Opus Dei, the Da Vinci Code and ODAN
For those of us who have witnessed firsthand Opus Dei’s deceptive and manipulative practices, it has not been easy watching Opus Dei stage a large public relations campaign in order to dispel the image the book ‘The DaVinci Code” has projected about them. It is equally hard to watch Opus Dei not be honest about their questionable practices. An inaccurate explanation of what exists within Opus Dei is being projected through their public statements and media appearances. The timing of their response to the movie appears highly choreographed and feels more like a high powered Madison Avenue public relations firm is behind all the activity, rather than a “disorganized organization” as Opus Dei has recently portrayed itself.
Recently, high ranking Opus Dei men (no women!) convened in Rome in order to draft a campaign they call “Operation Lemonade,” a light-hearted name that masks the controlled environment that exists within the group. The name does not lend itself to the reality of what Opus Dei truly practices - deceptive recruitment and manipulative control of its membership. “Operation Lemonade” produced three goals: 1. Turn publicity into an opportunity to proselytize; 2. Ally itself with other Catholics (essentially, hide behind the Church); 3. Maintain a non-aggressive tone. In recent weeks, Opus Dei has tried to equate criticism of its organization with criticism of the Catholic Church. An example of how Opus Dei piggybacks itself with the Catholic Church is demonstrated in the statement “According to Brian Finnerty, U.S. Media Relations Director for the Catholic group Opus Dei, the novel [The Da Vinci Code] is a completely inaccurate portrayal of the Catholic Church.” Does that include Opus Dei? To the casual observer Opus Dei could be taken as the Catholic Church.
ODAN does not agree with The DaVinci Code’s depiction of Christianity and does not question the divinity of Christ. However, where the Da Vinci Code is accurate is in its depiction of the blind obedience of the fictional Opus Dei character, Silas the albino monk. His behavior demonstrates the absolute control and obedience that exists in Opus Dei today. Former members have contacted ODAN with stories of pressure exerted by Opus Dei and a culture that demands obedience in every situation. Former members testify that they have been forced by Opus Dei directors to hand over their salaries, abandon past friendships, ignore dubious financial irregularities, turn over their mail to be read (without the senders’ knowledge), aggressively recruit, prepare monthly statistical reports about potential members, and even not attend siblings’ weddings. If they did not go along with what Opus Dei requested of them, in some cases dishonest acts, they were told they risked eternal damnation and some were eventually asked to leave. Members who question Opus Dei practices are reprimanded and often led to the following quote from Opus Dei’s Founder, “If one of my children abandons the fight, or leaves the war, or turns his back, let him know that he betrays us all, Jesus Christ, the Church, his brothers and sisters in the Work…it would be treason to consent to the tiniest act of unfaithfulness…in these moments.” (Cronica, ii, 1972)
A recently posted website, Jesus DeCoded, explains among other things, the inaccuracies in The DaVinci Code regarding Christianity and the divinity of Christ. There is also a section “The Real Opus Dei” by Peter Bancroft, the communications Director for Opus Dei in the United States. He gives his organization’s official description of itself. People who have been deceived, manipulated and hurt by Opus Dei would not agree with his assessment. He uses the opportunity to elevate Opus Dei as a benign organization. Because many uninformed people in regard to Opus Dei will be looking at this website, this Opus Dei spokesperson errs by projecting an image of Opus Dei that is only partially true.
Another source for information about The Da Vinci Code is “The Real History Behind The Da Vinci Code” by medieval scholar and historian Sharan Newman. Written in encyclopedic form alphabetically, there is a section on Opus Dei and ODAN. She reveals historical truths and myths in her book
In the previews of the Da Vinci Code movie, the use of corporal mortification, specifically the discipline (whip) and the cilice (spiked chain) are depicted as violent, bloody acts. The sound magnifies their impact. This is a sensationalistic image and Opus Dei members mostly do not bring this practice to such heights, nor does the average Opus Dei member’s life resemble Silas’. This horrible depiction has given Opus Dei the opportunity to focus on the extremes of the movie and mask the real problems within Opus Dei.
A supernumerary member of Opus Dei recently appeared on a TV program and was asked to give her explanation of the use of corporal mortification within Opus Dei. When asked to comment about the use of the discipline, she said “a few people in Opus Dei just mildly slap it on their back while reciting prayers.” Opus Dei numeraries do not “slap” their backs with the discipline, they hit their buttocks, and describing it as a slap is an attempt to soften the intensity of using it. Continuing she says “only a few people in Opus Dei use corporal mortification”. Not one former numerary member has told ODAN in its 14 years of existence that they were not compelled to use the cilice and discipline. As a supernumerary member of Opus Dei, she does not have accurate information about what a numerary member’s life consists of. That Opus Dei nearly always puts forth supernumerary members for media interviews is in itself a deception. It is yet another example of Opus Dei secrecy and the ways it keeps the general public and even a portion of its members uninformed to what the other part is doing.
On March 22, 2006 Opus Dei launched a revamped web site in 22 languages. On April 16, 2006 it issued a statement through most of their websites requesting a disclaimer on the upcoming film. In an April 6, 2006 letter to Sony Corporation, Opus Dei wrote “Any such decision by Sony would be a gesture of respect toward the figure of Jesus, to the history of the Church and to the religious beliefs of viewers”. The timing has allowed Opus Dei to be the driving force on media coverage prior to the film’s release and mixes criticism of Opus Dei with the Catholic Church. For the general public not familiar with Opus Dei, it would seem that individuals who criticize Opus Dei would also be criticizing the Catholic Church, which is simply not true. In almost fifteen years in existence, ODAN has never seen any significant sign that Opus Dei is open to honest criticism or willing to change harmful practices. In fact, the Founder himself wrote the following, “…as Jesus received his doctrine from the Father, so my doctrine is not mine, but comes from God and so not a jot or tittle shall ever be changed.” The DaVinci Code did not cause Opus Dei’s bad reputation, they earned it themselves a long time ago.
To further demonstrate the depth and scope of criticism of Opus Dei, ODAN has received two separate letters from anonymous parents whose children attend several different Opus Dei schools. Both letters talk about manipulation and Opus Dei’s deceitful tactics: Letter 1 and Letter 2. They speak of not being able to question anything in Opus Dei without fear of repercussion. The aggressive recruitment that exists in Opus Dei is known far and wide by people who have been hurt by them, but especially at Opus Dei affiliated schools. Some schools do not even admit their ties with Opus Dei.
Joining in the criticism of Opus Dei are two other web sites, the Spanish OpusLibros site located in Spain and the Portuguese Opuslivre located in Brazil. The two websites were created separately from each other and ODAN and provide a critical view of Opus Dei. They provide a much needed connection about Opus Dei’s activity in other parts of the world. They are our sister websites and we welcome their existence. It clearly negates the statement on the part of Opus Dei that there are only a few critics.
Another example of Opus Dei’s dual reality is the case of Dennis Dubro, a former numerary member who has spoken out about Opus Dei’s controlling ways and dishonest practices. In his financial role at an Opus Dei dormitory in Sydney, Australia, Dubro recalls “The accounts were in complete chaos. We didn’t know how much was in the bank. There was money missing. Some account balances were off by hundreds of percents.” (A spokesman for Opus Dei says he is not familiar with the details of this case but that “nobody was trying to cheat anyone.”) How can the Opus Dei spokesperson know that nobody was trying to cheat anyone when he did not know the details of the case? Is it because Opus Dei makes blanket statements about their activity and will not admit wrongdoing? If anything, this statement by an Opus Dei spokesperson reveals Opus Dei’s true unhealthy nature and its inability to be truthful and honest about itself.
In John Allen’s book about Opus Dei, he states “think of it (Opus Dei) as the Guinness Extra Stout of the Catholic Church. It’s a strong brew, definitely an acquired taste, and clearly not for everyone.” Yes, Opus Dei may seem to be a Stout Beer, but think of this possibility; it has purposely changed the label on its drink to something else, all the while keeping its true contents secret.
Jesus did not lie nor was He secretive about His ministry while He walked on earth. In John 18:20, Jesus answers His critics “I have spoken openly to the world…I have said nothing in secret.” His ministry was out in the open for all to see. When can we say the same about Opus Dei?
Opus Dei Awareness Network, Inc.
May 10, 2006
- The Movie, Can a Thriller Be Both Fair and Fun? By Richard Corliss, Time April 24, 2006, page 54.
- The Marquette Tribune.org, On line Edition, Volume 90 “Web site aims to crack ‘Code,’ ” Catholic groups decry Dan Brown’s novel by Joe Boesen, Tribune Staff, March 21, 2006. http://www.marquettetribune.org/286057333298363.bsp
- See Religion, Dennis Dubro, “Disenchanted by Blind Obedience” by Carolina A. Miranda, Time, April 24, 2006, page 58.
- The Inner World of Opus Dei. By Dr. John Roche, Evidence from internal documents of Opus Dei and testimony September 7, 1982, page 12.
- http://www.jesusdecoded.com/ posted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Catholic Communications Campaign
- The book is available from Penguin Group books at http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_0425200124,00.html
- ABC News: Opus Dei: ‘Da Vinci Code’ Is ‘Very Distorted’ April 18, 2006 http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=1854312&page=1
- Opus Dei to launch updated website Wednesday, 22 March in 22 languages. March 22, 2006 by Spero News http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?idCategory=31&idsub=129&id=2961
- abc7news.com – San Francisco, CA USA Opus Dei Wants ‘DaVinci code’ Disclaimer http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=entertainment&id=4089370
- Opus Dei Asks Sony, shareholders for ‘DaVinci’ Film Disclaimer by Vernon Silver and Daisuke Takato, April 14, 2006. Bloomberg.com http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000103&sid=aiaTVjV.92Hg&refer=us
- Cronica, “The Inner World of Opus Dei” by John Roche, p. 7
- Religion, Dennis Dubro. Disenchanted by Blind Obedience, by Carolina A. Miranda, Time, April 24, 2006, page 58.
- Opus Dei by John L. Allen, Jr. An Objective Look Behind The Myths And Reality Of The Most Controversial Force In The Catholic Church. Introduction, page 1 1st edition ISBN 0-385-385-51449-2 November 2005