Opus Dei – which means “Work of God” – has its roots in Pamplona, Spain, where it was founded in 1928 by the Catholic priest Josemaría Escrivá. It sided with the dictator General Franco during the Spanish Civil War and greatly benefited from the connection. Many of its members became political and economic leaders all over Spain. By 1950, Pope Pius XII and the Vatican officially recognized it as a lay and clerical institution. It is a theologically conservative group, following the Catholic Church’s authority and doctrines without question and all the teachings and orders of the Holy See.
The Opus Dei is not a religious order; it does not have many priests, no nuns, and its members are mainly made up of laypeople to help them emphasize what they believe. And despite the relatively small size of the Opus Dei, it is an extremely powerful group, causing controversy and suspicion within the Catholic Church.
Members of the Catholic priesthood have called the Opus Dei a “diabolical sect” with cult-like rituals and practices. Former members have also accused them of being extremely political, pushing the right-wing agenda by influencing those in power. It’s almost impossible to discover their group’s inner workings or find those willing to share their experiences as members.
Early in the group’s history, all Opus Dei members were required to take vows of obedience, chastity and secrecy. However, since it is not an order, members can’t take any vows but must sign contracts or make commitments that they will not share anything about the group and attend spiritual formation classes and retreats. Any person who leaves the group faces persecution and harassment for speaking out.
Today, the Opus Dei has over 900,000 members spread out over 80 countries worldwide. It recruits heavily, choosing young and impressionable people, pressuring them to join, and once they do, it’s very difficult to leave. It has been described as a very controlling organization, demanding extreme faithfulness, that even daily errands such as food shopping or watching movies needed permission or were not allowed.
Over the years, Opus Dei has expanded its influence in the Catholic Church, where they had staunch supporters in former Popes John Paul II and Benedict. In Germany, they run many schools, including daycare centers and the IESE, their business school, while in Spain, they have many members both in the educational and judicial sectors
Despite all the controversies, the Opus Dei denies all these accusations. It continues to enjoy the support of the Vatican and a steady increase in its members as it soon reaches its 100th anniversary in 2028.