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Aside from the theological distinctions that set Roman Catholicism apart from Protestant Christianity (and because of which many Protestants consider Roman Catholicism to be, theologically, a heretical form of Christianity), the conservatice Opus Dei movement is controversial due to what some consider to be cult-like tendencies.
In Dan Brown’s best-selling fiction thriller, “The DaVinci Code,” two of the book’s characters are members of Opus Dei, a Catholic lay organization.
It’s an unflattering portrait.
It’s also a wildly inaccurate one, the group’s supporters say.
Opus Dei critics aren’t so sure, calling it an extreme, power-hungry and manipulative group that could have a say in picking the next pope.
What is Opus Dei, and why has it generated such controversy?
For its estimated 85,000 members worldwide, including 3,000 in the United States, Opus Dei offers a path to holiness through retreats, religious-education classes and spiritual direction for daily life. It embraces a conservative Catholicism, and has the blessing and support of the equally conservative Pope John Paul II.
“It’s like having a personal trainer for your spiritual life,” said Brian McGinnis, U.S. communications director for the Opus Dei Prelature. “It offers help and encouragement to help people grow closer to God in their work and daily life. It’s an integral part of the Catholic Church. The work has been blessed by the popes since its beginning. It stresses that everything you can do can be a path towards God, from the work you do at your desk, to the time you spend with your friends.”
But Dianne DiNicola, president of OPAN, the Opus Dei Awareness Network in Pittsfield, Mass., said the group engages in mind control, isolation, aggressive recruitment and self-discipline known as “corporal mortification.”
DiNicola’s own daughter, Tammy, joined Opus Dei at 19.“Our concerns are, what you see on the surface isn’t what Opus Dei is,” DiNicola said. “The organization has an underside that tears families apart. I don’t like to call it a cult, but it certainly has cultlike tendencies. Members are in a controlled environment. They don’t make decisions.”
Sheila Pruni, an Opus Dei member who lives in Dover with her husband, Steve, and their five children, said she’s never encountered what DiNicola describes.
“I’ve been going to activities of Opus Dei for 18 years, and I’ve been a member for six years,” she said. “I’ve never experienced that. A cult means people force you to do things. I’ve never been forced to do anything and nobody I know ever has. People misconstrue things.
“There’s nothing unusual about us. We’re just everyday people.”
– Does Opus Dei help or hinder Catholicism? The Repository, USA