What kind of people are Opus Dei members?
Mostly good people. People with good hearts who love God and want to do good things and sacrifice themselves for the work of God. Only/mostly good people are attracted by them. These people are all a bit naive because they make one big mistake: They think that the Opus Dei can not be bad, because the people there are good people and they are all very religious. Therefore, they do not see all the evil ideology which is in the teachings of Josemaria Escriva (founder of Opus Dei). Most of these people are rather intelligent, as the Opus looks for intelligent people because they want to increase their influence on society this way and they can get more money from them. But intelligence does not always go along with a critical mind. Particularly when it comes to religious topics, many people refuse to use their intellect at all.
Why some people consider Opus Dei as being Fascistic?
The term "Fascist" has created some confusion. The ideology of Opus Dei has all the features commonly found in the abstract political category of "fascism" even though it is a very special form of this ideology, since it is mixed with elements of the Christian religion. Reading Escriva's book The Way with the above definition of fascism in mind, it is evident that he is the perfect Fascist. Here are some indicators: In #849 he directly states that he is against Voltaire's ideas.
Fascist loathe Liberty:
They have this law and order mentality: every thing should be under the control of the leaders. Large chapters in the book are about leadership and blind obedience. I guess Hitler would have loved this book. (read #56 till #80) Of course, they want to control the information you get. Like in #339:
You shall not buy books without the advice of an experienced Christian. It is so easy to buy something useless or mischievous. Often people believe they are carrying a book under their arm ... but they only carry a load of mud. (Josemaria Escriva, The Way, #339)
According to Maria del Carmen Tapia they also read the private mail of their members. And of course they want enforced religious values, too. Some People argue that other spiritual works also recommend obedience as useful but this does not prove it is a good thing. Particularly, the blind obedience (blind because the Opus also controls the information one can get) is dangerous. Normally if a person joins a monastery he will have to submit to some obedience there too: but that obedience usually only concerns outside things. You will do the house work they want you to do and you would go to mass regularly ... etc. but you would still be allowed to think independently. The obedience that also concerns mind and thinking is of a much higher level of obedience. Would you want to live in a world where the way you have to think is dictated? Criticising religious things and a free will is not wanted and not allowed: (see e.g. #945, #53, ...)
Fascists loathe Equality:
Escriva teaches that people should not even be equal in the eyes of God!! (#98 priests are more valuable than other people). In many others the need for leadership is expressed (e.g. #60, #61) the whole chapters about leadership all implicitly suggest that there are people who are superior and this is their legitimation of why they should rule over others. (I think there is a teaching where he explicitly says that he does not believe in equality. Can't find it, though ...)
Fascists loathe Fraternity.
One would think that Fraternity is something every person would immediately agree with, but his idea of fraternity is rather limited to the fraternity within the sect. (#458,) Also it is not the humanity that is a motivation for fraternity but a selfish way of being strong within the sect and against THE WORLD. (#460, #462, #55, #924) There seems to be no idea in them that the people outside the sect are equal humans too; they are just potential victims for their apostolate, enemies, or even devils. At the moment where he calls someone devil he excludes these people from: ... a spark of humanity that must be cherished on a level above that of the law, and that binds us all together in a manner that continuously re-affirms and celebrates life as it is expressed so neatly in the definition of fraternity. Furthermore the characteristics of fascism from the above document have been:
- Nationalism and super-patriotism with a sense of historic mission. Nationalism is something they can not really afford as they want to be globally active. Nonetheless they do think a little bit of nationalism is good for being Catholic: read #525. Obviously their goal is not to win power in a country but to win power in the Catholic Church and in the whole world. Where fascism in general needs enemies to blame for all the evil Opus Dei has to be very selective. Because of its global nature it can not as easily pick other nations. It would be a dangerous game to openly spread hate against other religions. This would lead easily to contradictions with their own spirituality (one of their good sides) but also to intolerance of other religions, which is not hidden very well (see my chapter about tolerance in my FAQ. In any event, the main enemies they picked are:
- all people who criticise them.
- some mysterious Freemason... dark world conspiracy.
- Glorifying war: see e.g.:#306 or #311. It is not clear how much the words are metaphors or how much they are meant as written. (They are in a chapter entitled more from the inner life (at least this is the name of the chapter in the German edition), but his points often have other meanings than just the one that the chapter would suggest. In Spain there are many Opus members in top positions in the army (from the TAZ/Berlin 15.9.1995). Or read about the Archbishop of El Salvador below.
- Authoritarian reliance on a leader or elite not constitutionally responsible to an electorate. There is no democracy within the Opus Dei. The points which emphasise the importance of leadership are numerous.
- Cult of personality around a charismatic leader. It may be that he was a man with very bad traits. It is curious that such a person has any status at all. However, in the practical life of the Opus Dei the members had to treat him and is relatives like if he where God himself. (read e.g. Carmen Tapia's book). Members still write letters to him although he is already dead. If you go and ask Opus Dei members, they will tell you that they have a lot of material about Escriva that they do not show to the public because it would destroy the portrait that they have painted of him.
- Reaction against the values of Modernism, usually with emotional attacks against both liberalism and communism. e.g. see #849. Communism is not directly mentioned but the anti-communism is everywhere in Opus Dei.
- Exhortations for the homogeneous masses of common folk (Volkish in German, Populist in the U.S.) to join voluntarily in a heroic mission - often metaphysical and romanticized in character. (What could be more metaphysical than religion?) Also, he constantly appeals to heroic feelings when he describes how noble it would be to serve the Opus Dei.
- Dehumanization and scapegoating of the enemy - seeing the enemy as an inferior or subhuman force, perhaps involved in a conspiracy that justifies eradicating them. (Enemies are devils. or see e.g.: #833 where he constructs the image of Freemasons as a demon-like enemy;)
- The self image of belonging to a superior form of social organisation beyond socialism, capitalism and democracy. Most Christians will see their belief not as something that contradicts democracy or socialism. However, by merging all his political statements in his book, Escriva places his beliefs in direct competition with political ideologies. From his Fascist ideas it is clear that he is against socialism. All the points about leadership/obedience show that he does not think all too well of democracy. I think he has no problem with capitalism, if you have enough money you can also buy a little bit of holiness by being a cooperator (see their homepage).
- While their ideological root is definitely not directly national socialistic, the forging of an alliance with an elite of society is exactly what they do. What ostensible support for the industrial working class or farmers concerns: They keep them silent and obedient by promising them a better life in heaven with their sanctification of ordinary work slogan. This is an abuse of religion.
- Abandonment of any consistent ideology in a drive for State power. Fascist ideology is in contradiction with Christianity and so it is not all to easy to combine these two things. The question is: Why did he press all the Fascist ideology into this book at all? Of course if you want to construct a sect than the ideology comes handy: The leadership/obedience constellation is especially useful, but then he could have hidden the ideology much better behind religiose explanations. The fact that the ideology is so open, suggests it must have been something very important to Escriva. But to make his sect a success he does not care that it is in contradiction with Christianity. (Maybe he did not see that at the beginning, but I imagine that a lot of people will have talked about that topic with him. If he did not want to agree with a logical argumentation he used his 2+2+God equation (#471). To agree with the arguments of others? Never! (#54) Furthermore: Inconsistencies and contradictions gives you more freedom when you want to use the ideology to direct people into certain directions. When you want to command them, the one thing you can use is this point, and when you want to command them otherwise you use another.
One last point: Like the Nazis' head the entartete Kunst (art that did not conform to the official sense of beauty) Escriva also labels modern art as morbid and subjective. (While, of course it is subjective - but it does not hide that - but he implicitly claims that he has the objective truth). Cutting down the freedom of arts is also a sign of Fascistic and totalitarian governments.
Conclusion: As it can be seen there is a lot of Fascism in the book of Escriva and in his sect. The reader who is aware of it will find a lot more in his book and in the behaviour of Opus Dei. The strong focus on leadership in particular, makes this organisation extremely dangerous, and with the mind control of the weekly confident talks, their leaders have incredible power over their followers.
What is dangerous in the structure of Opus Dei?
The inherent danger lies in the undemocratic structure of the Opus which totally reflects the Fascistic ideology in Escriva's teachings. People have to follow the orders given to them by their leaders without doubting them. Leaders have total control over the people subordinated to them through the weekly talk where they learn everything they need to manipulate followers. So, if the topmost leader decides to do something it will happen. They justify this structure with the excuse that it is all in God's name. But the people in the Opus are all humans and there is always a chance that they might make mistakes. In the dictatorship-like structure of the Opus a mistake or an evil decision by just one person on top of the organisation can have fatal consequences. Their response is something like: Oh well we have built a dictatorship, but do not be worried: we have such a nice dictator on top who is such a kind person with a good heart ... Besides: Escriva was not a person with a very good character. And a person who does not admit that he has made a mistake by putting this Fascistic ideology into his work, even after 1945, when the evil of the Fascistic ideology should have become obvious to everyone is definitely not a saint. Well at least, I think that God is NOT a skin head in camouflage and army boots, who likes Fascism.
Do they abuse the information they get from their members in the weekly talk to manipulate them?
Yes. Carmen Tapia tells that when she was in the position of a spiritual leader she had to write reports about all the people under her and she sometimes received orders from above on what to tell them.
What about the Apostolate?
As in most sects, this is one of the most important things: Finding new members. The necessity of the apostolate is everywhere in Escriva's book, beginning with #1. Especially #614:
- When doing apostolic work there is no disobedience that would be slight.
According to people who left the sect there is a strict plan on how to approach new potential members and how to talk to them.
How do they catch new members?
The most important instrument is the so-called vocation trap. They tell people about the non-selfish life of saints and what good things they did and they then make them feel guilty because they do not do that much; with the implicit promise that when they join the Opus Dei they can become little saints in their everyday life. This trap, of course only works for people with good hearts who want to do good. And I do not doubt that most of the people who have been caught by the Opus would have lived a just life and would have become good people and would have done a lot of useful work if they had never met the Opus. Once they have been caught, their good hearts are abused to catch more members instead of performing useful charity. Here is an example of their manipulative way in catching new members: In #563 of The Way Escriva writes:
Ally yourself with the guardian angel of the person you want to win for your apostolate - He is always a good accomplice.
Imagine a young girl with a good heart who was brought up with a Catholic spirit, and then a person tells her: Well, this night I will pray to your guardian angel so that he might help you to find the right decision (leaving no doubt about what the right decision is). This girl would feel very bad with the idea in her head that her angel would be terribly sad because she did not decide to join the Opus. From my point of view the abuse of such innocent symbols of our childhood beliefs to bring people under control of an evil ideology, that they do not even understand, is a spiritual rape.
What is the role of women in the Opus Dei ideology?
Let us see how they think about women:
... Woman are so sinful and are responsible that we have been dislodged from the garden of eden. And the only possibility for them to lessen their guilt is by subordinating themselves... 'You should be like a carpet where people can step onto' he explained... (Heard by a lot of people at an information evening of the Opus Dei in Dornbirn Austria. easter 1994. from the book "gottes rechte kirche" by t.m. hofer)
What kind of person was Josemaria Escriva?
He was a priest who founded Opus Dei in the year 1928. He was born into a time of war, so perhaps his idea was to found a kind of army for God. (Many aspects of the organisation of the Opus show similarities to the structure of an army: replaceability of every member; uncritical submission to orders, ... ). According to Carmen Tapia, he was a person with very bad manners. She writes that he could be nice and kindly at time but also very angry. He spoke derogatorily about women. He often shouted. (The most extreme example is In her book. Carmen Tapia writes: when he was angry at a woman (G.) who secretly brought her (Tapia) mail he shouted:
And she there (G.) has to be spanked throughout. Draw up her skirts, tear down her panties and give it to her in the ass!! In the Ass!! Until she talks. MAKE HER TALK!!! (translated from the German edition of her book to English)
I think this quote fits well with the sexual obsessions that shine through a lot of statements in his book. Escriva did not live the ascetic live of a saint but always liked delicious dining in his palace-like headquarters in Rome (A building with 24 chapels!). To me he seems to have been a person of medium intelligence who always wanted to be a philosopher. Perhaps he got hurt in discussions with intellectual people and than he tried to compensate for his lack of intelligence with concentration on his religious beliefs, which allowed him to polish up his self esteem again in such a way that he could look down on the people who did not share those beliefs. I am not a psychologist, but this would explain some of his teachings (e.g. the one with: 2+2 = 4, 2+2+God=?). From what Carmen Tapia tells he was very proud. Cite: ... I have met a lot of bishops and different Popes but I am the only founder .... Also the value intelligence had for him can be seen in what he told them once: Do not become so stupid as those nuns ... (and he was trying to making a dumb face)
Given all the Fascist ideology in The Way, it will not come as a surprise to you to hear that he even had sympathy for Hitler:
Wladimir Felzmann, an ex-Opus Dei member tells about a talk with Escriva: after he (Escriva) insisted that with Hitler's help the Franco Government has saved Christianity from Communism he added: Hitler against the Jews, Hitler against the Slavs, this means Hitler against communism
To be fair: When judging about Senior Escriva we have to consider that he was a child of his time. And a lot of people at the time held that kind of ideology and those ideas; for a lot of people they might have been quite normal. However, this does not make his ideology any better and does not give any justification for mixing it with his religious teachings.
What an unbelievable arrogance of this man that he named his own work The Work of God.
What attracts people to Opus Dei?
As the people within Opus Dei are mostly nice people with good hearts, people do not suspect that this organization might be bad at all. They will be attracted by the positive sides of their spiritual beliefs (see above). Furthermore, people with good hearts like the idea of sacrificing themselves because they want to do good. The 'childhood in front of God idea especially will be attractive for many people, because this is something most people want deep down inside them: to become children again and give away all the burdens and responsibilities of their every day life. This is exactly what the Opus offers: Not only to become a child in front of God but to become a child in front of the Opus. To blindly follow their advice and rules and to give away responsibility by discussing everything with the spiritual leader.
This is also how most sects work: They offer a clear and simple frame of values in a world that becomes more complex every day - too complex for many people. Just pray a lot, tell everything to your spiritual leader, wear the flagellation belt for 2 or 3 hours a day, and donate some money to us, then you are on your way to becoming a saint. Easy and simple. This is especially attractive for persons in positions with high moral responsibility (lawyers, doctors, etc ... ). They do not even have to give up their profession, nor do they have to be afraid that they may be fired because of Opus Dei - because they are supposed to keep that a secret. In my opinion we are not supposed to give away responsibility. God has given us our mind and our conscience to use it - even if this is the hard way.
Furthermore there also might be people who are attracted by the negative sides in Opus Dei. e.g.: The proud thinking of being something better than the average person who doesn't belong to the Opus. Last, but not least, as the Fascistic ideology in Escriva's book is so dominant, it can not be ruled out there are also some people in the organization who are especially attracted by Fascism.
What kind of person do they select for their apostolate?
They want intelligent people with influence on society, most of all. They usually select people whom they think might be easy to convert. That is, they select people with a Catholic background, especially people who might be searching for social contact, that is: e.g.: exchange students, people who often go to church alone, ..., etc.. Also it is usually not explicitly expressed but they seem to search for physically attractive people, as it is more easy for them to convince new victims of the Opus. When Thomas M. Hofer (Gottes Rechte Kirche page 98) asked the Public Relations Officer for Opus Dei in Austria (Martin Kugler) he caught him in a lie: Kugler said: From a statistically point of view, a majority of Opus Dei members fall into the group of housewives. We do not target our advertising towards rich and intellectual persons. But than he had to admit that in Austria (as in most other countries) more than 50% of the members have academic education. In contradiction to the lies that they spread on their web pages, internal Opus Dei papers confirm that their main target are the important people of society. Of course they only see that as an intermediate step: The final goal is of course the total control over all people, but the strategy to reach that targets people with much influence first.
How can an organization that is built of mostly good people be a bad thing at all?
First: Even a single person with the best intentions can do wrong things if she/he is not informed well or do not use their mind to think about the consequences that their actions might have. But within the Opus people are not supposed to use their minds and the information they get is filtered and influenced by the Opus. (They are not allowed to read any book. They have indoctrination courses there, etc ... ) So the good people within the Opus might still think that they are doing positive things and that they are becoming saints, while they are already losing their understanding of what it is to live in the real world.
Second: An organization is more than the sum of its parts. The difference is the additional structure of the organization. And the structure of Opus Dei is a hierarchical, dictatorship-like structure. Within a dictatorship-like structure a single unscrupulous person on top can corrupt the whole organization. And the founder's presence is still present through the rules he gave this organization. As we have seen he was a person of questionable character. He might have believed himself, that he was doing good work for God. But that does not make the whole thing any better.
What is their ideal picture of a person?
If you look into Escriva's book The Way you will find the kind of person that they want to make out of people:
- He wants you to be become a fanatist who does not make concessions. A Warrior who blindly fights, instead of peacefully discussing with others. (#54, #393, #396)
- Blind obedience. (e.g.: #62, #614), never think by yourself (#777, #856).
- Feeling guilty for sexuality (#130). People who feel guilt are easy to control.
- Heartless. You should lock your heart behind 7 gates (#150, #161, #188) and your heart should only belong to God, but of course he means that you should give it to the Opus. (fulfilment of duty #162). Best of all, in a sense, you should remove your heart totally (#166). Fortunately he not only demands heartlessness but also gives you a way to reach it: killing your emotions and your senses (#181, #188)
- Without scruples! (#258, ff) (Do not ask me what this should have to do with becoming a saint - I have no idea. Being without scruples is like not listening to your conscience. Maybe this is just a mistake in the translation from the Spanish to the German version of the book - but it is the heading of a whole chapter. Maybe someone can enlighten me about that a bit.)
- Selfishly searching for your redemption and your own happiness. (#297)
- Beautiful, intelligent and looking down on others like they are only animals (#367).
- You should be a perfect instrument. A tool to be used by them. (e.g. #484)
- Secretly working behind peoples backs. (see the chapter about Discretion e.g.: #643)
They tell me I can leave the Opus Dei at any time?
Yes, you can leave them but they will indoctrinate you not to leave and they tell people that they can not become happy again after they leave. And I think this is true: After all the indoctrination one has received people are not functioning too well after they have left. Often they need many years to recover. So do not risk to join them, and if you already are a member then you would be better to leave them today than tomorrow. No one needs to feel guilty for leaving a Fascist sect and there are 1000 and 1 possibilities where you can really serve God outside the Sect. You do not need to throw away the child with the bath: You can keep your spirituality and your believe in God, but do it in on your own responsibility again and not as their puppet. We are not always supposed to go the easy way, you know... :)
What should be changed within the Opus Dei?
As I have said: I hope these pages can also serve as an inspiration for the organization to change. This document lists a lot of their problems and I think it should be fairly obvious what should be changed. We can hope that they withstand the temptation to make some cosmetic improvements on the surface while not dealing with the root of the problem: i.e. the teachings of Escriva. Here are some thoughts on how a reformed Opus Dei could appear:
- No more secrecy - instead people would be encouraged to be open and honest wherever they go.
- No more minors recruitment
- Encouragement of individual and critical thinking on all (worldly and religious) matters. Encouragement of individual responsibility. *No censorship of books, etc .. anymore.
- Democratic structure.
- More focus on charity and love for the neighbour instead of political indoctrination.
I guess when they start with these all other problems will go away too. The basis of all is of course a critical position concerning some of the teachings of Escriva.