Widely recognized as the most controversial force within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei was founded by Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer on October 2, 1928. On that day, while on retreat, he supposedly saw the words "Opus Dei" in his notes and "received the vision about the whole of the Work." The Latin phrase "Opus Dei" translates to "Work of God," and this was interpreted by Escrivá to mean that the organization should be a means for ordinary Christians to see their lives as "a way of holiness and evangelization." However, despite the seemingly uncontroversial nature of the personal prelature, as Opus Dei progressed and developed, so did opposition to it.
The Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN), for example, was founded in 1991 primarily to expose Opus Dei's questionable practices and to provide support for those "victimized" by the organization. Some of Opus Dei's alleged practices that ODAN opposes are the organization's recruitment of minors and its deception of Church officials. The institution plays a significant role in Dan Brown's widely circulated mystery-detective novel The Da Vinci Code and its 2006 film adaptation. In these highly popular literary works, Opus Dei is portrayed as a highly secretive and powerful organization responsible for aggressively -- sometimes criminally -- hiding several "truths" about Catholicism. Expectedly, Opus Dei dismisses the organization's portrayal in The Da Vinci Code as being wildly inaccurate. Moreover, Opus Dei supporters have often claimed that the controversies hounding the organization are signs of contradiction -- indications that Opus Dei is truly divinely inspired because genuine Christian organizations are, just as Jesus was, always criticized.
Determining whether or not the criticisms against Opus Dei are justified is a tough call, but the controversies that the religious group has faced throughout its existence are undoubtedly intriguing. The following are ten of the most shocking examples.
10 Questionable Legal Disputes
9 Rivalry With the Jesuits
8 A Tendency Towards Elitism
7 Support of Authoritarian or Rightist Governments
6 Overly Aggressive Recruitment of Members
5 Excessively Controlling to Its Members
4 Overly Secretive
Opus Dei has often been accused of intense secrecy when it comes to many aspects of its operations. The organization's 1950 constitution, for example, expressly forbids members from revealing their membership unless permission to do so has been granted by superiors. In fact, this constitution states,
These Constitutions, published instructions, and those which in the future may be published, and the other things pertaining to the government of the Institute are never to be made public. Indeed, without the permission of the Father [Escrivá] those documents which are written in the Latin language may not be translated into languages.
3 Questionable Attitude Towards Women
Catholicism is often criticized for disallowing women from becoming priests and prohibiting abortion and artificial birth control. However, Opus Dei is especially denounced for additionally segregating unmarried men and women in its centers, classes, and retreats -- a practice the organization justifies as a "measure of prudence." Furthermore, several of Escrivá's teachings on women have done little to appease critics. They include the following:
Women needn't be scholars: it's enough for them to be prudent.
Wives, you should ask yourselves whether you are not forgetting a little about your appearance. Remember all the sayings about women who should take care to look pretty. Your duty is, and will always be, to take as good care of your appearance as you did before you were married — and it is a duty of justice, because you belong to your husband.
2 Too Independent, Too Influential
1 Encourages Practice of Corporal Mortification
One of the most memorable images from the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code is of Opus Dei monk Silas brutally tightening a spiked cilice around his thigh. (Opus Dei doesn't really have monks, by the way.) Almost everyone agrees that the portrayal is a highly sensationalized one, but some Opus Dei members do actually practice corporal mortification -- the offering of voluntarily imposed pain or discomfort to God. This may come in the form of fasting, sleeping on the floor or without a pillow, remaining silent for lengthy periods of time, or even more extreme acts like self-flagellation. In fact, Opus Dei does not oppose the use of a cilice, but only to the point that "there is no blood, no injury, nothing to harm a person's health, nothing traumatic." However, the organization is also quick to clarify that corporal mortification must be performed under the supervision of a priest.
Sources: washingtonmonthly.com, theguardian.com, telegraph.co.uk , time.com
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