Background: Opus Dei

The Age, Australia/April 1, 2001
By Erica Cervini

Opus Dei, which is Latin for "Work of God", was founded in 1928 in Spain by Catholic priest Josemaria Escriva. Originally, Escriva targeted only men to join the largely lay Catholic organisation. After 1930, he established separate branches of Opus Dei for men and women.

Today most Opus Dei residential communities, which include priests and lay people, have separate buildings for men and women. The Drummond Study Centre will be for men.

The establishment of residential and study centres for Opus Dei members has helped the organisation flourish. However, the group received a huge boost when the current Pope, John Paul II, made Opus Dei a "personal prelature."

This enables the prelate (or leader of Opus Dei), and not local bishops, to have complete authority over all Opus Dei activities around the world. Opus Dei is the only lay organisation within the Catholic Church with this special distinction.

Escriva died in 1975. As a further sign of support for the movement, Pope John Paul II beatified Escriva in 1992. This is one step towards becoming a saint.

The Pope has always admired the conservative principles underpinning Opus Dei, and many of the group's members work for the Vatican. However, one of the Pope's favorite theologians, Han Urs Von Balthasar, once described Opus Dei in an article as "a concentration of fundamentalist power in the church". Many Catholics have criticised Opus Dei's support for General Franco and have concerns about the group's recruitment practices. People do not apply for membership, but are recruited. A high proportion of this takes place in universities.

Followers meet weekly and are expected to regularly go to an Opus Dei priest for confession. One of the most controversial practices of some members is their regular self-mortification, which involves fasting, self-flagellation, and their frequent wearing of a type of cilice (a spiked leg band).

Opus Dei is immensely wealthy and recently bought a multi-million-dollar building in Manhattan.

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