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SELECTING A NEW POPE

Controversial Opus Dei Has Stake in Papal Vote

April 19, 2005|Larry B. Stammer and Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writers

"Opus Dei has become a victim of Christian-phobia," Herranz said. But in fact, he said, "more people today love Opus Dei than don't. And we have a saint now, our founder Escriva, so more people understand the good works and spiritual doctrine of Opus Dei."

Critics of the movement have said the church's decision to make Escriva a saint was disturbing in view of his friendship with Spain's late fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. Opus Dei spokesman Brian Finnerty said that members of Opus Dei included both backers and opponents of Franco.

Escriva hewed to the theologically conservative stance shared by John Paul II, including strict adherence to the church's teaching on sexual and moral issues. He also spoke out against "godless" communism.

Seventy percent of Opus Dei members are married men and women. Known as supernumeraries, they commit to be guided by spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reciting the rosary, and attending Mass.

Single members are known as numeraries. Most live in gender-segregated Opus Dei residences. They practice celibacy, but do not take a vow.

Some members wear a cilice, which can range from a belt of prickly cloth to a band with dull spikes, around their thighs as a reminder of Christ's sufferings, just as saints and monks often did in the past. They contribute all their income to Opus Dei beyond what they need for their immediate living expenses.

The group has 1,875 priests, according to a Vatican report this year. Nineteen of its priests have been ordained as bishops.

About 3,000 of the group's 85,000 members live in the U.S. It has 1,875 priests worldwide, according to a Vatican report this year. One of its bishops, Jose H. Gomez, now heads the Diocese of San Antonio. Opus Dei has opened a $42-million, 17-story headquarters in Manhattan, and operates student outreach centers throughout the country, including one near UCLA.

In 1998, John Paul granted the title "university" to Opus Dei's athenaeum in Rome, making it the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, one of six such institutions in the city.

As for the future, Opus Dei officials said they were not worried. Their status in the church as a personal prelature is cast in canon law. To alter Opus Dei's status, a new pope would have to change the canon law, and that is not expected.

"From the pope's vantage point, what's not to like?" Martin, the Jesuit priest, asked. "First, you have all these dedicated lay Catholics. Secondly, you have Opus Dei's affluent members donating money to the Vatican. And you have Opus Dei members adhering to the magisterium [official church teachings] as strictly as possible."

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