What is Opus Dei?

BBC/December 21, 2001
By Jan Repa

One of the figures amongst Pope John Paul II's latest list of candidates approved for canonisation is the Spanish founder of the controversial Catholic movement known as Opus Dei, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

Opus Dei - which means God's Work in Latin - was established in 1928 and has around 80,000 members in Europe, North and South America and elsewhere.

Members are enjoined to promote the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church through their professional work. Membership is by invitation only.

Father Escriva de Balaguer preferred the word discreet.

It is a strong advocate of traditional Catholic values, including opposition to abortion and artificial contraception.

It also lays particular stress on the unique character and status of Roman Catholicism - as compared with other churches and faiths.

Its relationship with the present Pope is a matter of some speculation.

'Fundamentalist power'

The Vatican's press spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member.

On the other hand, one of the Pope's favourite theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar, once described Opus Dei as a "concentration of fundamentalist power in the Church."

Controversy also surrounds Opus Dei's founder, Father Escriva de Balaguer. Biographers have alleged various character flaws - including deviousness and social snobbery.

Personal failings have never been a bar to Christian sainthood. More problematical were his connections with the Franco dictatorship.

Like most Spanish churchmen, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer sided with the Nationalist uprising against the Spanish Republic in the 1930s. Thousands of priests were murdered by Republican militias and Escriva de Balaguer himself had to flee for his life.

He has also been quoted as saying that Hitler would save Christianity from Communism.

But Opus Dei's relationship with Franco was always ambiguous.

Although a number of the regime's senior officials were members, a faction of Opus Dei was also instrumental in engineering a break with Francoism and helping to prepare the ground for Spain's post-Franco democracy.

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