BY PATRICK WEST AND LUKE COPPEN
OPUS DEL the controversial society of pontifical rite, has told The Catholic Herald that a book published in Britain this week which makes disturbing allegations about the society's founder and his practices is "a false and highly distorted account".
Beyond the Threshold, A Life in Opus Dei by Maria del Carmen Tapia, who spent 18 years with Opus Dei, paints a picture of a society riddled by secrecy, elitism, reactionary politics and questionable financial practices, and portrays its founder Mgr Jose Maria Escriva as a megalomaniac and a bully.
The author also alleges that the society employed "indoctrination" and "brainwashing" to foster "fanaticism" within its ranks. She claims that the movement has "become the most retrograde and sectarian wing of the church" since its inception in 1928.
Maria del Carmen Tapia says she was turned into an "automaton" through methods bearing "an alarming resemblance to Stalin's tactics", and claims that one of the reasons Opus Dei eased its members toward fanaticism "is to banish from their minds, under the pretence of formation, the slightest hint of criticism of the institution."
But Andrew Soane, a spokesman for Opus Dei in London, this week dismissed the book as the work of a bitter woman. He said that Mgr Escriva would not have been beatified in 1992 if "the founder were as she paints him". He said: "I think she is embittered by something."
The publication of the book in this country follows six years after its Spanish edition. Marlies Kucking, who has worked in the Prelature's central offices in Rome since 1964, said at the time: "The whole picture is unreal. The worst lies are usually based on half-truths."
In the book, Maria del Carmen Tapia claims Mgr Escriva told her: "In Opus Dei great brains are no use because they turn into swelled heads. Average minds, my daughters, are very useful, because they are docile and prepared to accept whatever is told them."
She also claims Mgr Escriva dubbed Queen Elizabeth "the devil". When the author told him she was leaving the movement, he is alleged to have said: "Don't talk with anybody about the work, nor about Rome. Don't set your parents against us, because, if I find out that you are saying anything negative about the work to anybody, I, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, have the world's press in my hands".
She claims his parting words were: "Hear me well! Whore! Sow!" After her departure in 1966 she claims the institution sought reprisals against her.
She points out that there were "not only good people but excellent human beings inside Opus Dei", but that "others, who have privileged information, do not dare to say what they think out loud for fear of being silenced."
Fr Vladimir Felzmann, who was a member of Opus Dei for 22 years, said this week that the author says nothing new in her book.
He said: "The problem is that she left such a long time ago, and the argument that Opus Dei will use is that that was then and this is now. If you had someone that left Opus Dei a year ago and made such allegations that would be a revelation."
He added: "Escriva was convinced that he was called by God. Once that happens you have complete conviction in anything you do. His church was one founded in the Spain of the 1930s, at a time when Catholics were being massacred by the Communists. Opus Dei is still affected by the mentality that Escriva is still at war and fighting to survive."
• Beyond the Threshold is published by Continuum, £14.95