Opus Dei Members Allege Unpaid Wages

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) – Forty-three women are accusing Opus Dei of failing to provide the education they were promised in exchange for decades of work.

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Lawyer Catalina María Donnelly

According to a May 18 report in Argentina’s newspaper of record, La NacionArgentine and Paraguayan teenage girls were recruited by Opus Dei and promised schooling and employment. Instead of being enrolled in local schools, they were taught domestic skills such as sewing, cooking, washing and housekeeping.

They allege they were not paid while in domestic service at centers of the international Catholic organization. Now aged 40 to 60 years, they are seeking unpaid wages and pensions for work performed for Opus Dei between 1980 and the early 2000s.

Consonant with the expressed goal of Opus Dei to sanctify work-life of all sorts, the women had made commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience, while their domestic service was viewed as an offering to God. 

They were all dubbed auxiliary numeraries, one of the categories of Opus Dei for its members, which include cooperators, supernumeraries and numeraries. They were provided food, recreation and housing near the residences of numeraries of Opus Dei (Latin for Work of God), many of whom are professionals, according to an Opus Dei spokesperson.

Interviewed by La Nacion, lawyer Catalina María Donnelly — who leads the women’s branch of Opus Dei in Buenos Aires — said she was saddened by the accusations but claimed that the women were always paid for their work. However, she told La Nacion that there may have been some “informality” in how they were paid.

“Perhaps whoever ran the residence [where the women lived] made a community fund from which they drew expenses,” she explained, adding that “This is unintelligible today and improper, but at that time it was done as was common among families.”

Argentina has gone through considerable economic and political ups and downs throughout the 1980s and into the current decade, having seen wild inflation, unemployment, widened social division, failed governments and outmigration of Argentines seeking a better life.

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St. Josemaria Escrivá

Brian Finnerty of Opus Dei’s office in New York City explained to Church Militant the goals of the organization: “Opus Dei is about finding God in work and everyday life, about fostering the universal call to holiness, especially for laypeople. Saint John Paul II, who canonized Opus Dei’s founder, St. Josemaria Escrivá, referred to St. Josemaria as ‘the saint of ordinary life.’

Finnerty added that he does not regard the status of the Argentine auxiliary numeraries as analogous to nuns.

Opus Dei was founded in Spain in 1928, and the Vatican approved the organization in 1950. Pope St. John Paul II made it a personal prelature in 1980, which means that its prelate has jurisdiction over its members instead of over a geographical jurisdiction. 

In a 2020 letter to the approximately (mostly lay) 95,000 members worldwide, prelate Fr. Fernando Ocáriz, wrote, “From the beginning, [Escriva] understood that the universality of this call implied that the fullness of love for God and others was possible also in the middle of the world — in our real world, with its lights and shadows.”

In 1993, St. John Paul II said of St. Josemaria, “He reminded the contemporary world of the universal call to holiness and of the Christian value which professional work can have in the ordinary life of each person.”

The 43 former auxiliary numeraries have retained attorney Sebastián Sal of Buenos Aires as their representative. According to La NacionSal has yet to make a court filing against Opus Dei or the Catholic Church. However, the report said Pope Francis’ diplomatic representative in Argentina, Abp. Mirosław Adamczyk, suggested they write a letter to Pope Francis about their claims. According to La Nacion, the letter to the Argentine pontiff demanded “Opus Dei should recognize its error, ask forgiveness from the women, provide due compensation and cease these activities.” 

According to the report, Sal discovered there were scant contributions made to the women’s national social security pensions by Opus Dei. Church Militant emailed Sal and asked for clarification of the charges against Opus Dei and a copy of the letter to Francis but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Opus Dei should recognize its error, ask forgiveness from the women, provide due compensation and cease these activities.

According to a press release, Opus Dei of Argentina claimed it first learned of the accusations in September 2020 when it received the attorney’s letter, adding that it did not provide sufficient information to address the social security issue.

“We understand that the cases could be very different from each other,” the release noted. It added, however, despite the lack of any legal claim, that Opus Dei has “repeatedly expressed its openness to listen and understand the arguments and details of the claim presented.”

It continued, “To date, the lawyer has not formally presented himself or provided further information.” The release also declared that, while there “may have been some negative personal experiences,” Opus Dei has “always acted in accordance with current law and with the genuine purpose of promoting human and social development.”

In an interview with La Nacion, Donnelly said, “Personally, I would beg forgiveness for what they have suffered and for how they lived. It pains me greatly that, at their age, they have not been able to resolve that aspect of their lives. It isn’t the experience I have heard from [other auxiliary numeraries] who have also left the Work.” 

Donnelly told the newspaper, “I never saw non-remunerated work. … It was always paid. And what was done by the students during courses at the school was not work. They were professional practices approved by the Ministry of Education and overseen by its inspectors.”

The Opus-affiliated Institute for Integrated Training in Domestic Studies closed in 2017. Donnelly said she wishes it had closed earlier since it no longer responded to modern needs. 

Personally, I would beg forgiveness for what they have suffered and for how they lived.

She told La Nacion, “One tried to improve the situation in which the girls found themselves. We tried to give them what we had within our reach for their utter improvement, just as St. Josemaria, the founder of Opus Dei, taught us.”

The press release explained the news in La Nacion provides an opportunity “to apologize to those who have been in contact or have been part of Opus Dei” because they “have not known how to accompany and attend with generosity and affection … what they needed.” The press release concluded, “The teaching of the gospel is a beacon that constantly calls on us to rethink the ways to better serve others.”

In his email to Church Militant, Opus Dei spokesman Finnerty noted that compensation within Opus Dei varies according to local laws and customs.

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Dora del Hoyo

He wrote: “Opus Dei will comply with the law in each country with regards to employment, salaries, etc. But, in general, the numerary members contribute to the various apostolates of Opus Dei all their salaries and other earnings not needed for their personal support.”

Regarding the accusations laid against Opus Dei in Argentina, Finnerty affirmed, “We are working to resolve the situation for each of the individuals involved. Each case is specific, regarding employment history, pension provisions, etc. If there were omissions on our part, we want to fix that.”

According to Opus Dei, there are currently 4,000 female auxiliary numeraries in the prelature who “are committed to seeking the fullness of Christian life through professional work, family and social life in service to others and society as a firm path within the Catholic Church.” Their mission, according to Opus Dei, lies in caring for “people and in creating the family atmosphere of the apostolic work of Opus Dei and other educational and assistance initiatives.” The statement noted that Dora del Hoyo (1914–2004) was such a housekeeper, whose cause for beatification is underway.

In the United States, Lexington College was affiliated with Opus Dei and offered Catholic-inspired courses and degree programs in culinary arts, hospitality management and health care. Accredited by the Illinois Board of Higher Education in 1993, it closed and voluntarily resigned its affiliation with the Board in 2014. In the United States and elsewhere, there are numerous private schools and universities affiliated with Opus Dei.

— Campaign 32075 —

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