A Short Orientation

A Time for Change

Institutional Bankruptcy

John Allen on Opus Dei


A Short Orientation

The institutional Catholic church is in dire need of reform, a reform that is not a superficial tinkering with the regulation that governs this or that part of its huge sprawling bureaucracy, but a radical reform that would literally go back to the root of Christianity, to the central mystery of Jesus, the Word made flesh, who calls us to an ever deeper love of God and each other. This radical reform would reevaluate and transform the church’s structures in light of that central mystery.

The collection of essays presented here offer different perspectives on the meaning of that reform.

It is vital not to confuse this kind of radical reform of the institution with a negative or antagonistic view of faith, itself. Rather, genuine reform is in the service of faith. Faith working through love unites us directly to God and contains within itself a dynamism that urges us to transcend whatever is limited in our faith, and embrace more fully whatever is divine. In the life of prayer, for example, faith urges us to go beyond our all too human thoughts and feelings about God, and open ourselves to a deeper union with God. In a similar fashion, in regard to the outer structures of the church, faith urges us to try to discern what is divine and what is human. It would be a perversion of faith if we imagined that in the name of institutional reform we were going to put aside the least aspect of what Jesus has revealed to us of the mysteries of faith. What faith does urge us to do, however, is to purify the forms that our faith has taken over time in order to make sure they genuinely serve that faith. The result is that our quest for radical reform is a liberation not from faith, but from the all too human forms with which it has been identified.


Time for a Change

“The Church is neither a monarchy nor an oligarchy. It is, as Vatican II declares, the pilgrim “people of God”... Since Constantine, however, the church has gradually taken on monarchical - even at times absolutistic - structures, worldly trappings, triumphalistic pomp and ridiculous titles of honor. Equally harmful to her image has been the tendency to sacralize these propensities. The church that so convincingly calls for conversion of the individual must recognize that she herself needs an in-depth renovation of structures, forms of address and mindsets, in a word, an authentic conversion.” Bernard Haring.

The clerically dominated institutional Catholic Church, despite many good priests, has shown itself to be dysfunctional. While the sorry spectacle of clerical sexual abuse is the outstanding symptom of this bankruptcy, it is far from being the only one. The institution is collapsing under the accumulated weight of unaddressed problems which have sapped its vitality and its ability to provide creative leadership. These problems range from the still unresolved issue of birth control, and connected with it the barely examined question of overpopulation, to mandatory clerical celibacy, the role of women in the Church, all the way to a crisis of faith in some Catholic theological circles.

It is time for a change, for a renewed Church which is no longer identified with the hierarchy, but with the entire Christian community, especially the vast majority of Christians who are married people and their families. What is needed is a new kind of community that starts with each Christian who takes responsibility to grow in his or her Christian life as much as possible, and goes on from there to be centered on the Christian family and small communities.

What stands in the way of such a change? On the one side it is the old clerical institution, itself, which although it has made a mess of things, guards its supposed power jealously. On the other side it is the laity conditioned to a passivity that leaves them believing that they have to wait for Father’s permission before they exercise their own creativity in renewing the Christian community. What we should actually do, however, is to simply go forward wherever we find ourselves in our journey towards God and build the Christian community, working within the present institutional structures if possible, or working around them if necessary, and doing this not in a spirit of discord but with a genuine faith in the mysteries of Christianity and a desire to embody them in the world we live in.

The institutional structure of the Catholic Church no longer works efficiently and is need of a major overhaul. It has been organized in the form of a top-down hierarchy of pope, curia, bishops, priests, religious and lay people in which power is habitually concentrated at the highest level possible. This kind of structure is often presented as a result of how God intended the Church to be, but in fact it is the natural by-product of the very human tendency of institutions to ossify over time and begin to look to their own interests and self-perpetuation more than to their original purpose. In this way they build up layer upon layer of old outmoded ways of acting that encase them in a rigid shell that prevents them from adequately addressing new challenges.

The solution is to refocus on the original purpose of the institution which, in this case, is the Church’s mission to help each person to draw as close as possible to God, and to love and serve other people. Once we look at this original purpose, then we are free to imagine other ways of accomplishing it. One of the best models for a new kind of “institution” is that of a small community of 30 to 40 people in which each person is known and loved and encouraged to make maximum use of his or her gifts. In this kind of Church “power” arises from the bottom and is concentrated in the individual, and the smallest units of community, and only rises to other levels when the issues cannot be adequately dealt with there. However radical this idea is in practice, it is hardly original. The real issue is why it doesn’t happen, and the answer is the inertia and ossification of the institutional Church that we just saw. The Church labors under a distorted sense that the way things are are the way things ought to be, and are somehow divinely sanctioned even though history clearly illustrates that other structural forms existed in the past, including those of the first Christian communities.

At the heart of these small communities should be the family. The family is the natural and spiritual fundamental unit of community, and it has been displaced from the life of the Church with ill effects. Four or five families along with single people and even consecrated religious joined together to form a Christian community would create a new atmosphere in which many of today’s intractable pastoral problems could be more effectively dealt with.

Let’s take, for example, the issue of a shortage of priests. If we remain within the old paradigm we are left with the discouraging sight of fewer and fewer priests serving larger and larger communities with even the celebration of the Eucharist becoming marginalized in parts of the Church. Seen in this perspective, small communities seem like unrealizable dreams because there aren’t the priests to minister to them. But once we change the whole framework in which we are working, the answers come of themselves. Priests should come from within the small communities, themselves. There are many lay people, both single and married, who could do a fine job if given the chance. The small community could propose someone for the priesthood, and the training of this person could be geared to the actual job that they are going to do. Such priests would not have to be full-time paid employees of the Church, and neither would the community be burdened with the economic pressures of providing for large parish plants and their personnel.

Are there any theological reasons why this could not take place? I can’t think of any. The current formation of priests is but one way of trying to accomplish the job, and is one that is not working very well. If priestly formation would start with a mature person in a stable family and community situation, as well as with a clear idea of the kind of ministry that person would have, many of today’s problems would be moderated. Why can’t we imagine this small community proposing who is to exercise the various ministerial roles in that community? A priest that emerged out of such a setting would have an intimate knowledge of the people who are to be served, and an unhealthy psychological distance between priest and people would disappear. Clearly such a view of the priesthood would make us think in a new way about married priests, women priests, priestly formation, and so forth.

There is much talk today about the alienation that people suffer in our modern society, as well as the breakdown of family life, but in actual fact even though the majority of Church members are married lay people and their families, they are marginalized in the life of the Church. The institutional Church preaches community, but has hundreds of people passively listening to the often unexciting sermons of the parish priest. We are continually told about the lack of priestly vocations all the while the institutional Church does little to unlock the creativity and initiative of the majority of members of this community. In short, the structure of the Church is dysfunctional, and instead of treating ineffectively symptom after symptom, we need to renew this structure by a return to its basic purpose and a rethinking of its structure from that perspective. What are the biggest obstacles to such a radical reform of the structure of the Church? It is our lack of vision and imagination and the inertia and resistance of the present structure.

Authoritarianism, defensiveness and conceptualism on the part of the Church played a major role in the history of 20th century philosophy and theology, and their polarization. But it is important to go further and look at how an understanding of the roots of this authoritarianism, defensiveness and conceptualism could open up the road for radical organizational reform in the Catholic Church.

Any large organization with a certain amount of history is prey to institutionalization, and the Catholic Church, with a billion members and 2,000 years of history, is no exception. The essence of institutionalization is that an organization which was created for a specific purpose becomes so unwieldy so as to defeat the very purpose for which it was created.

A hospital, for example, meant to heal, begins to spread disease. Or a school meant to educate stifles the love of learning that its students come to it with.

For the Church this would mean that a community meant to help draw people to God manages to insert itself between its members and God, and deflect them from their spiritual goal.

Why does this process of institutionalization take place? It is due to the weakness of human nature. It is hard for us to keep our eye on our principle goal. Instead we spend too much energy on the organization meant to serve that goal. We get wrapped up in its rules and organizational chart, and in its buildings and bank accounts. In short, what takes place is a materialization of the institution. Its lofty goals are acted out in such a short-sighted way that it begins to defeat itself. In the hospital the doctors withdraw except for their appointed rounds, and the nurses administer, and the aides become the de facto primary care givers. Thus, the natural order of things is turned upside down.

In the Catholic Church just a short while ago the pope, the servant of servants, appeared with all the trappings of royalty and was carried around in a royal litter. Religious, vowed to poverty, live more richly than people with no vows at all, and the celebration of Mass, instead of nourishing faith, often seems to demand faith in order to attend it. Institutionalization in the Church really ought to come as no surprise. It is endemic to any large organization; it is the social side of our personal disordered natures - an accumulation of our personal problems becoming set in stone.

So we should expect institutionalization in the Church, and learn how to recognize it and deal with it. Its essence, as I said, is to make an organization that was meant to draw people closer to God appear to them as an obstacle to drawing closer to God.

But, you could object, doesn’t the fact that the Church was founded by Jesus, and the fact that the pope is infallible, prevent it from turning things upside down, as you suggest? The Church, we believe as Catholics, is a spiritual community willed by God to help bring about our salvation. From this flows a certain indefectibility in the sense that we believe that the Church will endure, and in its most solemn and most decisive moments of teaching, it will not go fundamentally astray. But we cannot materialize this divine aspect of the Church and unduly extend it. The Church is made of human beings in need of redemption, a redemption which is not fully and automatically conveyed by membership in the Church or by the reception of the sacraments, but that is worked out slowly over time.

The very fact that the Church has a divine aspect cannot blind us to the fact that it is very human, as well, and as a human institution it is continually tempted to materialize itself. The pope then becomes an earthly monarch and acts out the scenes so often played out in the Renaissance, but there are even more subtle dangers. The pope is seen as the mediator between God and man, and we picture him, perhaps half unconsciously, sitting in Rome in solitary splendor and listening to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, and then telling the rest of the Church what to believe and how to behave. If this were, in fact, actually how the Church was supposed to function it would be more like a cult than a Church. In a cult one person becomes the materialized representation of God, and tells everyone else how to behave, starting with what God’s will is for them, and descending to whom they should marry, and finally, to how they should brush their teeth.

Why assume that the pope is meant to act alone? He is meant to act in concert with the bishops. But why stop there? And here we come to the foundation for a program for radical reform in the Church. The bishops are not meant to be little popes, nor are the local clergy. We need to take a fresh look at the way authority is exercised in the Church which is at the heart of any genuine agenda of organizational reform. In the local parishes all too often the people are left feeling that all real authority rests in the hands of the priests; the priest, in turn, sees authority in the hands of his bishop, and the bishop, in turn, sees it concentrated in the pope. Who knows? Perhaps the pope, himself, feels that the real locus of power is somewhere else. If we take all of these attitudes we have a prime example of institutionalization in which the proper order of things has been turned upside down.

The most natural place for responsibility and autonomy of action is in the mind and heart of the individual member of the Church. That is where the life of grace resides. That is where the drama of salvation is acted out. Jesus did not come to establish an institution, but He came for each one of us, and gave us a spiritual community because we are social beings and should help each other on the road to God.

This means that each member of the Church, irregardless of their place in the hierarchy of the Church organization, has the primary responsibility to educate him or herself in the faith and to practice it. The local parish priest should not be “father” while we remain children in the faith. The priest or bishop or pope cannot supply for our own efforts. If there is something we don’t like about the Church, perhaps we should stop saying that the priest did this or that, or the bishop is too conservative or liberal, or the curia in Rome is fossilized, or that the pope is out of touch with developments in Western Europe and North America etc., and start rolling up our sleeves and begin to do what needs to be done.

We have to try to eliminate from our psyches a certain creeping infallibility that drains our own sense of responsibility and projects it on figures further up the hierarchical ladder. This does no one any good. The individual members of the Church regress towards infantile behavior, and the leaders of the Church are given responsibilities that they can never fulfill because they really belong to us.


A Response

I had been surfing the Internet for information on Roman Catholicism and came upon your site. It was a welcome contrast to the many ultra-reactionary sites on the net, like etwn and internetpadre. Over the last four years or so I have really begun questioning the institution itself. From the idea that private personal revelation from the scriptures is not allowed separate and apart from that of the magisterium, to the distinction between mortal and venial sins. I have become more and more skeptical. Not to mention that I have been a Catechist for the RCIA program in my parish over the last decade. As I study in order to teach, I have developed new understandings of scripture and teaching. Understandings that contradict what is taking place in the institution of the Church.

When I first began teaching RCIA education and scripture study I was allowed to council candidates and catechumens when they asked the question, "Do I have to believe everything that Rome declares is true?", by saying that personal conscience takes precedence over the declarations of Rome. Recently, however, a new priest has taken over our parish and I have been severely chastised. I am now required to tell candidates that are resistant to follow Church "law" that they may not continue forward in the RCIA process. Needless to say this has taken all the joy out of what I loved doing and has driven an enormous wedge between the group and myself. Furthermore, I am consumed with the overwhelming feeling that ultimately what I am being forced to do is wrong. How can we tell people that they are not allowed to be Catholic because they want to think for themselves? Essentially that is what my priest is saying, although he would never admit this. I have sincerely considered leaving the lay ministry because of this. I do not want to leave my Church, but in some ways it seems to be stifling my spiritual growth.

Have you been chastised by the Catholic ultra-conservatives for this website? If so, how do you handle their attacks? Although the majority of Catholics do not hold these rigid views, the Church has been hijacked by this fringe minority and it seems that the Pope is leading this movement by many recent appointments and pronouncements. With that in mind, do we really have any hope of reform in the Church at any time in the near future? I appreciate your optimistic views, but I have to admit that I really don't think any of this could be a reality in my lifetime.

The Editors

I appreciated your heart-felt remarks, and I feel that you have put your finger on some very serious issues that the Church faces. Unfortunately there are fundamental distinctions that get blurred over in the daily life of the Church, for example, the distinction between the Church as the spouse of Christ, and the Church as a human institution, and thus having many human frailties. Another is the kind of separation that is created between faith and reason as if if we want to truly believe, we somehow have to put our intelligence in mothballs. This is not a truly Catholic sentiment. St. Augustine said love the intellect greatly, and we need to do this. Much the same thing can be said about conscience. We can't put that on the shelf either. It doesn't seem right to me to burden new candidates to the faith with things that most Catholics don't agree with, still less to try to instill in them these underlying attitudes about faith and reason and so forth. When it comes to the spiritual life we need to realize it is God who guides and directs us, and calls us to union with Him, and sometimes He must do this despite the obstacles that the institution puts in the way. So I don't think it is useful to focus exclusively on the institution, but rather to see it as a sometimes weak reflection of God's loving call to us. Then we can be less bothered and go about the essential work of faith and charity without feeling we need to leave the Church to do it.

Now it is your turn to contribute to this discussion. Send us your questions and comments: arraj@innerexplorations.com



Institutional Bankruptcy


The Catholic Church as a human institution, like all the other major institutions of our society, has reached the point where it often acts against the very purpose for which it was created.

Let’s see what this means.

The Catholic Church as a human institution What is at stake here is not the Catholic faith, but the church as a human institution meant to bring us into deeper and more life-giving contact with the mysteries of the faith.

like all the other major institutions of our society, The church is not alone in facing an institutional crisis. All the major institutions of society, i.e., schools, governments, health care and so forth confront similar problems.

has reached the point where it often acts against the very purpose for which it was created. The critical problems that our institutions face cannot be resolved by minor structural adjustments. They have passed that threshold and become at odds with the very purposes for which they were created. Schools, for example, were fashioned to help us learn, but instead they now often stifle the love of learning. In a similar way, the medical profession, that is, doctors, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry were created to foster health. Instead, iatrogenic disease, that is, disease caused by the medical profession, itself, has become one of our leading causes of death.

The church was created to bring us closer to Jesus and his message of love of God and of each other. Therefore its mission is eminently personal. But it has all too often inserted itself between us and Jesus, and us and the love of God and the love of each other, and has become a hindrance to those relationships. By means of the unfeeling cleric, or the impersonal imposition of laws, it drives people away from Jesus, and instead of being a transparent servant of these inner spiritual relationships, it becomes a self-centered opaque obstacle to them. In a word, the very arrangements initially conceived to aid our inner growth now often hinder it.

Once institutions have crossed this threshold so that they routinely act against the very purpose for which they were created, reform within the institution becomes very difficult, if not impossible. Even if the problem is clear, e.g., the school system is failing to achieve its stated educational goal, the only solution that it is capable of conceiving is an institutional one in which it demands more money, more teachers, new programs, in short, more of the same. This kind of inadequate institutional response to problems is wide-spread in the church, as well. The lack of priests in the U.S., for example, is not met with a probing examination of the reasons for the dearth of vocations, but the importation of priests from other parts of the world.

But this inability to adequately respond to institutional problems, which is found across the spectrum of our institutions, takes a particularly acute form in the church, a form that can be called that of the sacred institutions. Institutions ordinarily have an inability to see reality except in their own institutional terms, but in the church the institution is further immobilized and armored against change by considering itself as something that has sprung directly from the hand of God. It is possible, for example, from a historical and theological point of view, to make a case for the existence of bishops in the early church, but it is quite another thing to use that evidence to justify modern episcopal practices in which the bishops seclude themselves in their conference halls and feel it is unnecessary to take into serious account what their priests and people are thinking. At the highest reaches of the church this sacralization of the institution takes on an ever higher intensity, and creates an aura around the papacy itself in which it becomes very difficult to distinguish between the role of the See of Peter and the quasi-cultlike behavior that has so often surrounded the office of the pope.

It ought to be clear that none of this has much to do with the church as the mystical body of Christ, that is, the church as a supernatural communion of persons united in Jesus. Rather, it has to do with a universal tendency to project the sacred on the human.  

Given this state of affairs, looking to the higher reaches of the ecclesiastical pyramid for genuine change is likely to be an exercise in futility. So where can genuine radical reform arise? It can spring up anywhere in the church where men and women stop being mesmerized by the sacred institution and stop looking to it for oracle-like answers, and instead, look inside their own minds and hearts, asking themselves how Jesus wishes them to behave. In short, genuine radical reform is possible if we put the personal message of Jesus about love of God and each other first.

In actual fact a pope could do this, or a bishop, but unfortunately they are so enmeshed in the problems of the institutional church and the particular institutional mindset that they bring to those problems, and so fixated on trying to keep the wobbly machinery of the institution running, that they have little time and energy to reflect on the conditions of deeper change.

An enormous potential reservoir of change does exist, however, in the laity, but the obstacles to unleashing it are formidable. The laity as a whole has been conditioned to passivity in regard to the institutional church and, indeed, to our other major institutions, as well. They have sat far too long in the pews, listening to mind-numbing sermons, and being treated like children in regard to the running of the parish and the diocese. Their education in the faith often greatly lags behind their education in their chosen profession, and they look to the hierarchy when they dream of change as if the answers must come down from above rather than well up in their own minds and hearts. But if they could look within to the gift of supernatural life given to them in baptism, that is, the very personal relationship they have with Jesus, they would see that there was no reason why they could not take the initiative and find more ways to love God and the people around them in the myriad of circumstances in which they find themselves.


John Allen on Opus Dei

John Allen in Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Realities of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church, as befitting one of Catholicism’s premiere journalists, actually delivers on the claims of the book’s subtitle. We have before us a well-researched and well-written account of Opus Dei that expends considerable energy trying to be fair, and to leave behind the old partisan positions that have enveloped Opus Dei in controversy. In this regard, we might consider it an attempt on Allen’s part to transcend the normal discourse of liberal criticism that he later felt marred his book on Joseph Ratzinger, and to pioneer a more irenic journalism that attempts to go beyond the polarization that has dominated the post-conciliar period. Hopefully his attempt to do this is a reflection of a wider trend in the church community that is tired of the same old deadlocks and wants to move on.

Therefore, there is considerable merit to Allen’s book, but despite its many positive attributes, it ends up leaving the lingering impression that it lacks a certain final focus. The reader is treated to “on the one hand, and on the other hand,” and “here are the facts, but you need to make your own judgment,” but does not quite arrive at an insight into Opus Dei that would have him or her exclaiming, “That is why Opus Dei acts like it does, and is perceived like it is!”

Take, for example, the much proclaimed lay nature of Opus Dei, which presents itself as a pioneer in the person of its founder Josemaría Escrivá in discovering the vocation of the laity, and cultivating a lay spirituality which would allow lay people to be contemplatives in the midst of the world. Allen pretty much affirms that view of Opus Dei, calling it “a Copernican shift for Catholicism,” (p. 4) and goes on to write, “Opus Dei likes to stress its singularity, and with reason. There has never been anything quite like it in Church history, a body of laity and priests, women and men, united by a common vocation and belonging to a single institution.” (p. 373) “While Escrivá said he revered religious life, his vision pushed off in another direction. It is the death knell of clericalism, a bold empowering of the laity as the primary ministerial corps of the Catholic Church in everything except the sacraments. Whatever one makes of Opus Dei as a carrier of this idea, it marks a sea change in ecclesiastical culture.” (p. 374)

This is remarkable praise, but unfortunately it does not hold up under scrutiny, for Opus Dei for all the world looks like the traditional ecclesiastical pyramid with its married or single supernumeraries at the bottom, the male and female celibate numeraries on the higher slopes, and finally the priests and prelate on top. You may, indeed, try to call the numeraries lay people, and claim the clerics are there to serve them, but this is not particularly convincing given their celibacy, life in community, and segregation by sex. The layout of the Opus Dei headquarters in New York speaks eloquently in this regard. Not only are there separate entrances for men and women, but this separation is carried out in the very physical organization of the building to the extent of even having separate phone and computer systems as if what was at stake was not one building, but in fact, two. The Jesuit James Martin comments: “If you are trying to be a lay organization, and “being a lay organization” I assume being in this contemporary culture, this separation just flies in the face of all that.” (p. 190)

It is as if Josemaría Escrivá in founding Opus Dei had a genuine insight about the role of the laity, but ended up embedding it in the framework of preconciliar religious life. Celibacy aside, the numeraries simply don’t live like normal lay people. And this is particularly true in regard to the spirituality that governs their lives. Allen makes a convincing case that Opus Dei members are free to make their own decisions in regard to social, economic and political realities, as well as the direction of their own careers. This is an important point which counteracts an all too facile conspiracy view of Opus Dei secretly managing the world for its own ends, but as Allen makes clear, this does not preclude a great deal of social, economic and political self-selected conformity, making Opus Dei members rather uniform in their choices. Some of this can be explained by like attracting like, but it goes deeper than that. The freedom of members to act in a secular world is rooted in a very particular kind of Opus Dei spirituality which we must now examine, for it is here that the real key to understanding Opus Dei lies.


Escrivá’s vision of a lay spirituality was at heart paradoxical because while he insisted on the freedom of his members, he did not alter the axial principle of the spirituality of pre-conciliar religious life which identified the will of the superior with the will of God. This was a principle found in analogous ways in the way that religious superiors, or the directors of Opus Dei houses, were to be perceived, and certainly how Escrivá saw himself as the founder and the father of the Order. This kind of spirituality says that we advance in holiness by conforming our will to the will of God. But how do we know what the will of God is? We know it through our religious superiors, and obedience to them guarantees, as it were, that we are following the will of God. Once this kind of religious obedience is uncritically accepted, it can create a hermetically sealed system that generates a real uniformity of thought and action, and unfortunately can give rise to a suspension of critical thought, and autonomous behavior on the part of some of its participants that is contrary to human reason, and to the freedom proclaimed by the Gospels, themselves. No doubt this kind of enclosed system burdens some people more than others, but in itself it generates a particular kind of spirituality that was found in many intensive ways in the pre-conciliar era, and is still found undiluted in the so-called new movement, and in Opus Dei. We may see it illustrated in the case of Opus Dei’s numerary assistants charged with house-keeping, who have been traditionally women. We might readily imagine that the human factors that have led to such a situation would be clear, and indeed, some of them have been analyzed by Opus Dei members, themselves, e.g., women are often better at these kinds of things, or have traditionally done them, and so forth. So it would be reasonable to say that Escrivá was simply following the culture of his times. But there is another kind of response on the part of some Opus Dei members that runs: “This was the vision of Escrivá, so that’s just how it is.” (p. 87) More pointed is the answer of Beatriz Comella Gutiérrez who as a historian one might imagine would be more critical about the human elements involved in this practice, but who states that having a male assistant “simply was not part of the Founder’s vision. He saw Opus Dei whole and entire, and this was not part of it.” (p. 188)

It is highly significant that Escrivá’s vision is treated as if it were some sort of divine revelation, and therefore unchangeable, instead of being seen as a genuine inspiration from God which, however, is clothed in very human thoughts and feelings and images which are often culturally conditioned, and therefore a vision subject to change. This absolutist view of Escrivá’s vision is not some later aberration of a few particularly zealous followers, but comes from Escrivá, himself. For him Opus Dei, the work of God, did, indeed, have godlike qualities so he could call it “everlasting,” “divine,” “eternal.” It was something divinely revealed to him, and he was its infallible interpreter, and he could write, “... as Jesus received His doctrine from the Father, so my doctrine is not mine but comes from God, and so not a jot or tittle shall ever be changed.” (http://innerexplorations.com/catchtheomor/ccu2.htm)

Therefore, his vision is identified with the work of God, and this identification generates an atmosphere which demands an adherence to the founder that mimics faith, itself, so while Opus Dei has no difficulty proclaiming how its individual members are in need of personal conversion and reform, there is very little room in their thinking for the idea that the institution, itself, would be in need of reform, for the institution is somehow divinely sanctioned and cannot be defective, and therefore in principle cannot be in need of reform. From this conviction flows all sorts of consequences. To be a member of the work will, therefore, be seen as an ineffable privilege so that recruitment of new members is passionately pursued. In contrast, having put one’s hand to the work, and then to draw back, is akin to turning from God, and therefore was sometimes represented as the moral equivalent of mortal sin. If I am called to do this divine work, then it can seem like it matters little what familial, social, economic and personal psychological sacrifices are called for. God speaks loudest in the work, and therefore his voice in family life, or even in the use of reason in religious matters, is quieter, and less important in comparison.

This same conviction of the sanctity of the work and, indeed, of the founder, himself, allows us to understand Opus Dei’s attitude toward Escrivá’s beatification and canonization. Opus Dei was already convinced of his sanctity, especially because of their special faith in his vision, and the sanctification that must have come from God with such a lofty vision. The process of canonization was a formality, a foregone conclusion, and those who would speak against Escrivá’s cause could easily be seen as acting against the work of God, and therefore, somehow “perverted,” and thus to be excluded from the process of canonization.

In a similar manner, an Opus Dei view of the future of the church will tend to see them in the vanguard of a smaller, more disciplined community of faith purged of dissenters who cannot wholeheartedly embrace the full range of the teachings of the church. This fusing of the human and the divine found in Opus Dei is at the heart of its spirituality, and the controversies that continue to surround it. It would, however, be wrong to imagine that this equation of the will of God with the will of the superior is singular to it. Far from it. This equation can be found in various ways not only in Opus Dei and similar organizations, but in the church at large, and even at its highest reaches where it generates a quasi-cultlike veneration of the pope as the one most identified in his thoughts and words with the revelation of God. This shared ethos of spirituality is a better explanation of the close ties that have existed between the last popes and the movements than any power politics on their part within the Vatican.

This fusing of the human and divine in which the genuine core of faith extends its aura to the very human institution that has been created to embody it and serve it could be called a process of divine institutionalization, and in its light the divine and human become fused, and the human is treated as if it is divine, which can only lead to endless problems.