This Thursday (4), a reform by Pope Francis that takes away the partial independence of Opus Dei began to take effect. The measure, announced at the end of July, is just one involving the ultra-conservative Catholic organization.
Now, Opus Dei will have to inform the Vatican about the internal situation of the organization and the development of its apostolic work. Before, this kind of accountability had to be passed on every five years.
In the structure of the Catholic Church, the organization had the status of a personal prelature, which allowed it to adopt a hierarchy of its own and expand into various territories — the prelate, the organization’s leader, commands the work of priests and deacons. Now, however, according to Francis’ determination, the prelate will be called a supernumerary protonotary apostolic (also designated as monsignor) and will be barred from being considered a bishop and wearing an episcopal ring or robes.
According to the pope, the aim of the change is to make Opus Dei an organization “based more on charisma than on hierarchical authority.” The Spanish newspaper El País reported that Francis believes the changes are in line with the ideas of Father Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, the organization’s founder.
Accused by its critics of being a kind of secret sect that seeks to control power inside and outside the Vatican, Opus Dei was created in 1928. It is present in more than 60 countries and has 2,000 priests and 90,000 members, including politicians. and business people — Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, is one of them.
Balaguer died in 1975. Almost 30 years later, he was canonized by the then Pope John Paul II, in a process criticized by wings of the Church that associated the priest’s name with the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain (1939-1975). The dictator had at least three ministers who were members of Opus Dei in his cabinet.
On Thursday, the organization’s spokesman avoided criticizing the papal decision. “Some have interpreted the provisions of the Holy See as a demotion or loss of power. We are not interested in this type of dialectic, because for a Catholic it makes no sense to use mundane categories of power,” Manuel Sánchez told the AFP news agency. .
“We welcome what comes from the Holy Father, with the desire to deepen what is essential.”
Even at the end of July, when the measure was initially announced, the current leader of Opus Dei, Father Fernando Ocáriz Braña, also played down it. According to El País, the leader reinforced for the faithful that the attribution of his position as bishop was not essential and that, for him, his main task was to “be a guide, and, above all, a father”.
The end of Opus Dei’s partial independence comes two days after the BBC reported on alleged crimes committed by the organization between the 1990s and the early 2000s. According to 43 women spread across Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, they were subjected to servitude and exploitation by priests.
Opus Dei told the British network that there was no notification of a complaint from the ecclesiastical authorities, but announced the creation of a listening and study commission – although it said it was doing so for “moral, not legal, motivation”.