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Opus Dei

Opus Dei ("The Work of God", "The Work", "God's Work") is a Roman Catholic organization founded in 1928 by St. Josemaria Escrivá[?], a Spanish priest. It has approximately 85,000 members in 60 countries, and is based in Rome. Pope John Paul II made Opus Dei a personal prelature in 1982, and canonized its founder in 2002.

The organization states that "the aim of Opus Dei is to contribute to [the] evangelizing mission of the Church," and that it "encourages Christians of all social classes to live consistently with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of their lives, especially through the sanctification of their work." The organization indicates that its activities consist in "offer[ing] spiritual formation and pastoral care to its members, as well as to many others." Its members also undertake social initiatives such as schools, medical clinics, and inner-city tutoring programs.

Opus Dei has been criticized, by both secular and some Roman Catholic groups, for promoting an overly conservative vision of the Roman Catholic faith and allegedly engaging in questionable practices. Some critics have gone even further, alleging that it is an elitist, secretive cult, and that it attempts to infiltrate other organs of the Catholic Church, supports South-American[?] dictatorships, and is influenced by fascist ideas. Opus Dei has also been accused of focusing on recruiting students from prestigious universities, who can then enter professions where they could influence public policy from an Opus Dei perspective. Others point to the humanitarian and spiritual relief missions that it has undertaken, such as the one located in the Mountains of Yauyos, Peru. Critics in Ireland, including some ex-Opus Dei members, accused the organisation of 'sexist exploitation' of women, whom they claimed were restricted in Opus Dei run hostels to doing manual work such as cooking and cleaning and denied any role in leadership. Others state that Opus Dei is divided into two branches, men and women. both have parallel hierarchical structures, which meet at the top, in the person of the prelate.

Some conservative critics focus on its support for the Second Vatican Council's teachings on ecumenism and the role of the laity in the Church. Others have alleged that Opus Dei was looked upon with suspicion by Pope John XXIII and Paul VI, though supporters claim that, in fact, those popes supported the organization. The late Cardinal Basil Hume[?], Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, was a vocal critic of Opus Dei and criticised what was termed unacceptable behaviour and its infiltration of organisations, both secular and religious, within his archdiocese. Cardinal Hume issued Guidelines for Opus Dei within the Diocese of Westminster in December, 1981. Some Irish bishops also privately are critical of Opus Dei and its behaviour within their dioceses, with a number of bishops indicating that they do not wish Opus Dei to operate in their diocese, though because it operates as a personal prelature to the pope, bishops cannot enforce such a wish. Critics and supporters alike agree that Pope John Paul II has been a strong supporter of Opus Dei. John Paul II's press spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is perhaps the most famous member of the organization.

In 1960s Spain, Francisco Franco appointed as ministers several members of Opus Dei. These ministers are viewed as bringing a Capitalist technocrat ideology, contrasting with previous Falangist[?], Carlist[?] or military ministers. At the same time, some other notorious members of Opus Dei were exiled because of their political ideas, like the founder of Diario Madrid who lived in Paris and had a leading role in the Spanish transition into democracy.

In current Spain, members of Opus Dei have been appointed as ministers by Partido Popular[?] leader Jose Maria Aznar. Members of Opus Dei (alongside other religious or political organisations) have for decades been required to declare their membership, if asked to serve in Irish governments. In modern Irish history Opus Dei members have generally been refused appointment to cabinet posts.

Opus Dei has also been criticised by former members for its alleged treatment of women within the organisation.

Opus Dei emphasizes that its members are completely free in their personal, professional and political lives, and that the organization plays no role in the professional decisions made by members, including those who work in politics, and therefore cannot be held responsible for them.

Table of contents

Membership and practices

The Vatican Yearbook indicates that Opus Dei includes about 1,800 priests. The remainder of the 85,000 members are laypersons. Approximately a quarter of Opus Dei's members are "numeraries," who have committed themselves to celibacy in order to be more available for the organization's activities. The majority of the lay members are "supernumeraries," who are involved in Opus Dei's activities but do not make a commitment of celibacy. Opus Dei additionally has many "cooperators," who assist its activities through prayer, donations, or other means.

Famous members work as journalists or in education. Opus Dei founded Universidad de Navarra[?] in Spain and lots of lower schools.

There are three types of members in the men's branch: Numeraries, associates and supernumeraries. The distinction is in their availabilty to direct and assist in the apostolic activities of the prelature.

Numeraries are the most available. They live celibacy and give all their free time and money to Opus Dei. As a general rule, they live in centers of Opus Dei. They receive an intense formation in the philosophy and theology of the Church. Most of them hold regular secular jobs, but for some their professional work is to direct the apostolic activities of Opus Dei or to hold an internal position in the governance of the prelature. For most of those who hold internal positions, this is a temporary situation. The numeraries are the primary givers of spiritual direction to the rest of the membership. They are at the disposal of the prelature and are ready to move wherever the prelature needs them.

In addition to the practice of celibacy, the numerary members follow practices of mortification of the flesh. This has led some to criticize the organization and led others to compare it to a religious order. Opus Dei's supporters have said that these are all traditional Catholic practices that can be suitable for the lay state as well as religious orders, and that the organization's secular mentality and emphasis on living the Christian faith in the secular world distinguish it from a religious order.

It is generally from the numeraries that the prelate calls men to the priesthood. When a man becomes a numerary, he does so with the willingness to consider becoming a priest if the prelate should ever ask him. However he always remains free to decline the invitation. A very important point is that he does not become a numerary with the intention of becoming a priest. Rather, he simply remains open to seriously considering the possibility if it is offered to him.

Associates are the next type of member, in order of availability. Associates are similar to numeraries, in that they live celibacy, but they typically do not live in centers of Opus Dei. Their personal circumstances do not permit them to be as available to Opus Dei as a numerary, perhaps because they have an elderly parent they have to take care of, or they run a family business that would interfere with their ability to move to another city. There are a whole host of reasons they would be less available than a numerary. Associates also are involved in giving spiritual direction to other members of the prelature and to non-members, too. The prelate can also ask associate members to become priests. Like numeraries, they remain free to say no.

Supernumeraries are the third type of member. These are the least available to Opus Dei. Supernumeraries may be married or unmarried. They live wherever they want. Most of the members are supernumeraries. They assist with the apostolic aims of the prelature as their personal circumstances permit.

Both the women's branch and the men's branch have numeraries, associates and supernumeraries, and they perform the same functions in each branch. While the women numeraries can't be ordained (as with the Roman Catholic priesthood), they receive the same philosophical and theological formation the male numeraries receive.

There is another type of member in the women's branch called "numerary assistant". Numerary assistants attend to the domestic needs of the centers of Opus Dei, both for the men and for the women. They run Opus Dei's conference centers. They do the cooking and cleaning.


Opus Dei carries out its mission by offering its members (and others who wish to receive it) personal spiritual direction. The organization sponsors activities of a spiritual nature, such as religious retreats and classes in Catholic doctrine. Opus Dei also runs many hospitals, clinics, schools, and other educational institutions.

Reading list

Saint Josemaria Escivara de Balaguer, Furrow Saint Josemaria Escivara de Balaguer, The Way Saint Josemaria Escivara de Balaguer, In Conversation with God.

María del Carmen Tapia, Beyond the Threshold (Continuum, 1998) (ISBN 0826410960)

External links

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