Opus Dei's Questionable Practices

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The following practices of Opus Dei are not common knowledge and need to be examined and questioned. The serious issues ODAN raises are based on a collection of first-hand personal experiences.

Corporal Mortification

Corporal mortification is regularly practiced in Opus Dei. It is perhaps one of the most startling aspects of Opus Dei life for people outside the group. Many of the practices of corporal mortification were at one time more regularly practiced within the Church; however, due to modern psychology and thinking, the practices which inflict pain are sometimes considered to be counterproductive to one's spiritual development, as they can easily lead to pride and an unhealthy attitude toward one's body.

Some acts of corporal mortification may be helpful in checking the desires of the flesh, such as fasting. However, in Opus Dei, especially for the numerary (celibate) members, all of the practices mentioned below are mandatory if one wishes to live the "Spirit of Opus Dei" fully. The "Spirit of Opus Dei" is the standard of living, as outlined by the Opus Dei directors, for which all truly dedicated Opus Dei members strive. Under the umbrella of the "Spirit of Opus Dei" hide many of the abuses in Opus Dei. The subtle control to conform to the norm is typical in groups which practice mind control; members are "guilted" into conforming, feeling that they must in order to follow "God's will" as it is outlined by the controlling group.

Listed below are the ways Opus Dei numeraries practice corporal mortification:

  • Cilice: a spiked chain worn around the upper thigh for two hours each day, except for Church feast days, Sundays, and certain times of the year. This is perhaps the most shocking of the corporal mortifications, and generally Opus Dei members are extremely hesitant to admit that they use them. It is a painful mortification which leaves small prick holes in the flesh, and makes the Opus Dei members tentative about wearing swim suits wherever non-Opus Dei members may be.
  • Discipline : a cord-like whip which resembles macrame, used on the buttocks or back once a week. Opus Dei members must ask permission to use it more often, which many do. The story is often told in Opus Dei that the Founder was so zealous in using the discipline, he splattered the bathroom walls with streaks of blood.
  • Cold Showers : Most numeraries take cold showers every day and offer it up for the intentions of the current Prelate.
  • Meals : Numeraries generally practice one small corporal mortification at every meal, such as drinking coffee without milk or sugar, not buttering one's toast, skipping dessert, not taking seconds, etc. For the most part, eating between meals is not practiced. Opus Dei members fast on the Church's prescribed days for fasting, but otherwise must ask for permission to fast on their own.
  • The Heroic Minute : Numeraries are encouraged to jump out of bed and kiss the floor as soon as the door is knocked in the morning. As they kiss, they say "Serviam," Latin for "I will serve."
  • Silences : Each night after making an examination of conscience, numeraries do not speak to one another until after Holy Mass the following morning. (They do not say "Good morning" to anyone as they are getting ready.) In the afternoons, they try to avoid speaking until dinnertime. On Sundays, numeraries generally do not listen to music, especially in the afternoons.

Some forms of corporal mortification differ according to your gender, as the following table shows:

Female Numeraries
Male Numeraries
Sleep on boards laid on top of the mattress.

Sleep without a pillow once a week. May not smoke or enter a bar. The Founder believed that women had passions that required more discipline to tame.

Sleep on the floor once a week.

Sleep without a pillow once a week. Allowed to smoke and go to bars with recruits, for the purpose of drawing them closer to Opus Dei.

A former numerary wrote to comment on Opus Dei's corporal mortifications:

"The cilice and disciplines are so foreign to the experience of most people, that they just conclude that Opus Dei is very odd for mandating them. That is true as far as it goes, but there is a more important point to be made. Because of the dangers of masochism, the traditional Catholic teaching on this sort of mortification is that it be done under obedience to a spiritual director. Such supervision in fact exists in Opus Dei, although often authority is entrusted to people who lack requisite maturity and prudence. The real point is that even if the cilice and the discipline are acceptable forms of penance, their use shows that Opus Dei members are NOT ordinary people, are not free agents."

Relevant Quotes from the writings of Opus Dei Founder, Josemaria Escriva

"Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. . . Glorified be pain!" (The Way, 208)

"No ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice. Deny yourself. It is so beautiful to be a victim!" (The Way, 175)

"Obey with your lips, your heart and your mind. It is not a man who is being obeyed, but God." (Furrow, maxim 374)

"And be watchful, for a spark is much easier to extinguish than a fire. Take flight, for in this it is low cowardice to be "brave"; a roving eye does not mean a lively spirit, but turns out to be a snare of satan. Yet human diligence, with mortification, the cilice, disciplines and fasting are all worthless without you, my God." (Furrow, 834)

"They [Opus Dei numeraries] shall maintain the pious custom, for the purpose of chastising the body and reducing it to servitude, of wearing a small cilice for at least two hours daily; once a week they shall take the disciplines as well as sleeping on the floor, providing that health is not affected." (Opus Dei Constituciones, article 147)

"To defend his purity, St. Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, St. Benedict threw himself into a thornbush, St. Bernard plunged into an icy pond... You... what have you done?" (The Way, 143)

"What has been lost through the flesh, the flesh should pay back: be generous in your penance." (The Forge, 207)

"If you realize that your body is your enemy, and an enemy of God's glory since it is an enemy of your sanctification, why do you treat it so softly?" (The Way, 227)

"Your worst enemy is yourself." (The Way, 225)

"You have come to the apostolate to submit, to annihilate yourself, not to impose your own personal viewpoints." (The Way, 936)

Aggressive Recruitment

“University residences, universities, publishing houses. . . are these ends? No, and what is the end? . . . to promote in the world the greatest possible number of souls dedicated to God in Opus Dei…”(Founder of Opus Dei, Cronica, v, 1963)

Within Opus Dei, a heavy emphasis is placed on getting individuals to commit their lives to Opus Dei. Members' pursuit of potential members is aggressive and similar to the tactics used by totalistic groups. Because of this, ODAN believes the group violates the personal freedom of individuals.

  • Opus Dei has a highly structured apostolate. Opus Dei members form "teams" and develop strategies to attract new members. For example, if the potential recruit is an avid skiier, then the numeraries may plan a weekend ski trip, when the "numerary friend" is pressured to tell the recruit that she may have a vocation, after which the numerary must report back to the Director. If the recruit is receptive, then the Director may talk more in depth about the vocation. They discuss "promising recruits" at their daily get-togethers (for members only) and during spiritual direction with Opus Dei priests and lay members. Opus Dei members often know which recruits are closest to joining, even if the person is hundreds of miles away.
  • Opus Dei members are typically taught to always have twelve to fifteen "friends," with at least three or four who are very close to joining. This leads to the utilization of friendship as "bait." Far too often, Opus Dei members drop friendships with those who are unlikely to join Opus Dei.
  • Opus Dei members are required to report regularly to their lay Spiritual Directors on the progress of their personal recruiting. They also fill out statistics on their "friends," which may include the following: number of apostolic visits made; Opus Dei meditations attended; Opus Dei retreats made; confessions with an Opus Dei priest, etc. How does Opus Dei use this information? Why is it necessary? The recruits do not know they are being discussed and targeted in this way, a violation of their freedom and privacy.
  • Opus Dei members befriend and cultivate young idealistic individuals through front groups at universities and schools and/or through affiliation with groups like Right to Life, young adult Catholic groups and St. Thomas More Societies. Some groups are completely Opus Dei-run and exist primarily for the purpose of attracting potential Opus Dei members. The groups' affiliation with Opus Dei is typically not immediately recognizable nor initially disclosed. An example of an Opus Dei "front group" is UNIV, an international convention of college students that is used by Opus Dei to attract "select" individuals who could potentially become members, particularly by participating in a yearly trip to Rome during Easter week when unsuspecting participants are aggressively pursued to make a commitment to Opus Dei while in Rome at the Opus Dei headquarters. These statements are based on the personal testimonies of former members, who also witnessed first hand the targeting of potential Opus Dei members while participating in groups not necessarily run by Opus Dei. The Opus Dei members joined these groups in order to find and befriend individuals who would more likely join Opus Dei.

In addition to groups targeting young people, Opus Dei also attempts to attract potential "supernumerary" members by infiltrating parishes throughout the world. It is often very difficult to determine the extent of Opus Dei's influence in a given parish. Opus Dei members very often conceal their identity to "outsiders."

Undue Pressure to Join

Selected individuals are relentlessly pursued to consider a vocation or calling to Opus Dei.

  • Opus Dei members carefully stage "vocational crises" at vulnerable moments in recruits' lives. The recruits are often told that God calls people at certain times in their lives, and if they say "no" they will never receive God's grace in their lives because they are "on the wrong track."
  • Opus Dei members often tell their "friends" that failure to follow a calling to Opus Dei will lead not only to a life of misery and discontent, but possibly to eternal damnation.

Lack of Informed Consent and Control of Environment

When recruits decide to join Opus Dei, they vaguely commit themselves to live "the spirit of Opus Dei" without knowing the details of that commitment. The initial commitment, called "whistling," involves the writing of a letter to the prelate of Opus Dei asking to become an Opus Dei member. From that moment, new members are greeted with exuberance and welcomed into the fold. Eventually, the details of new memberships are revealed, and the new members are expected to comply, even if they object or have reservations. A great psychological burden is placed on the new members: they must be faithful to the commitment they have made by obeying all that their directors tell them is "the spirit of Opus Dei;" otherwise, they are turning their back on God. If they decide to leave Opus Dei, they have often already heard that they will surely live a life without God's grace, and may even be damned.

Opus Dei tightly controls the lives of its members, especially the numerary members who pledge celibacy and typically live in Opus Dei residences. The following are some examples of the controls placed on Opus Dei numeraries, which are part of the "spirit of Opus Dei:"

  • Opus Dei numeraries are expected to hand over their entire salaries to Opus Dei, and generally may not hold their own bank accounts. The numeraries are told to use money as if they were the mother in charge of a large and poor family. They ask for the money they need each week and are then required to report how it was spent to the penny. Opus Dei does not provide any financial report that indicates how the members' money is spent.
  • Both incoming and outgoing personal mail is generally read by the Directors of each Opus Dei residence, without the knowledge or consent of family and friends.
  • Reading material is strictly controlled, as are television viewing, listening to the radio, and other forms of recreation and entertainment.
  • Opus Dei numeraries notify their Directors of (and secure permission for) their comings and goings.
  • Opus Dei numeraries are required to practice corporal mortification such as the use of a cilice (a spiked chain worn around the thigh), flagellation, and sleeping on the floor or on boards.
  • Opus Dei numeraries are required to confess weekly and are strongly discouraged from confessing to a non-Opus Dei priest.
  • Opus Dei numeraries typically may not attend events which are not conducive to proselytizing, such as athletic games, theater, concerts, movies, etc. In the rare instances when they may attend these events, permission must be secured from the Opus Dei directors.
  • Opus Dei members are enjoined to confess even their slightest doubts to Opus Dei priests and/or Spiritual Directors; otherwise, "the mute devil takes over in the soul."

Alienation From Families

Communication to family about involvement with Opus Dei is limited and even discouraged.

  • Opus Dei teaches individuals (despite their ages) that it is acceptable and even advantageous to leave parents and loved ones out of the decision-making process because "they will not understand." Most parents learn of their child's lifetime commitment to Opus Dei months and even years later. Many times, parents do not realize their children have joined because the numeraries are told to remain in university residences and do not move into centers designated exclusively for numeraries, so as not to raise any suspicions. Gradually, the bond of trust between child and parent is broken.
  • Display of pictures of loved ones is discouraged, not by rule, but by subtle example.