Opus Dei: The Good, the Bad, and the Albino

Now that There Be Dragons has hit the theaters, secular audiences are reeling from the shock of learning that Opus Dei admits members with a normal amount of melanin. It’s true! Josemaria was a downright swarthy guy, relatively speaking.

To the sane world, this is not news. Of course Opus Dei isn’t some kind of super-secret cabal of hooded masterminds who—okay, I’ll admit I didn’t see or read The Da Vinci Code. But can I just say ... THE GUY’S NAME WAS LEONARDO. If you don’t even know that, then I don’t want to hear what you have to say about anything else, coded or uncoded.

Anyway, if all you know about Opus Dei is what you’ve seen in The Da Vinci Code or There Be Dragons, you’d either believe that Opus Dei is a dark and malevolent multi-tentacled force for worldwide domination—or that it’s some sort of genial after-school rosary club for lay people, especially handy if people are shooting at you. (Okay, There Be Dragons does better than that, but actual information about Opus Dei was few and far between in the movie.)

I am not, obviously, in Opus Dei. I have met some Opus Dei members who are kind, grounded, practical people who take their faith seriously, who are on fire with the joy of the Gospel, and who want to serve others. I have also met some Opus Dei people who are harsh and arrogant, who seem to see their faith mainly as a bludgeon designed for bullying and shaming their fellow Catholics.

I suspect that it’s sort of like the Boy Scouts: Your experience will vary widely, depending on who’s in charge of the local chapter. I also think it’s possible that, rather than producing a certain type of jerk, Opus Dei is especially good at at least partially reforming a certain type of jerk—so maybe the bad apples I met would have been much, much worse without the help of Opus Dei.

What else is there to know? This is a sincere question. If you have some direct experience with Opus Dei, I’d be really interested to learn the answers to the following questions. Please answer if you are a member or have had some significant direct experience with a member:

How has Opus Dei affected your daily life? How has it changed or helped you? What is the best thing about it? If you love Opus Dei, what is the biggest misconception you’d like to clear up for non-members?

Without gossiping, I’d also like to know if you have any bad experiences. Do you think there is something about the structure of Opus Dei that allows bad things to flourish? If so, what would you like to see changed?

Is there a certain kind of person for whom Opus Dei would be a good match, and a certain other kind of person who ought to look elsewhere for spiritual sustenance? Are most of the members you know of a certain social or economic class?

Also, what the heck: I’m really curious to know whether people affiliated with Opus Dei felt any pressure to promote There Be Dragons?

I know this can be an extremely touchy subject, because of all the silliness and bad press about Opus Dei. And so I am asking—begging, really—for people to keep their responses charitable and factual. If you start your comment by writing, “I don’t actually know any of those Opus Dei freaks, but I DO know—” then please just skip it! That’s no help. 

By the same token, if you are very enthusiastic about and grateful to Opus Dei, please be patient and understand that some people truly have had bad experiences, and you won’t be doing the reputation of your organization any favors by treating non-enthusiasts like morons or heretics.

And I apologize in advance if this post seems condescending or biased. As I said, my experience with Opus Dei is limited, but mostly negative. But I’m asking these questions to get a more balanced idea. I am going to be monitoring the comment box as closely as I can, and commenters who are just trying to make trouble will be vaporized, poof.

Okay, go!