Its defenders characterize Opus Dei, that ultra-Catholic movement, as a knitting circle, its detractors as a dangerous cult. Allen, Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter ,finds middle ground.
Opus Dei, or “God’s Work,” a conservative service organization founded in 1928 by the Spanish cleric (and now saint) Josemaría Escrivá, is resolutely closed to outsiders, and it takes work indeed to get in. Allen, whose Conclave (2002) was a prescient guide to the recent papal election, likens the organization to Guinness Stout in a world of Bud Lite, inasmuch as “it makes no apologies for either its many calories or its high alcohol content.” Critics hold that its doctrine can be a little content-free, mistrustful of ideas and long on pat solutions, and, thanks at least in part to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei has a slightly sinister connotation to outsiders. Several controversies surround it. Does Opus Dei recruit? Do its leaders demand blind allegiance? Does it have an anti-Semitic element? Allen wanders through the orbits of the faithful and some of the fallen away to address such questions, chalking up good points (for instance, no Opus Dei priest has ever been accused of sexual abuse) while assessing weaknesses, including a body of doctrine that can seem confused, as when Escrivá declared in a homily that freedom entails absolute devotion “to the service of the truth which redeems, when it is spent in seeking God’s infinite love which liberates us from all forms of slavery.” Must freedom mean submission? And is Opus Dei dangerous? Probably not, one would conclude from Allen’s thoughtful consideration; it tends to square with the Catholic Church in its conservative declarations, but its influence may not extend much beyond its membership, which is about as large as the Australian diocese of Hobart, Tasmania.
For those who follow intramural politics within the Catholic Church, a capably written examination of an organization that controls as much wealth “as a midsized American diocese.”