Opus Dei in Court

A French woman has brought charges against the controversial and secretive Catholic society Opus Dei, alleging that she was brainwashed into working as a domestic servant with virtually no pay. This would have been the story line if Silas had simply sued Bishop Aringarosa in The Da Vinci Code.

Catherine T. stated that she did not know she had joined an Opus Dei group when she joined a hoteliers’ school in northeastern France in 1985 at age 14. She later took vows and worked as a servant. She says that she was forced to work 14-hour days, seven days a week. What little money she made she says was taken for her room and board.

When her parents finally pulled her out of the school in 2001, she weighed only 86 pounds.

Source: AFP

24 thoughts on “Opus Dei in Court”

  1. Rafflaw, Mike A., Mike S.,

    I found the following Time article earlier today:

    The Ways of Opus Dei
    Sunday, Apr. 16, 2006


    The normal assumption about such indirectness would be that the group is hiding something, and filthy lucre is a staple of the Opus myth. Two rumors about its popularity with John Paul were that it funded the Solidarity trade union and helped bail out the Vatican bank after its 1982 scandal. Poverty is demonstrably not one of Opus’ vows. It has a reputation for cultivating the rich or those soon to be, at both élite colleges and its own institutions. (In Latin America many in the church feel that Opus priests served once ascendant oligarchs over the masses.) Even in the inner city, Opus is unabashedly less interested in identifying with the poor than turning them into the middle class. Bohlin jokingly distinguishes his members from “some Franciscans with holes in their shoes, driving a crummy car because of their sense of the spirit of poverty.”

    On the basis of their study of IRS filings, Allen and Harris found $344.4 million in Opus assets in the U.S. and roughly estimate a global total of $2.8 billion. If correct, that sum approximates Duke University’s endowment, yet is hardly Vatican bailout money. But those figures are only part of the picture. Opus members and its sympathizers, known as “cooperators,” can be very generous, and their funds hard to track. Allen’s research suggests that a most likely unexpected $60 million gift (a hefty portion of its total U.S. assets) financed much of the Manhattan building. Longlea, the group’s Washington-area mansion, was donated by a couple who had just bought it for $7.4 million. Father Michael Barrett, an Opus Dei priest who pastors a chapel in Houston, recently raised $4.3 million for a new building and says, “I can assure you that cooperators and supernumeraries have given at the $100,000 level.” That largesse, credited officially to the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, would not show up even on Allen’s scrupulous balance sheet. Nor would similar Opus-generated funds.


    For years, Catholics in Washington have kept informal count of possible high-profile Opus people, including Justice Antonin Scalia and almost-Justice Robert Bork, Senators Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, columnist Robert Novak and former FBI head Louis Freeh. The tally was not totally arbitrary: Freeh’s child went to an Opus Dei school, and his brother was a numerary for a while; Scalia’s wife has attended Opus events, and the Justice is close to an Opus priest; and Brownback, Bork and Novak converted to Catholicism under one’s wing. Several have denied the rumors (“I can’t stress enough that he is not a member,” says Santorum’s communications chief). But a bonus of Opus’ new candor campaign is that it now states freely that not one of the powerful Washingtonians belongs.

  2. What about The Fellowship / The Family whose members include Hillary Clinton?

  3. anon
    1, June 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm
    ” It wields a disproportionate degree of political influence in the Catholic Church and should be abolished”

    Cool. How would you propose to do this!?
    In the Catholic Church, the way that this would be done is that the Pope would issue a statement saying that the organization must be disbanded, and explain why under traditional, (internally) moderate Catholic theology that such action is necessary.

    Would the current Pope do such a thing? Does a bear critique Derrida in the woods? Of course not!

    While there are plenty of smart, well educated, progressive Catholics around the world, the core of the Church still clings to many problematic attitudes. This approach, combined with competition from Islam and Protestants, and the “self-imposed gunshot to the foot” du jour (currently covering up decades of child sex abuse, in the past, aligning the church with Fascists, etc.) the church finds itself in decline world wide. I suspect that the fearful conservatives who seem to make up a majority of the church’s hierarchy will cling to groups like Opus Dei, looking to them as a last resort. This will seem to them to be a sure thing, rather than pursuing the difficult and uncertain path that more progressive values (and I would argue Jesus’ teachings) would require.

  4. rafflaw:

    You may be right. It should be remembered that one does not apply for Opus Dei membership. I can’t just go to Opus Dei.com and sign up. One has to be invited. My understanding of the inner workings of the organization are as dim as everyone else’s. However, I am confident that women are welcome as long as they know their place.

  5. Elaine and Mike A.,
    I think I read something awhile back that claimed that Justice Scalia was a member of Opus Dei also. It is a very secretive bunch and women are not held on an equal footing with men.

  6. anon:

    It’s existence is predicated upon old European notions of the relationship between church and state. Those notions are hierarchical and anti-democratic. Opus Dei is a lay organization operating under the “special protection” of the church, and its function is to promote the church’s vision to the secular world through recruiting wealthy and politically powerful members. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I was never recruited.

    In short, it will not be abolished and its transformation into a more purely spiritual lay organization will not happen in the foreseeable future.

  7. ” It wields a disproportionate degree of political influence in the Catholic Church and should be abolished”

    Cool. How would you propose to do this!?

  8. The religious fanatics over there blow themselves up, or convince others to do so. Ours just send others.

  9. Mike S.:

    I don’t know it Pope Benedict was ever a member, but he is certainly a supporter. And I’m certain that Opus Dei mirrors his views on politics and religious orthodoxy.

  10. I could well be wrong but didn’t the current Pope head Opus Dei at one time?

  11. anon nurse:

    You may be interested in knowing that Rick Santorum was inducted into the Knights of Malta some years ago. Great organization.

  12. Elaine:

    I didn’t know that, but I imagine there are many members whose names we would recognize. I don’t like shadow organizations or variations on the C-Street formula.

  13. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/21/seymour-hersh-military-crusaders_n_812363.html


    Hersh also said that Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before his tenure as the top general in Afghanistan, as well as his successor and many other JSOC members, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.” Blake Hounsell, the reporter for Foreign Policy, speculated that Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Catholic organization.

    “Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh said. “They do see what they’re doing…it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”



    The Foreign Policy report added that in 2003, those “in the Cheney shop” were not concerned about the havoc the invasion of Iraq was destined to cause.

    “[The] attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting?” Hersh was quoted as saying. “Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change moseques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’ That’s the attitude. We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command [JSOC].”

    He further claimed that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Vice Admiral William McRaven and others in the JSOC were members of the “Knights of Malta” and “Opus Dei,” two little known Catholic orders.

    “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally,” Hersh reportedly continued. “They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

    He added that members of these societies have developed a secret set of insignias that represent “the whole notion that this is a culture war” between religions.

    It was President George W. Bush who first invoked images of a holy war in the Middle East, when he suggested soon after Sept. 11, 2001 that the US was on a “crusade” in the region.

    The “Knights of Malta” were a Catholic order founded in 1085 as a group of monks who cared for the wounded. It evolved into a military order that safeguarded Christian pilgrims from Muslims during the nine “Crusades,” where Europe’s Christian states laid siege to Muslims for control of Jerusalem.

    “Opus Dei,” popularly depicted in the Hollywood film “The DaVinci Code,” was founded in 1928 and officially accepted as part of the Catholic church in 1947. The group’s website claimed their principle calling was to bring about a “Christian renewal” around the world.

  14. Carol Herman:

    There is a distinct difference between voluntary sacrifice and involuntary servitude. My seventh grade parochial school teacher was a very bright Radcliffe graduate who agreed to take us on for $10.00 per month and room and board in the small convent attached to our church. She knew what she was doing and didn’t come away from the experience weighing 86 pounds. What is described in this story smacks of the Magdalenes. And I assume your reference to “religious training” was intended as cynical humor.

  15. Mike A.,

    The infamous spy Robert Hanssen was a member of Opus Dei—as was/is Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI.

  16. Didn’t Twiggy weigh 86 pounds?

    If Catherine T. wins anything at all, she’d “win” what she would have earned between 14 and 18. Which is bupkis. At minimum wage.

    There’s a discount, involved, too, for religious training.

    As a meal ticket? Is she hoping someone buys her story and turns it into a book, or a movie? Tom Hanks is way too old. And, this would be a very weak sequel.

    Besides, how come once free she didn’t run like crazy? Why go back and complain? Is money involved? Is her lawyer on contingency? Would jurors really be ambivalent? Or whatever it is you call “without opinion?”

  17. I first learned of the existence of Opus Dei when I was in high school. It is essentially a secret society of wealthy, powerful, right-wing Catholics and includes a number of very prominent Americans in its memebership, including Pat Buchanan. It wields a disproportionate degree of political influence in the Catholic Church and should be abolished.

  18. All these cult groups work in the same manner. They have a small group at the top who reap the benefits of extreme corruption and cruelty towards the powerless. (The US govt. is a cult just like this!)

    I hope she gets a very large compensation award for this horrific injustice. I do not understand how people twist their minds so that the suffering of and cruelty towards others means nothing to them. I just know that powerful people everywhere seem to act as if they are owed the right to mistreat others. Well, they aren’t.

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