Opus Dei is an organization founded in Spain in 1928 by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. The stated aim of Opus Dei is to "spread throughout society a profound awareness of the universal call to holiness and apostolate through one's professional work carried out with freedom and personal responsibility." (Encyclopedia of Associations)
Opus Dei is made up of lay members and priests; Opus Dei laity continue to work in the secular world, but remain under the strict spiritual direction of Opus Dei. All Opus Dei members follow "the plan of life," made up of spiritual practices such as daily Mass, rosary, spiritual reading, and mental prayer, as well as Opus Dei prayers and customs.
There are different classes of membership in Opus Dei:
Numerary Opus Dei members pledge to remain celibate and generally live in Opus Dei houses. They commit their entire salaries to Opus Dei, submit incoming and outgoing mail to their directors, and practice various forms of corporal mortification, including use of the cilice, a spiked chain worn around the thigh, and use of the discipline, a knotted rope for whipping.
Supernumerary These members may be married, and live with their
families. They follow the same "plan of life" as the numeraries,
but generally do not know about many of the details of numerary
life. They contribute large portions of their income to Opus Dei,
often at the expense of their local parishes.
Numerary priests join Opus Dei as lay members, but are then hand-picked by Opus Dei superiors to become priests of Opus Dei. Numerary priests hold the top government positions in Opus Dei. Many hold important positions in the Vatican. Each Opus Dei house is assigned a numerary priest, whose responsibilities include saying Mass, hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction to the Opus Dei members.
Associate Opus Dei members also pledge celibacy, but they generally do not live in Opus Dei houses. They include people who have not acquired university degrees, or who must remain with their families for personal reasons.
Numerary assistants are women who pledge celibacy, and are responsible for the care and cleaning of all Opus Dei residences.
Cooperators of Opus Dei provide financial support, but are not considered members of Opus Dei. Unlike Opus Dei members, cooperators do not have to be Catholic.
Despite its seemingly noble intentions, Opus Dei has stirred up controversy in countries all over the world. Families of Opus Dei members are almost never involved in the vocation process, (in fact Opus Dei itself often discourages its new members from even telling their families about their decision!) Also questionable are Opus Dei's recruiting tactics, which are comparable to the tactics used by cultic groups.
Perhaps most controversial is the effort to canonize Opus Dei's founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who died in 1975 and was beatified amidst substantial controversy in 1992, and will be canonized on October 6, 2002 in Rome, Italy.
Also controversial in the early 1980's was the granting of Opus Dei to be a "personal prelature" within the Church. A personal prelature is an entity within the Catholic Church that is headed by a "prelate" (currently Javier Echevarria) and defined by persons rather than by geographical area (such as dioceses). Therefore, local bishops have little control over Opus Dei's membership, activities or practices.
Opus Dei has stated that there are approximately 80,000 Opus Dei members worldwide. Opus Dei is located in many countries, including England, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, countries in Central and South America, and many others, including the United States. Opus Dei generally locates in or near major cities, often near prestigious universities, where they hope to attract recruits.
Since its inception in 1991, ODAN has been in contact with people from all over the world who have experienced the questionable practices of Opus Dei. Many are former members; others who have contacted ODAN include parents, siblings and friends of current or former Opus Dei members; priests and religious, including bishops and campus ministers; news reporters from both the Catholic and secular press, and many more. From the contacts ODAN has made, it has become apparent that wherever Opus Dei is, there is controversy. (Posted to website May 13, 2002 http://www.odan.org/what.htm )