French woman sues Opus Dei, claims brainwashing
Updated September 27, 2011
A French woman is suing Opus Dei, founded by St Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, a statue of whom is shown at the Vatican
Read our related article
Why John Paul II is Opus Dei's Patron Saint: analysis of conference at Holy Cross Pontifical University in Rome
2 Opus Dei Followers On Trial In France
by The Associated Press
PARIS September 22, 2011, 03:37 pm ET
PARIS (AP) — Two Opus Dei followers and an association closely linked to the conservative Roman Catholic group went on trial Thursday, accused of forcing a disciple to work for more than a decade with little or no pay.
Defense lawyers portrayed it as a case about labor law, while an Opus Dei spokeswoman says the plaintiff in a Paris court chose of her own free will to follow the group.
But the trial is expected to shine a spotlight on the secretive group's practices. Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code" painted Opus Dei as a murderous, power-hungry sect, a portrayal the group vigorously protested.
Opus Dei's founder, Spanish priest Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, was made a saint by Pope John Paul II.
The trial came after a legal complaint by Catherine Tissier, who was 14 when she joined the Donson hotel school in eastern France, where the religious sacraments were led by Opus Dei.
Under the guidance of a "spiritual director," she gradually chose to follow Opus Dei's spiritual path and began working as a "numerary assistant."
"I was working from seven o'clock in the morning to ten o'clock in the evening every day, seven days a week. The three weeks of holidays we had were spent with Opus Dei, where they thought us theology and pursued in-depth studies on the spirit of the (Opus Dei) founder," Tissier told The Associated Press.
She said she got paycheck each month, but was asked to sign blank checks by her employers and never saw the money.
She described being encouraged to keep her parents at bay, and being diagnosed with depression. A doctor, whom she said was an Opus Dei follower, put her on medication.
"I wasn't able to eat by myself, I couldn't even wash by myself, my head was hard to keep straight. Regardless of that, I still had the same workload in the Donson school," she said.
At age 29, she weighed just 39 kilograms (86 pounds). During a weekend visit to her parents' home, they took her to see their family doctor, who said she shouldn't go back.
"I started to live when I was 30. I started going out, I had never been to the movies," Tissier says.
She first filed a lawsuit in 2001 accusing Opus Dei of "mental manipulation." Those charges were later dismissed.
After a decade of investigation, two Opus Dei followers and the association that employed her are going on trial on charges of "clandestine work" and "remuneration contrary to dignity."
"This isn't a crusade against Opus Dei, that's not what's at stake," her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said. His client wants compensation and for Opus Dei to "review the status of the numerary assistant," a job he called "dysfunctional."
Thierry Laugier, a lawyer for ACUTE, the association that employed Tissier at the hotel, said the case revolves solely around an alleged breach of labor law.
Beatrice de la Coste, spokeswoman for Opus Dei in France, said, "Catherine Tessier was an employee at the hotel school, she was of course in contact with Opus Dei and she chose that spiritual path."
As of 2005, Opus Dei had 4,000 numerary assistants, all women, whose full-time, paid jobs are to care for the Opus centers, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking for the numeraries and priests who live there, according to the book "Opus Dei: Secrets and Power Inside the Catholic Church," by John Allen.
Allen cites critics of the numerary assistants, who say they are recruited from poorer classes to do long hours of manual labor and are told it's a vocation from God to give up marrying or having children in order to serve Opus Dei.
Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.
French woman sues Opus Dei, claims brainwashing
By Dorothee Moisan (AFP) – Jun 28, 2011
PARIS — A French woman claiming to have been brainwashed by the secretive Catholic society Opus Dei is suing it for allegedly keeping her illegally as a domestic servant, she told AFP Tuesday.
Catherine T., who asked not to be identified by her family name, said she joined a hoteliers' school in northeastern France in 1985, aged 14, which she later discovered was run by associates of Opus Dei.
She said she was forced to take vows and made to work as a domestic servant for virtually no pay.
Opus Dei responded in a statement that it was "not involved in the charges being brought" and had "nothing to be guilty about."
It will be the first ever trial targeting the organisation, branded a sect by some, which came to wide attention after featuring in the blockbuster novel and film "The Da Vinci Code".
"They assigned me a 'tutor' who was actually a kind of conscience instructor," Catherine told AFP. "I entered into the system.... You were forbidden to talk about it to your parents."
She said the group compelled her to take vows of obedience, poverty and chastity and for the following 13 years gave her jobs with organisations that her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said were linked to Opus Dei.
She said she was made to work 14-hour days, seven days a week, cleaning and serving. Staff paid her a salary and then reclaimed money from her by making her sign blank cheques, supposedly to pay her room and board, she alleged.
She added that staff accompanied her wherever she went, including on visits to the doctor. On these occasions she was taken to see an Opus Dei doctor who prescribed tranquilisers that left her "senseless".
Catherine weighed only 39 kilogrammes (86 pounds) in 2001 when her parents rescued her from the group. Lawyers first took legal action that year alleging "mental manipulation" among other charges. A nine-year investigation followed.
Two Opus Dei leaders are now summoned to appear in a Paris criminal court on September 22 and 23 on labour law charges of undignified punishment and not declaring her as an employee, lawyers said.
The lawsuit also targets the University and Technical Culture Association (ACUT) which ran the school. It said it had nothing more than a "cultural link" with Opus Dei.
"There is nothing to this case," said the ACUT's lawyer, Thierry Laugier, insisting that Catherine T. "was paid according to the work she did."
For more information about the lawsuit:
Agence France-Presse (AFP) "French woman sues Opus Dei, claims brainwashing" By Dorothee Moisan – Jun 28, 2011
CatholicCulture.org "French woman files involuntary-labor charges against Opus Dei" - June 29, 2011
Family claims Opus Dei holding daughter
A family from Kenya has turned to the courts in an effort to stop Opus Dei from sending their 25-year old daughter away to another country. The daughter, Sophie Naliaka, was recruited into Opus Dei as a numerary while attending Kenya High School, according to a report in the Nairobi Star. Her parents, Dr. Charles Ngome and his wife Hellen Kibanani have instituted a suit at the High Court in Nairobi. Naliaka has been ordered to be produced in court on July 15, 2011.
The parents have reported that their daughter has suffered from delusional disorder as a result of her association with Opus Dei. Naliaka was hospitalized on May 9 for treatment of mental illness and discharged on May 24. Opus Dei members were involved as Naliaka left her parent’s home in Bungoma on June 18.
This story is yet another indicator of Opus Dei questionable practices, including highly manipulative recruitment techniques, including the recruitment of minors without the knowledge or consent of parents, mental illness abuses, secrecy, manipulation and deception, occurring in different cultures, countries and even continents wherever Opus Dei operates.
To read the entire article:
Opus Dei Tries to Influence Public Opinion with Film
There Be Dragons, a movie produced by Roland Joffe, Guy J. Louthan and Opus Dei members Ignacio G. Sancha and Ignacio Núñez, opened in U.S. theaters on May 6. The story portrays Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva during the early years of Opus Dei's founding, which took place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
Despite downplaying its role in the production of the film, Opus Dei has again employed its usual tactic of manipulating circumstances in the background while presenting a picture that seems entirely spontaneous and without guile. Keen observers of Opus Dei recognize that the film project has indeed been Opus Dei driven and financed, despite allegations to the contrary.
In a New York times article published last June, the author writes of the movie:
"The financing of about $30 million came from about 100 investors, and raising it was a struggle, said Ignacio G. Sancha, the lead producer, a Spanish financier and lawyer who is also a member of Opus Dei." (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/movies/22opus.html?_r=1)
The early Times article stated that "the project was initiated by a member of Opus Dei, is partly produced and financed by the group’s members and has enlisted an Opus Dei priest to consult on the set."
Contrast this information with a recent quote from an Opus Dei website saying that "at the request of the film’s producers, the communications office of the Prelature of Opus Dei provided historical information and other audiovisual materials regarding Saint Josemaria, as it does in response to similar requests for news stories, books and documentaries," as if Opus Dei had nothing at all to do with the planning and production of the film.
In addition, the Opus Dei site states "while news of a film dealing with Saint Josemaria by a director of Mr. Joffe’s caliber generates considerable interest and expectations, this movie is not a project of the Prelature of Opus Dei, and the few members of Opus Dei involved in it are acting in an entirely personal capacity." (http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/roland-joffe-film-there-be-dragons ) Those who have experienced Opus Dei's manipulation and deception firsthand know better.
For further information on "There Be Dragons":
Wikipedia - gives some good information but needs to be read with caution as sources are not always identified or confirmed:
Hollywood Reporter Film Review
Variety Film Review
Opus Dei's spin on the movie:
For Testimonies about Opus Dei click on the following: Testimonies and Other Writings
New Book about Opus Dei Available on Kindle
THE FALSE WORK OF GOD
A GUIDE TO FAMILIES
ALL OVER THE WORLD
by the author, Betty Silberstein
This book was born from the effort of a common person to be acquainted with an organism which has in the secrecy one of its most outstanding characteristics: the Opus Dei, or The Work. This work presents itself as a valuable instrument for the understanding of this phenomenon embedded in the Catholic Church.
Knowledge is certainly the most efficient instrument in the combat of indoctrination. And, as the title announces, the goal of this book is to alert families about the insidious way Opus Dei filters through them, in order to take their children away afterwards.
The reading of this book is extremely useful not only for Catholic families, because this organization can attack anyone, Catholic or not. Once it gets close to people who they want to co-opt, the members do not even explain their true objectives or their actual practices. Therefore, the publication of Opus Dei addresses, companies, schools and entities linked to it, is something of very high value, since parents have now the possibility to know that the place their children are attending is not only a “kids’ club”, or a simple catechism class, or free tutoring classes, but, mostly, a recruitment center for young persons from an extremely reactionary Catholic entity.
Betty is a former teacher. Nowadays she is a writer, translator and reviser. She took part in several Anthologies, in Brazil and abroad (France and the US). She has received many awards for her work, among them the Médaille d´Argent, from the Académie de Arts Sciences et Lettres de Paris.
She is a Member and Counselor for REBRA (Brazilian Women Writers Net), where her homepage may be accessed.
Her e-mail is: email@example.com
Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN™)
PO Box 4333, Pittsfield, MA 01202-4333,
Tel: (413) 499-7168; Fax: (413) 499-7860
Web: www.odan.org, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
December 2010 Funding Letter
Dear Friends of ODAN,
On April 9, 2010, the Catholic News Service announced the appointment of Opus Dei member Archbishop Jose H. Gomez to be the coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles, one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the world. In this CNS story it stated, “Archbishop Gomez is one of 24 Opus Dei Bishops around the world, although like any priest, once a member becomes a bishop, he answers directly to the pope and no longer to his bishop or religious superior.” The important question being asked is how much influence will Opus Dei have with Gomez in this powerful position? “Will he be accountable to Los Angeles first and to Opus Dei second?” Archbishop Gomez says he is no longer a member of Opus Dei but are his loyalties going to cease to an organization that he has been associated with since his college days? “Anyone who has read the governing documents or is familiar with Opus Dei, knows that his loyalties are going to be with Opus Dei. He will be required to have a spiritual director, who is going to be a member of Opus Dei, and he will have an obligation of obedience to his spiritual director, with all of the fine shades of meaning that would accompany his official statements about his loyalty.
ODAN was the first to post the Opus Dei Constitution and its Statutes to its website in English. Without these translations, who would know many of the inconsistencies that exist between what Opus Dei says is its Church-approved mode of operation and what it actually does in practice? When ODAN released those secret documents to the public, it forced Opus Dei to reveal more of itself than it had ever done before. For years, the Opus Dei Constitution/Statutes were only written in Church Latin, a hard translation to accomplish.
Recently a former member of Opus Dei told of how the Constitutions of Opus Dei (10 S1) say the priests will not accept stipends for saying Mass, but when the former member’s mother, some years ago, offered a priest of the Work a stipend to say a Mass for the Dead, he said the price had gone up. It leads to having secret documents that tell the Church their priesthood is doing something more noble than is required of priests, but then it is not lived in practice.
Another important and troubling discrepancy is Opus Dei’s “contract” or ‘agreement’ pertaining to its membership. What is the nature of membership in Opus Dei? Why is it not defined? It seems as if the cart came before the horse. Dennis Dubro, former numerary member of Opus Dei, writes:
The same old tricks
Opus Dei continues to put forward its same old message of being fully approved by the Church without any secrecy. In the leaked 1982 Statutes on ODAN's website the closing paragraphs say that "All of the members are bound by the same obligations and conserve the same rights which they had in the preceding juridical government (secret 1950 Constitutions), unless the prescriptions of this Code expressly establish something else." That says quite explicitly that the 1950 Constitutions remain in effect except for the changes approved in the 1982 Statutes. Members continually try to deny this, saying the Statutes replace the Constitutions. This is not even logical since Constitutions establish the basic operating rules for an organization and then Statutes are the laws that are made, based upon those Constitutions. The Constitutions of Opus Dei explicitly foresee and make way for any future Statutes that may be approved in Paragraph 89.
In John Allen's book on Opus Dei (Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church), John asked Opus Dei why the governing documents were kept secret. The answer, quoting his book on Page 153, is "The deeper logic, according to Opus Dei insiders, is that some essential terminological questions have not yet been settled in canon law. For example, is the relation between a member and Opus Dei best described in terms of a 'contract' or an 'agreement'? ... and many canonists feel it's inappropriate for describing the nature of a bond in the Church". This raises a clear question how the Vatican can have approved an organization when such critical things as membership are not acceptably defined in the Law of the Church?
Anyone familiar with the operation of Opus Dei knows that Opus Dei says everyone is free to leave at any time. Yet Paragraphs 102 and 103 of the Constitutions say that anyone who leaves his assigned Center can be declared a fugitive and an apostate. Why would anyone incur such penalties if they were truly free to leave?
If you have donated to ODAN in the past and continue to do so, thank you for your years of support. If you have donated in the past, but not recently, please consider supporting ODAN again this year. If you have never donated to ODAN before, please consider a donation this year. ODAN runs solely on your generosity. Since the economic crisis, ODAN, like all non-profits, has experienced a downturn in our donations. This year your donation is critically important to continue our important work. There is no other source in the United States where a person can find factual, truthful commentary about Opus Dei’s questionable practices.
Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN) is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and all donations may be taken as a charitable deduction. Please keep ODAN in your prayers and consider a generous donation to keep the ODAN website online and functioning. Go to the ODAN website to keep informed!
Dianne R. DiNicola
 Catholic News Service, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/100142`.htm Apr-9-2010
 Dennis Dubro, former numerary Opus Dei member Dec-10-2010
To make a donation to ODAN, please click on the following link:
Opus Dei Bishop Appointed Head of Los Angeles Diocese
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez was announced coadjutor and future archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese on April 6, 2010. Ordained as an Opus Dei priest in 1978, Gomez is the first Latino archbishop in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles diocese is the largest diocese in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Gomez will succeed Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in February 2011 when Manony turns 75, the age when bishops must submit their resignation to the Pope.
Born in Monterrey, Mexico in 1951, Gomez joined Opus Dei when in college. He has degrees in business and philosophy from the National University of New Mexico (1975) and a doctorate in theology from the Opus Dei-run University of Navarre. Previous to his appointment in Los Angeles, Gomez was archbishop in San Antonio, Texas since 2005. Gomez became a US citizen in 1995.
News reports predict that it is likely Gomez will be appointed a cardinal in the years ahead. In an article written by John Allen Jr., Gomez is quoted as saying that "he is not a "member" of Opus Dei, but rather that he was ordained a priest in Opus Dei and that his spirituality reflects that background. If he's a "member" of anything now, he says, it's the diocese he leads."
For more information:
"Four Points to Make about Gomez and LA" by John Allen Jr., April 9, 2010
Catholic News Service, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/100142`.htm Apr-9-2010
Testimonies about Opus Dei:
"Opus Dei Recruits Minors and Deceives Church Officials"
"Opus Dei Superiors Lied to Church Officials"
"Government, Direction and Control in Opus Dei"
"Fathers, don't let your sons grow up to be Opus Dei recruits"
Included with these testimonies are the guidelines issued by the now deceased Cardinal Basil Hume in 1981 in England (Cardinal Hume Guidelines) directing Opus Dei to comply with a number of criteria, including not allowing minors to make any commitments to Opus Dei; requiring that minors discuss the matter with their parents or guardians before making any commitments; allowing Opus Dei members to choose their own spiritual directors(in Opus Dei or not) and enter or leave the organization without undue pressure.
The testimonies show clearly that Opus Dei before, during and after that time period, has clearly violated all those guidelines while making false statements to church officials. While several of the authors have chosen to remain anonymous for various reasons, including fear of repercussions from Opus Dei, ODAN has verified that they are true accounts written by sincere
individuals who contacted ODAN with the desire that their stories be known. It is ODAN's hope that by posting this information for public perusal it will lead to a change in Opus Dei's deceptive and unethical practices.
The testimonies can be found under Testimonies and Other Writings.
Opus Dei's Forbidden Book List
Opus Dei's "Index of Forbidden Books" which they continue to deny using, has been updated
thanks to the Spanish sister group Opus Libros. The new list which is believed to be current as of 2003, can be accessed as an Excel spreadsheet at the following link:
Index of Forbidden Books New
The Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc. (ODAN) was founded in 1991 to meet the growing demand for accurate information about Opus Dei and to provide education, outreach and support to people who have been adversely affected by Opus Dei. ODAN challenges many of Opus Dei's Questionable Practices because of the way they affect an individual's personal freedom, choices and family life.
Since 1991, ODAN has been in contact with countless individuals, families, the secular and religious press, clergy, religious, cult awareness organizations, campus ministers, home-schooling parents and more.
ODAN is a worldwide community of people who have had painful experiences as a result of their association with Opus Dei.
ODAN is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible.
"I encountered perhaps one example of this difficulty in the course of my research. Early on, I asked Bill Schmitt for a copy of Opus Dei’s constitutions. I thought that by reading them I could better understand Opus Dei and lay to rest some misconceptions. He gave me a copy of the 1982 statutes. But they were in Latin, and a technical “church” Latin at that. Could I have a copy of the English translation? There was none, he said. Why not? First he said that Opus Dei had not had sufficient time to translate them. I replied that this seemed odd, given that the statutes had been around for 12 years and that The Way had already been translated into 38 languages."
"Nevertheless, it still seemed odd, so I asked Mr. Schmitt again. I received the same answer: “The document belongs to the Holy See and the Holy See does not want it translated. I’m sure there’s a reason.”
"I asked three experts in canon law what that reason might be. One canon lawyer said, “Property of the Holy See? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Another, John Martin, S.J., professor of canon law at Regis College in Toronto, noted that religious orders and lay associations as a matter of course publish their statutes in local languages, and as far as he knew, “there is no general ecclesiastic prohibition against the translation of documents of religious orders.” Or of personal prelatures, for that matter. Richard Hill, S.J., of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., agreed, saying “there is no canonical reason” why Opus Dei should not be allowed to translate their own statutes. So it appears to be Opus Dei, not the Holy See, that is keeping the statutes from being translated."
"Ann Schweninger is a 24-year-old former Opus Dei member now living in Columbus, Ohio, where she works with the Diocese of Columbus. She was not surprised when I told her of my difficulty in making sense of all this. “Opus Dei plays by its own rules,” she said. “If they don’t want to have something out in the open, they won’t make it accessible.” Referring to her own time in Opus Dei, she said: “The statutes were never shown to me nor were they available. They are mentioned but not discussed.” According to Ms. Schweninger, the only official document available is the catechism of Opus Dei, which even members can read only with the permission of the house director. “It’s kept under lock and key.” She also mentioned that during classes on the catechism, she was encouraged to take notes “in code” in case non-members should read them."
"Critics contend that numerary life is anything but lay, particularly in what they see as its replication of religious life, with emphasis on “commitments” (Opus Dei does not use the term “vows”), life in common, a daily order and, at least for some of the men, eventual ordination. Many of those in authority are clerics—the director of their national headquarters in New Rochelle, N.Y., is a monsignor; their prelate was recently ordained a bishop. “If this is
a lay organization, I’d hate to see a clerical one,” said one of the priests from Princeton."
"That’s totally wrong,” said Ann Schweninger when she heard that last statement. “I had no choice. When in Opus Dei you’re asked, you’re being told.” According to Ms. Schweninger, it is “bad spirit” to refuse. Women are told that it is important to have a love for things of the home and domestic duties. “And since that’s part of the spirit of Opus Dei, to refuse to do that when you’re asked is bad spirit. So nobody refuses.”
For numeraries living in the centers, mail—incoming and outgoing—is read by the director. But for most numeraries this is not a problem. “If you’re in an organization and part of the group, where you go to the priest in confession and tell him everything that’s on your mind, what could you possibly receive in a letter that would matter?” said one. But he also admitted that he wasn’t sure if his friends knew their mail was being read. “But they never say anything that couldn’t be read by other people.”
One man who attended Columbia University in the early 1980’s, who asked not to be named, described the process of being recruited by Opus Dei. “They had someone become my friend,” he said bluntly. After Mass one day he was approached by another student, with whom he soon became good friends. Eventually he was invited to the Riverside Study Center near Columbia’s campus. He was not certain exactly what it was. “I thought it was a group of students that were a think tank or something.” After dinner a priest gave a short talk. He was later invited to join a “circle,” which he described as a sort of an informal prayer group. Soon afterwards Opus Dei suggested that he take one of the priests at the center as his spiritual director.
After becoming more involved—at this point meeting with the group frequently—he decided to investigate on his own. He spoke with a few priests and professors at Columbia and was surprised at how little he really knew: “I didn’t know anything about the secrecy, the numeraries, supernumeraries, any of that. And I didn’t know there were people taking vows of celibacy. I felt kind of upset that I didn’t know much about them. I didn’t think they were honest or straightforward about who they were. I felt very indignant.”
At the next circle meeting he raised some questions about issues that troubled him—for example, women and minority presence in Opus Dei. “They really didn’t have any answers and asked me not to return.” And more disturbing for him: “I never heard from my friend again. I was totally cut off.”
Testimonies and Other Writings
The following is the work of the individual author and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc.
My Nightmarish Experience in Opus Dei
(This story was translated into Spanish by an ODAN supporter and posted onto the www.opuslibros.com website. To read the story in Spanish, click on "Mi Pesadilla en el Opus Dei.")
by Sharon Clasen, Former Numerary
Send us your storiesAfter I left Opus Dei, I had nightmares almost every night for ten years. Opus Dei, a lay organization approved by the Catholic Church, claims to do the work of God, but their methods compare to those described in Steve Hassan's Combatting Cult Mind Control. Hassan breaks mind control down into four components: behavior, information, thought and emotional control. After I describe how I gradually got lured into Opus Dei, I will show from my personal experiences how they used these techniques to control my life.
My involvement with Opus Dei began innocently with the recommendation of a friend that I look into Bayridge Residence as a housing solution. I was a naive and idealistic freshman at Boston College when I applied to live at Bayridge. All I knew about Opus Dei was that they ran the spiritual activities at the residence. After I moved in, I started to have doubts about being able to afford living there. The director of Bayridge admissions, who was a numerary (celibate member), and whom I will call Maria, assured me that God would provide the necessary means for me to live at Bayridge. Upon her recommendation, and for the first time in my life, I prayed over this decision, and when I did find a part-time job, I was led to believe that my moving into Bayridge was providential. Soon after moving in, Maria offered to give me Catechism classes toward the goal of my converting to Catholicism, and we started meeting on a weekly basis for this reason. She talked to me about God, the existence of guardian angels, and informed me that French kissing was a mortal sin. She paid a lot of attention to me; for example, from time to time, she would even leave little chocolates for me on my pillow. Another resident, whom I'll call Anna, who had graduated from The Willows Academy, a college-prep school, whose overall religious education is entrusted to Opus Dei, befriended me and also took me under her wing. Anna would invite me to go to mass with her during the week, and taught me the necessary prayers and gestures to follow along. She also invited me to attend my first meditation, and my first retreat, where I learned all about hell. With much encouragement from Maria, Anna and many other residents, I prepared to receive my First Communion. On this day, I was showered with gifts, cards and congratulations saying how I had been specially chosen by God to receive his graces.
This special treatment culminated with an invitation to travel to Rome during Holy Week as part of an Opus Dei-sponsored group UNIV. I did not realize that this trip was designed specifically for recruiting members to Opus Dei. Both Maria and Anna accompanied me to Rome. I was one of a select few in our group who received a special ticket to attend an Easter Vigil celebrated by the Pope. Maria tried talking to me about joining Opus Dei while visiting the crypt of the founder of Opus Dei, but I delayed my decision because of the pressure I felt during this week. However, she did not give up on me that easily. In May, Maria and the director of Bayridge, also a numerary, invited me and some of my other Bayridge friends to a weekend getaway at a cottage in New Hampshire in order to live "the spirit of Opus Dei." We did not have to worry about any of the preparations. The administration even packed all of our nice groceries. I remember wearing a white suit on Sunday, the same one I had worn to the Easter vigil in Rome. During a private chat with the director, she complimented me on how pretty I looked in the suit. She told me that when she joined Opus Dei as a numerary, she cried and cried because she had wanted to have a baby, but now God had rewarded her because she felt as if I were a daughter to her. Soon after, I joined as a supernumerary, a member who can get married and have a family. They told me not to become a numerary right away, not until I had more spiritual formation.
As a supernumerary, I started to feel the control Opus Dei was having in my life. When I started to date as a sophomore, the director asked me what my boyfriend and I talked about, and told me not to discuss religion or Opus Dei with him. She advised me to have him contact someone in the men's branch. Since I was still in the honeymoon stage of my new vocation, I did not understand why I should have to suppress talking about my life in Opus Dei, but I blindly obeyed. While I was spending my junior year abroad at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain, which is openly run by Opus Dei, my spiritual director recommended that I try to befriend English-speaking students who were not familiar with Opus Dei, and invite them to the English mass on Sundays at one of the university chapels. I felt torn about this because I was trying to learn Spanish and wanted to make friends with the Spaniards in my classes.
After returning home from Spain for my senior year, Maria was influencing me to become a numerary. In her talks, she discussed the higher calling of a numerary. Her message was clear -- supernumeraries were necessary, but unless you were a numerary, you were not giving everything you could to God. In my fraternal chats with her, she told me repeatedly that I should make myself available to the will of God. Wanting to do His will, I finally gave in to the pressure and became a numerary in May 1985. The directors told me not to tell my family that I had joined since "they would not understand." In the fall, I moved back into Bayridge. Several days after joining, the director took me aside and handed me a small blue-flowered hand-sewn bag filled with a cilice, a spiked chain worn around the thigh for two hours a day. The bag also contained a small whip called the disciplines used to whip the back or buttocks. Up until this point, mention of these instruments of self-inflicted torture had been downplayed, and now reality was starting to set in.
But it was not until I moved into Brimfield, the Opus Dei Center of Studies for numerary women in Newton, Massachusetts, that I started to feel that my freedoms were being openly restricted. According to Hassan, the first component of mind control is behavior control, which "is the regulation of an individual's physical reality. It includes the control of his environment - where he lives, what clothing he wears, what food he eats, how much sleep he gets - as well as of the jobs, rituals and other actions he performs." The atmosphere at Brimfield, where I began the two-year course comparable to a seminary (we had classes in theology, philosophy, Latin and Spanish, and Opus Dei) was strikingly different from that of Bayridge. Now, I had to ask permission to meet with my sister, with whom I was very close and was often met with discouragement, and my whole schedule was regulated. The director told me I would have to wean myself from my family because Opus Dei was my family now.
Opus Dei does not reveal all of the lifestyle changes numeraries make before they join. On the day I moved in, I found out that we were supposed to get rid of old family photographs and that we slept on a slab of plywood placed on top of our mattress. We were also supposed to sleep without a pillow one night/week as well. Every night at 6:00 pm, we sat down to dinner, and were expected to eat what was on our plate. On several occasions I asked my spiritual director if I could skip dessert as some of my clothes were tightening to the point where the director bluntly told me that I needed to start wearing a girdle. She told me to choose some other corporal mortification instead so I felt forced to eat the dessert. After gaining weight - I'm not sure how much since there was no scale in the house - the director sent me out shopping with the assistant director. She picked out skirts for me which were two sizes larger than my old ones. When I was a member, female numeraries were not allowed to wear pants, except while exercising. Soon after moving in, I was told that Opus Dei would like for me to leave my job at Boston University and work full-time for Bayridge Residence as their public relations coordinator. The directors always talked about the founder's need to have more members in the field of communications.
The second component of mind control is control of information. Hassan says, "information is the fuel we use to keep our minds working properly. Deny a person the information he requires to make sound judgments, and he will be incapable of doing so." At Brimfield, we had to check all books, articles, newspapers, and magazines with the director, who kept the Index of Forbidden Books under lock and key in her office. In his book of spiritual advice, The Way, the founder says in point 339, "Books. Don't buy them without advice from a Catholic who has real knowledge and discernment. It's so easy to buy something useless or harmful. How often a man thinks he is carrying a book under his arm, and it turns out to be a load of trash." One of my housemates, who was in the Honors Program at Boston College, could not read most of the books on her lists. She said she prayed to the Holy Spirit for infused knowledge. She started developing nervous habits like pulling out her hair and eyelashes. We could not even watch television without a chaperone. For example, I became frustrated because I wanted to watch the local news to help with my job, but I was only allowed to watch the World News with Peter Jennings with the director sitting beside me. Some nights I would sneak upstairs to watch the 11:00 pm local news, but one night I got caught. Soon after, I was assigned to labor-intensive chapel duties, which included cutting and arranging flowers on the altar every night, and washing and ironing all of the priests' linen vestments and altar cloths, which took me most of Saturday to complete. While I was ironing in the basement, I felt like Cinderella, longing for my freedom.
The third component of mind control is thought control, which "includes indoctrinating members so thoroughly that they internalize the group doctrine, incorporate a new language system, and use thought-stopping techniques to keep their mind 'centered.'" In classes on Opus Dei, we were frequently reminded, "You are Opus Dei." Opus Dei refers to the indoctrination of their members as "formation." The means of formation in Opus Dei, which we were taught to embrace and be deeply appreciative of as "the way" to salvation, are divided into the following categories: those which occur on a daily basis (60 minutes of meditation, mass, recitation of the rosary and preces, 15 minutes of spiritual reading, examination of conscience at the end of the day), weekly basis (confession, fraternal chat with a director, circle or talk about a certain virtue), monthly basis (day of recollection), yearly basis (retreat and annual course) and some are considered "always," - like cheerfulness, obedience, and presence of God. For example, while we were commuting or walking, we were encouraged to say the rosary or other prayers. In addition to all of the above means of formation, we had classes every night of the week, so that we had absolutely no free time in order to think. Learning Spanish and Latin are very important in Opus Dei because all of the original documents from the founder are in Spanish, and many of the prayers, like the mass and the special Opus Dei prayer called "the preces" are recited in Latin. Quotes from the founder in The Way illustrate to what extent Opus Dei tries to control the thoughts of its members.
* Point 13, "Get rid of those useless thoughts which are at best a waste of time."
* Point 945, "You are badly disposed if you listen to the word of God with a critical spirit."
* Point 261, "I forbid you to think any more about it. Instead, bless God, who has given life back to your soul."
* Point 856, "Spiritual childhood demands submission of the mind, which is harder than submission of the will. In order to subject our mind we need not only God's grace, but a continual exercise of our will as well, denying the intellect over and over again, just as it says 'no' to the flesh."
Emotional control, the fourth method of mind control used by cults, "attempts to manipulate and narrow the range of a person's feelings. Guilt and fear are necessary tools to keep people under control." Opus Dei discourages numeraries from spending too much time with their natural families because this takes away from the "needs of Opus Dei." During the year I spent at Brimfield, it became an effort for me to meet with my sister because I was so busy and because Newton was farther away from Boston. One night I came home after dinner because I had met my sister, and the director scolded me in front of everyone. I started to grow discontent. I started speaking about my unhappiness with the director. Playing upon my fear of hell, she told me that leaving Opus Dei was like getting a divorce and that I would be excommunicated from the Catholic Church, without which I could not be saved. Also aware of my doubts, another numerary, whom I will refer to as Theresa, told me that she had a dream about the end of the world and that I received a sentence of two years in purgatory.
But it was a personal family crisis that made me realize to what extremes Opus Dei would go to control the emotions of numeraries. One Saturday night, I got a phone call from my mother, who told me that my sister was in the hospital due to an unfortunate accident. I wanted to rush to her side. I ran to find the director and tell her of the crisis. Showing absolutely no emotion, she told me that I would have to wait for Maria to finish her dinner and then she would drive me there. We were not allowed to visit our families without a chaperone. I had to wait for her to finish her dinner and her social cup of coffee. I thought it was very strange that no one else shared my sense of urgency and emotion. I returned that night to Bayridge, and was required to attend an all-day retreat on Sunday. At 4:00 pm, I returned to the hospital, but once again slept at Bayridge. On Monday morning, my aunt called me while I was working. She was quite upset. In a stern voice, she told me that my mother needed me now, and that I had better come home. At that very moment on the telephone with my aunt, I "snapped" out of their mind control. I went upstairs to pack my suitcase and I knew that I would never return.
Even after I did walk out the door, that was not the end of my experience with Opus Dei and their attempts to control my life. After a couple of days, the director called me and asked when I would be returning. I said that I was not. She tried to convince me to return to the center, by saying "Opus Dei is your real family." For four months after I left, I was harassed by members of Opus Dei. Maria actually came to my place of work. When I told her I was busy and on my way to a business meeting, she followed me on the subway, all the while talking at me about how if I did not come back, I would go to hell. And Theresa kept calling to set up times when we could meet to make sure I was still living "the spirit of Opus Dei." Finally, they gave up on me.
Before reading Hassan's book, I focused on rebuilding a life for myself and had buried my cult-like experience in my subconscious. It was trying to come out in my dreams, but I was not ready to deal with it yet. Now that I understand how Opus Dei uses the same four methods of mind control used by cults, I no longer have nightmares about trying to escape.
Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steve Hassan, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1998
The Way by Josemaria Escriva, Scepter Publications
Sharon Clasen has also written How Opus Dei is Cult-like for the ODAN website.
Revised May 28, 2003