense of freedom and mission in holding Opus Dei accountable in a public forum for their deeds.
For further discussion
For those who want to understand a little better how Opus Dei manages to operate in this manner, it is probably worth some discussion in a more structured analysis, which follows.
In these paragraphs, I will make reference to the 1982 Statutes which established Opus Dei as a Personal Prelature. Before that, they were approved by the Church as a Secular Institute and operated under the 1950 Constitutions/Statutes. The 1982 document states that anything in the 1950 document which is not directly abrogated or superceded is still in effect.
Credibility in front of a diverse audience
Part of the difficulty in discussing Opus Dei is its complex nature. The other difficulty is that I am writing to a very diverse audience of unknown readers. I have had a rich experience in life as a member of Opus Dei. I have met many different kinds of people from many diverse circumstances. The world is composed of many different personality types by the tremendous creative diversity of God, so there will be people who can devote themselves to the menial daily and detailed tasks of life which are required to make a community function as well as the dreamers and thinkers who will direct and inspire society to do great good and build structures which solve social problems. There are poor people for whom the price of a bottle of milk for a newborn is fixed, and anything more or less is unfair; and there are the leaders of business, government and the military who know how much waste exists in community life and write off thousands of dollars in miscellaneous expenses. A lot has been said about whom Opus Dei targets. Opus Dei wants all of you, but they know the most efficient way to do that is to first attract the elite of society and then the rest will follow easily. I am attempting to write to all of you.
Many people who hold influential positions in the world will have no objection to the smooth marketing, tightly controlled operation that Opus Dei is. Opus Dei intends to play in the high-class world scene. Many leaders in the world of business, the military and government know the rules of this game and play by them to manage society. Opus Dei doesn’t do any less.
Opus Dei is an example of a high stakes sales organization with all the good and bad which that implies. It is a world of putting your best foot forward to the point of “one-upmanship,” playing on the images of prestige and crossing the line of integrity when a sweet deal comes your way. They use all the high pressure tactics employed by “silver-tongued” salesmen, cults and pyramid marketing organizations to rope you in.
In many parts of the world today, the individual has a choice of going out and participating in a high stakes game of career, finance or prestige. People need to develop their own instincts and decide at what level they want to play. If a person starts getting involved in something, finds himself pulled in deeper than he expected, and wants to get out of the game, the world has its own ways of dealing with such people. Some of the ways are honest, and some of them are not. The trouble with Opus Dei is they come looking for you. They suck you in under false pretenses in the name of the Church and then pressure you in God’s name to take on defined responsibilities on their terms; when you try to slow things down, ask some questions and exercise your freedom as a human being, they stifle your complaints in the name of the Church and threaten you with dire moral and eternal consequences.
Canonization of Josemaria Escriva
Josemaria Escriva was canonized by the Pope on October 6, 2002. As a loyal Catholic, I won’t complain about his canonization. 90% of my complaints deal with activities of the uncanonized leadership which he left behind on this earth. The other 10% deal with strong pockets of unbridled extremism which existed and seemed to prosper in the organization before he died.
The directors are constantly talking out of both sides of their mouth
Opus Dei constantly speaks about the “spirit of Opus Dei,” as if it is some transcendent mystical reality. It is a public relations technique for saying what Opus Dei should be in theory rather than what it actually is. “On paper,” no one could find anything to complain about in Opus Dei. When people ask about particular offensive practices or complaints, spokesmen for Opus Dei always say these things can never happen because the “spirit” says otherwise. If you are on the inside, you find as you get involved in particular operations, you get drawn aside and told there are certain exceptions to the “spirit” that are allowed for the “greater good of souls.” You are told not to talk to others about them.
During the recruiting process and in their public statements, Opus Dei members say they are just a simple group of lay people gathered together to sanctify their professional work and do some apostolate. The statutes talk about the merit of obedience. Number 31, Paragraph 3, of the 1950 document states, “Whenever there are two members of the Institute, lest they be deprived of the merit of obedience, a certain subordination is always observed, in which one is subject to the other according to the order of precedence, unless it is mediated by a special delegation from the Superiors, always safeguarding the dependence of each upon the respective Superior.” This doesn’t fit my definition of a simple group of lay people.
They also say they are a completely lay organization which is supposed to be a special, new characteristic which makes them different from “religious” organizations in the Church. But Number 31 of the 1950 document describes the order of precedence among those who have power of government and Paragraph 2 states, “However, the priests and clerics always preside over the laity, who do not exercise the power of government, and to them, all render the greatest honor and reverence.”
The directors of Opus Dei make a lot of hype over fraternal correction. They say they have a divinely inspired spirit which was defined by the Founder and any infractions are corrected immediately. When a person makes his perpetual commitment to the organization, called the Fidelity, after about seven years of membership, he promises to make fraternal corrections to any and all members — especially the directors. As I said above, there are very unique and strange exceptions in Opus Dei. The process of fraternal correction is a method the directors use to get members to “tell” on other members who are not following the rules. When I attempted corrections against the directors, I was told once that I couldn’t make the correction because I had bad will; another time I was told that certain things were none of my business to correct; and, still another time I was told that it was improper of me to accuse my directors of the behavior I was trying to correct.
Opus Dei, on paper, is an approved organization of the Catholic Church; but in practice, it uses the methods and techniques of a cult
Opus Dei is like a cult in that it creates an awe-inspiring image of a perfect organization given by divine revelation to the clay instrument of their Founder in order to invite you and me personally to heaven. In actual practice this revelation was far from complete and perfect. There have been a continuing number of false starts and experiments with human beings. Once a director has told the defining stories of the history, no one is permitted to question them even if he has heard another version of the story or knows the story to be edited.
Opus Dei is also like a cult in that it uses its attractive and young members to recruit new members. As soon as the recruit joins, he is turned over to a more experienced director and the member is told not to discuss anything personal or of a vocational nature with the recruit and that his relationship of friendship with the recruit has been absorbed into the body corporate of Opus Dei.
The standard example we were given in formation is that of the young member who got up early every morning to play tennis (or some other sport) with a targeted recruit. On the morning after the recruit joins, he goes in to wake his recruiter for their usual game, and the recruiter tells him to go back to bed and let him sleep. He says he was only playing sports with the recruit in order to convince him to join. Everyone laughs and understands and the new member is supposed to love his vocation so much that he is grateful for the morning sacrifices made on his behalf by his recruiter.
Opus Dei is also like a cult in that the Founder and his successors are idolized to varying degrees. I saw the very strong face of fanaticism in 1970 when some members returned from a trip to Rome at Easter and were talking about the still-living Founder almost as if he were a god. This was a concern to me and I resolved never to participate in it.
Obedience in Opus Dei is modeled around the concept of being one in mind with the Father. The word refers ambiguously to God the Father as well as the Prelate, since the Prelate basically speaks as God’s voice for Opus Dei. Similarly, it recalls a key element in the life of Jesus Christ in which he prays in the Garden, “Father … not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Obedience is tied in with the concept of Unity. Unity with the Father and his directors is one of the three dominate passions defined for all members of Opus Dei (the other two being to spread Catholic doctrine and to give spiritual advice). Under the cause of Unity, one never speaks in public against the Work or its directors. If you have a complaint, you are supposed to talk in private with your immediate director and trust that it will be resolved satisfactorily. If anyone breaks Unity, members are taught and disciplined not to listen to him but to report him and then to return and correct him. When one makes the Fidelity, he makes a solemn promise to live Unity for the rest of his life.
Opus Dei uses a process of gradualism to pull you into the obedience web. They tell you in the beginning there is human freedom and professional freedom in Opus Dei. As you start to trust them, they draw you in tighter by explaining that true freedom is the ability to listen to God and follow His will in your spiritual life and apostolate. Since God seldom speaks directly to you, your assigned director in Opus Dei becomes God’s voice for you. Then you learn obedience is not limited to the direct spoken commands of the director but when lived with full integrity obedience is the desire to respond to God’s great love by trying to discern what the director wants and carrying it out before he has to ask for it. One learns through trial and error to look for the hints and non-verbal clues indicating obedience. The whole process often leaves a person in a state of uncertainty not always knowing when obedience is required, but one learns he is supposed to have the generosity of soul to always give the director the benefit of doubt. Then, at judicious moments, a director moves into the realm I call superstition, in which he says that if you don’t obey in all the details, you are not faithfully fulfilling and transmitting to others the living traditions of the Spirit of Opus Dei which was infallibly bestowed upon our holy Founder, who suffered so much to found Opus Dei as he crossed the Pyrenees with a price on his priestly head during the Spanish Civil War, in the middle of winter, in the cold, with bad shoes, eating food that was already rotting etc., etc., etc.
You also learn that true obedience is one without conditions, and when you choose to respond to the “indications” of your Director, you need to take personal responsibility for them. It is a violation of the fundamental spirit of Opus Dei, and it is a serious offense to place any responsibility on any Director for something you have been asked to do. It is a structure of obedience which is set up so that it can be denied. Members are expected to show their willingness to offer themselves in obedience to Jesus Christ in countless little details which you discuss with your director in your weekly time of spiritual direction, called the “chat” or “confidence”. The following are examples of things I was supposed to make my own in a spirit of obedience and unity:
You can see why Opus Dei needs its own priests who understand the “spirit” of Opus Dei and help keep people in control by holding them to tight standards in the sacrament of Confession.
Once you are on the “hook” of Opus Dei, the chances of breaking free are severely limited. Everyone regularly attends a circle — or directed class of formation — moderated by a director who constantly explains the “spirit of the Work” so everyone learns the official ways of explaining things and doing things. For the numeraries, the circle is held weekly. The continual verbal indoctrination emphasizes the following points on obedience:
The Founder wrote in his little book The Way, (Point #625) “Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing personal work, whenever someone with authority so commands.” In another point, he wrote (The Way #620) “If obedience does not give you peace, it is because you are proud.”
The Founder taught that members should have complete trust in their director and one should not be concerned if he feels he is in pieces, as if his head were on the window sill, a hand under the bed, and a foot dangling from the chandelier. The directors constantly draw on the spiritual classics which refer to the “dark night of the soul” — which is applied to the darkness of following blindly the indications of your directors. One of the Founder’s most famous sermons gets revived every year at the Epiphany where members are taught how the three Wise Men traveled in blindness through Bethlehem after the Star disappeared looking for the baby Jesus and by persevering in darkness they were rewarded.
Direction and government
One learns the meaning of “personal” in Personal Prelature. Opus Dei would like people to understand that the extent of the Prelature is defined by the persons who are members rather than by a territory like a diocese. In my experience, it also means it is based upon the authority of one person, the Father, and absolute loyalty to him. All directors act in his name. Direction is also given in person, and all formation is verbal — which means there are no records or witnesses. This structure leaves the individual in a position of complete vulnerability. When you join, you are required to do so in writing, but the answer is always verbal. When I was finally dismissed from Opus Dei and although I had written several letters of complaint which they retained, my dismissal was done verbally. After seventeen years in Opus Dei, I have nothing to prove I was ever a member.
As part of their “need to know” structure, my experience is the directors will lie to you if they can’t find a more satisfactory way of avoiding your question. We were told in formation to lie when necessary to defend Opus Dei. We used to hear it regularly how a good son always defends his mother even if she is a prostitute.
Opus Dei says that in a family the children are not always told everything by their parents or older siblings. They use this reasoning to justify why members are not told everything by their directors. It would be hard to disagree with the first statement — minor children do not always have individual rights in law nor are they completely independent from their parents materially or emotionally. They also do not have moral and fiducial responsibilities in the community and before the “age of reason” have no moral responsibility at all. As children become of age, they do acquire moral and other responsibilities within the community, and they need to have adequate knowledge to make moral decisions. Furthermore, any adult child working in a family business has the right and the responsibility to know what is going on in the business.
As another distinction between a natural family and Opus Dei, children speak familiarly with their father. They do not make an appointment with him once a week, as members of Opus Dei do with their director. They are not required to bare their soul before their father although some fathers may be very demanding and intimidating.
While the Founder was still alive, he was the infallible source and interpreter of the spirit of Opus Dei, a brand new organizational structure in the Catholic Church. Even though people would be appointed to councils of government and boards of directors in which they supposedly exercised their own free professional judgment, because of the need to define what Opus Dei was, people were often told they had to do things in a certain way because that was the spirit of the Work. After the death of the Founder, this authoritarian structure has continued under his successor, and now his subsequent successor who have taught that they have a secure path established by God. If there is ever a question on how to do things or resolve an issue, one need only ask what the Father would have done, and then they should do likewise. These historical precedents will always condition the freedom and professional judgment of those who make decisions in Opus Dei.
As I struggled with the burdens of conscience and vocation, I pored through Scripture, theology books and our internal documents for a clear teaching on loyalty as a virtue. The only thing I found was a quote from the Founder in which he asked people to please be loyal to the poor sinner that he was.
I am finished. I thank you who have persevered and read thoroughly to this end. Since you have followed with interest, I am prepared to tell you who I am. My name is shown below with some extra x’s inserted between the capitalized letters. My reason for doing this is that I hold a responsible job and a place in my community. The fact that I allowed Opus Dei into my life and I believed in it for so long may not be considered in the best light by certain people. I would not want a curiosity seeker or a potential employer to type my name into a search engine on the Internet and find my story without having any interest in Opus Dei. I realize my name is already linked to statements about Opus Dei. I would just like to put a damper on the curiosity factor.
Some of my friends have intimated I was naive. Be that as it may. It is difficult to discern the meaning of the Gospel in one’s life, when you have to reach beyond rational thought and experience. One’s experience in Opus Dei is so private and personal, that it takes years to speak about it in an open forum – yet, if I and others don’t speak out, Opus Dei will continue to do the same things to other people.
I pray we may all come to eternal life and that I will get to meet and rejoice with you, the angels, our Blessed Mother and the other saints on the last day.
God bless you all,
Appendix A – For those who have left
For those of you readers who have been members of Opus Dei and left, let me recommend some books which have been very helpful. If you were in Opus Dei long enough to learn contemplative prayer, the book He and I written by Gabrielle Bossis is a tremendous source of spiritual nourishment. She was a French laywoman, who lived about the time of the founding of Opus Dei, but she had nothing to do with Opus Dei. She kept a diary and she records the spiritual inspirations which God revealed to her in her lay vocation.
Another good book is Abandonment to Divine Providence, an approved spiritual classic written by a Jesuit spiritual director of the early eighteenth century, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J. Opus Dei creates such an impression that spiritual direction (especially their form) is required for everyone in order to reach eternal life. De Caussade raises the question of what happened in the early days of the Church, and even in the Jewish times, before there were systems and theories of spiritual direction (very long before Opus Dei). He asks, in particular, who directed Mary and St. Joseph? He says, very refreshingly, that God has always directed souls Himself and He continues to do so in the present times.
A third commendable book is Alone with the Alone written by a contemporary Jesuit retreat master, Fr. George Maloney, S.J.
Appendix B – Complaints
I recommend you file complaints about Opus Dei with the Church. The proper place to complain is the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. The address is :
Congregation for Bishops
Congregazione per i Vescovi
Piazza Pio XII, 10
Vatican City State, Europe 00120
Send your complaint by registered mail or courier to get proof of delivery. Even though they don’t have any authority, please complain to your priests, bishops, and the Apostolic Nuncio in the capital of your country. When they get enough complaints, they will begin to understand what Opus Dei is really all about, and they may feel a duty to file their own complaints.
The first time I complained to a bishop, he said he didn’t understand what the problem was. He thought a person’s relationship with a lay prelature depended purely upon mutual acceptability, and that a person could leave anytime he wanted.
Posted September 21, 2004