By Walter Sanchez Silva
Opus Dei in Argentina has responded to a BBC news story about a complaint made to the Vatican by 43 women who claim to have been exploited by the Catholic apostolate.
In a communiqué, Opus Dei told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, that it considers it necessary “to set up a listening and study commission that will allow us to learn more about these experiences and the context in which they took place.”
The BBC published an article Aug. 2 reporting that 43 women from Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia made a complaint against Opus Dei with the Vatican in September 2021.
According to the news article, what the women demand is “financial compensation and public acknowledgement by the Church.”
According to the BBC, these women came from “low-income families when they were between 12 and 16 years old and [Opus Dei] took them to Buenos Aires in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s with the promise of giving them an education.”
However, the BBC continued, “they received training in domestic tasks and made them work for free for high-ranking members and priests” of Opus Dei.
The women were auxiliary numeraries — that is, women responsible for domestic work in the centers and institutions of Opus Dei.
The training received by the auxiliary numeraries is part of the charism of Opus Dei, which emphasizes sanctification through daily work.
One of the complainants cited by the BBC is Alicia Torancio, who gave her testimony after having been in Opus Dei for 13 years and said, among other things, that the prelature “brainwashed her.”
“They tell you that you have a vocation to be a saint, that you can contribute to the world through your work and that you are going to help change the world. And I was very idealistic,” she said.
The BBC stated that the complaint filed with the Vatican reads that “any vocational doubt was addressed by the institution as a psychological/psychiatric problem with the consequent provision of psychotropic drugs to neutralize the will.”
Torancio told the BBC that she wasn’t paid for her work, that she suffered from depression, and that she doesn’t trust the listening commission created by Opus Dei.
“How do you expect someone to report the abuse and exploitation to someone who abused and exploited that person?” she questioned.
The woman also said that as a result of the “brainwashing,” when she began to think about leaving, she told those at Opus Dei that she was “leaving because she gave them a bad image. She felt that she was useless, that she had failed God. That’s what they tell you.”
“They didn’t tell us that we were working. They told us that we were sanctifying ourselves, that what God was asking of us was to serve and that in this way we were helping to transform the world,” she said.
Torancio claims that Opus Dei must “publicly acknowledge what they did to us.”
“There are older women with a lot of health problems because of so much work and who can’t even retire,” she added.
Opus Dei’s response
Josefina Maradiaga, director of the communication office of Opus Dei in Argentina, told ACI Prensa that the BBC story deals with “questions raised more than a year ago through different media,” such as the Argentine newspaper La Nación and the Associated Press.
On both occasions, Opus Dei responded with a statement expressing its willingness to respond to the complaints and its desire to “receive, accompany, and ask forgiveness of those who have been in contact with or were part of Opus Dei and [whom] we haven’t been able to assist with the generosity and affection they needed.”
“As we have previously made public in a statement sent on June 23, we have allowed a period of time that was considered prudent to pass since the public accusations,” Maradiaga told ACI Prensa Aug. 2.
In the June 23 communiqué, Opus Dei said that Father Juan Llavallol, vicar of Opus Dei in the Plata Region (Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay) met with the person acting as “a spokesman for the women, the lawyer Sebastián Sal, on Nov. 5, 2021, with an open and listening attitude” in order to open channels of dialogue.
However, “despite the willingness of the prelature to open channels that would allow understanding the arguments and details of the situation of each one of these persons, it has not been possible to know and address each case personally and individually, creating an impediment to give an adequate response to each person.”
Maradiaga also told ACI Prensa that “in the absence of mandatory injunctions against the Prelature of Opus Dei, notification of a complaint by the ecclesiastical authorities, or fruitful channels of dialogue through the spokesman for the women, the prelature on its own initiative considered it necessary to set up a listening and study commission that would allow us to learn more about these experiences and the context in which they took place.”
“The goal is to gather all the possible elements about what happened and the conduct noted in those public accusations, so that the focus is not just on the accusations, that these elements are appreciated in their context and the pertinent measures are taken in each case, if applicable,” Maradiaga said.
The Listening Commission is chaired by Canadian Monique David. To contact the commission, you can write to [email protected] or you can call +54 911-7651-1950.