by Desmond O'Grady in Rome
POPE JOHN PAUL II praised Opus Dei for giving sympathisers liberty and a sense of "personal responsibility in temporal choices" earlier this week. However, the controversy surrounding the organisation's "secrecy" continues unabated.
Opus Dei has been the object of attacks from two Italian weeklies, L'Espresso and Panorama, for its alleged secrecy over membership and regulations, and its infiltration of Italian politics. Following the press "revelations", some leftwing Italian parliamentarians have called for an official inquiry into the Society.
Opus Dei has responded to its Italian critics by announcing that its statutes are available for perusal in the Vatican, and that there is no element of secrecy in the organisation's dealings or membership.
On Monday, the Pope addressed over 4,000 university students and teachers representing 400 Opus Dei education establishments from 42 nations, during their annual International University Congress in Rome.
UNIV 86, as this year's Opus Dei initiative is called, has taken place each year at Easter, since 1968. This.19th annual congress is devoted to "cultural bases for a peace project".
In his address, the Pope said that Opus Dei gives "its members, both priests and laity, and all those who approach its apostolate, aprofound Christian formation favouring the experience of freedom and personal responsibility in temporal choices . ."
The organisation's most recent public critic is one of its ex-numeraries, Eva Sicilian°, who in an interview with the weekly Panorama, accused Opus Dei of instructing her to keep secret her commitment to Opus Dei from her parents, of censoring her mail, and of threatening her with "God's wrath" if she should leave the prelature.
The spearhead of the socialist deputees, Rino Formica, in his demand for a parliamentary inquiry into Opus Del, spoke of the importance, given "the weakness of the political authorities" in Italy, of establishing whether an Opus member's allegiance "is to a minister of the Republic, or to del Portal°, the president of Opus Dei".
Mr Formica pointed out that Opus Dei, which operates centres in 17 Italian cities, shared many similarities with the now defunct Masonic Lodge, P2,: secrecy, strong links binding the lay member to its organisation, blind obedience to the titular head of the organisation.
Indeed, the deputees who demanded the inquiry claimed that several instances of former P2 members becoming Opus Dei followers had come to light in Tuscany.