I Was Shocked by Hidden Agendas Behind Opus Dei "Service Projects"

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by Tammy A. DiNicola, Former Numerary

Opus Dei sponsors many types of service projects which at a peripheral glance seem laudable and altruistic. Yet behind each and every effort Opus Dei makes to serve underprivileged or needy individuals, lies a secret motive - to recruit new members into Opus Dei. As a numerary member of Opus Dei for 2-1/2 years, I have seen the truth of this statement in practice. The following are stories of my own experiences while still an Opus Dei member.

In the summer of 1989, while still a numerary member of Opus Dei, I was asked by an Opus Dei director to teach a computer class to high school students from other countries. This program had been advertised by Opus Dei as an opportunity for young girls to come to the United States to learn English, computers and the "American way of life," while touring Boston, MA and the surrounding areas. Several of the girls who came had already been exposed to Opus Dei in their native countries, but many had only limited knowledge of Opus Dei.

About a week after the girls arrived, I was told to attend a meeting with all of the numerary members involved with the program. Initially, I was shocked by the purpose of the meeting, but never verbalized how I felt. One of the numeraries had a sheet of paper typed up with the names of the girls attending the program. As each name was called, different numeraries would relate how close the girl was to joining Opus Dei, often making statements such as "she went to confession" (with an Opus Dei priest); "she's been going to daily mass"; "her sister is in Opus Dei," etc. Then a plan would be devised, written down and a numerary would be chosen to carry it out. Some "plans" included "I'll ask her to go to confession," "I'll talk to her about joining Opus Dei," "I'll invite her to spiritual direction/mass," etc.

After reflecting about this incident in my life, I realize that at the time I was very disturbed about this apparent abuse of privacy and manipulation of friendship. Yet as a member of Opus Dei, I had been taught that Opus Dei is perfect, and if there were any doubts or problems, it was invariably my fault or a case of "bad direction." I tried to "fit the mold" that summer, but I felt terribly phony, and deep down I knew that what I was doing was wrong. I felt sorry for many of the girls who thought they were coming to learn English and have fun, but instead were heavily pressured to conform to the Opus Dei way of living. They were vulnerable, unsuspecting youth unable to handle the intensity which was thrust upon them. There was one girl in particular who was upset all the time, and who I believe experienced a minor breakdown near the end of the program. Many of the girls awaited anxiously the day of their departure.

In that same summer, there were several other service projects which other numeraries were undertaking. One of them was a day camp for underprivileged children living in Roxbury/Dorchester (a poor section of Boston). The emphasis and primary goal of the project was to select "choice" college girls who could draw closer to Opus Dei while teaching such things as crafts, athletics, math, catechism or sewing to the underprivileged youth. Meetings with the other numeraries, at which these "select" teachers were constantly talked about, only served to emphasize this fact. Providing the service to the underprivileged youth was only of secondary importance.

In the same way, other projects, such as the annual trip to Mexico to help poor people, were primarily set up to find and cultivate the people who would likely aspire to the ideals of Opus Dei and eventually join.

In the spring of 1990, I heard about an opening for an American to go to Spain to teach English for the summer through an Opus Dei program. Immediately I thought of my Spanish teacher at the time (with whom I was friendly) who would jump at such an opportunity. I mentioned this to the Opus Dei member who was in charge of all the proselytism with youth in the United States. Her first response was to ask whether the girl was close enough to Opus Dei to join while in Spain. Apparently, this was an unstated qualification for acceptance into the program as a teacher. Since my friend was not close to Opus Dei, she was not even considered, though her credentials were excellent for the opening.

Subconsciously, I was very upset after this incident and knew deep down that something was wrong. Unfortunately, because my mind was trapped in Opus Dei, I was unable to follow the inner leadings of my buried conscience.

We have all heard many times that the end does not justify the means. No matter how much good Opus Dei projects may seem to do for needy individuals, it is not right to use these projects as a means to deceive and manipulate unsuspecting individuals. Jesus Christ never healed the blind, the sick, the lame, the captives or the repentant in order to recruit his Peters, Marys, Andrews, Johns or Marthas; he did so as an outward showing of his love for those he healed. Opus Dei has turned what seems to be good into a self-serving affair which can deceive and harm many individuals.

Written June 10, 1993