SECTS AND OPUS DEI
4. The Charismatic Leader
Sectarians are usually the slaves of a messiah, following the
terminology of Pepe Rodríguez who even went so far as to give
title to one of his books on sects. According to this author, in sects
there are two doctrinal bodies that are intimately linked, but
perfectly distinguishable. One is that of the doctrine of personal myth
and the other is that of revealed doctrine. The doctrine of personal
myth consists of an overestimation of all the human qualities of the
leader, to the point of worshipping him with values and abilities
proper to the divinity.
In the sects - they continue illustrating - hierarchical rank is
equated with spiritual maturity, something logical if we see that the
base of the pyramid is occupied by the neophytes and the summit is
monopolized by the leader. Therefore, a personal matters about the
will have all the more value and strength the higher the hierarchical
rank of the sender. This mechanism originates another fundamental fact:
only the leader (apex of the pyramid) has the right to the “written
the personal myth and to be worshipped through it”.
In the doctrine of the personal myth, not only is the leader's
biography deified, but also a past and intellectual formation are
invented in accordance with it. The objective is to place the leader in
such a high position (in physical, moral, and spiritual qualities) that
no follower can ever dream of reaching it. The consequence of this,
once the leader's position is accepted as "perfect", is the cessation
of all criticism and the total submission of the disciple to the will
of the "perfect master". (52)
In this synoptic summary of the theory of
the charismatic leader expounded by the writer Pepe Rodríguez,
stereotyped typology that is repeated in all sects with small variants
Another detail by
which this theory is even more nuanced is
that “the leaders of the sects come
out of the social nothing
and go on
to create and mold a mass that will have no other object than to follow
them or obey them blindly. They all pretend to have been 'enlightened'
by the 'divinity'.” (53)
In all the cases, an ostensible megalomania of the charismatic leader
can be appreciated, being his authority over the flock omnimous and
It is curious to note how “on a
symbolic level it has been demonstrated
that the components of a group see in this the mother and in the leader
the FATHER” (54)
and this is precisely the name and the nomenclature
that the followers reserve for Escrivá de Balaguer.
The cult of the Founder has reached an unprecedented extreme within
Work of God". As Alberto Moncada tells us in his "Historia oral del Opus Dei" ("Oral
History of Opus
Dei"), the Opus
recognize themselves as members of a family in
which the "Father" is the main character. The history of these first
fifty years of Opus Dei is nothing more than an extended biography of
Monsignor Escrivá, of his psychological evolution, of his
with locals and strangers, and of the unconditional obedience of his
This obedience, this devotion to the "Father", became a reason for his
children to live and
a key to their religious experiences, and ends up
obscuring any other way of understanding the vocation of Opus Dei. The
cult of the "Father"'s personality, in which analysts see the greatest
difficulty for a modification of the opusdeist path,
in the spirit of that man whose faith in his destiny made him say: “I
have known seven popes, hundreds of cardinals, thousands of bishops.
But there is only one founder of Opus Dei.” (55)
The "Father" Escrivá always surrounded himself with his most
associates and his appearances to the majority of the members took
place in a collective atmosphere and, if possible, with young boys and
addicted people. (56)
The paroxysm of the reverential pose, in relation
to the founder of the
sect, is told by Luis Carandell (57)
when he writes that the members of
Opus Dei kneel before the founder (Christians generally kneel only
before the Blessed Sacrament). Every morning, in the Roman residence, a
maiden with a cap enters the presidential chamber while the mosignor
eating breakfast and, kneeling down, places a silver tray with the
correspondence on the table. All of his children kneel down with
fennels to kiss his hand. And here is another fact that confirms once
again the deep trait of his character. Monsignor "tolerates" these
manifestations of his sons' veneration of him, but he wishes to
institutionalize their custom of kneeling before him so that no shadow
of vanity, pride or conceit can be thought of in their acceptance. “A
former member who held positions of great responsibility in the Work in
his time told me”, Carandell continued, “that in a General Congress of
Opus Dei, which he attended shortly before leaving the Institute, the
only point that was discussed at length, and on which agreement was
reached, was the obligation for members to kneel before the President
General, whoever he was. This was done "so that "Father" Escriva's
successor would not feel humiliated" by recalling that the members
knelt before the Founder.”
The "Father" Escrivá, the charismatic leader, is within the
situated on an inaccessible pedestal, having mithicized
himself in life.
In order to discover the sectarians, Carandell himself gives us a clue
by indicating that (58)
the decisive test for knowing whether a person
is from Opus Dei is to speak contemptuously of the "Father". They jump
right in. They claim that he is their "father" and that anyone would
jump if they spoke badly of their father.
Pilar Salarrullana, a former senator and deputy, has written an
interesting book on Sects as a living testimony to the messiahs of
terror in Spain, where she points out that the leader is an essential
characteristic of the sects, since he is “a messianic, charismatic
character with great personal charm and a great power of attraction and
suggestion, what psychologists call an "expansive paranoid", who
becomes the owner of bodies and minds and, of course, of the wallet of
his followers. He calls himself” - continues Pilar
Salarrullana - “"guru", "teacher",
"prophet", "reverend", "swami", "pastor", "president", "commander" or
"FATHER". In Opus Dei they have adopted this last denomination.”
Salarrullana, the "Father" is the one who knows everything,
controls everything and foresees everything. His word, his writings,
and his commands cannot be doubted; he can never be disobeyed.
Escrivá himself referred to the members of Opus Dei as his
"sons" and "daughters," so they had to kneel before him when they were
in his presence.
To such extremes they
arrive on the mythical paroxysm of the figure of the leader
that, as long as a
positive face of the "Father" is presented, it didn't matter
to lie or to alter the facts - as a numerary
clarifies in a broad report
published in the women's magazine Marie Claire, an article entitled "La
historia amarga de una numeraria del Opus" ("The Bitter Story of
an Opus Dei Numerary"). (59)
Another characteristic of these characters is that they tend to place
the writings of the founder of the sect on the same level of importance
as Scripture - the example is found in the little book, "The Way",
written by the "Father" - the Word of God must be interpreted according
to the exegetical whims and the teachings of the leader of the sect.
Therefore, membership in the Work is absolute submission, and the
"Father"'s right encompasses everything. The children of Escrivá
are like donkeys on a Ferris wheel:
one turn, another turn, more turns,
tied to the stick that makes the wheel move. They are tied to the
"Father"; they cannot and do not know how to do or think anything
of the magnetic force of the "Father". We could say that
they live on
Escrivá de Balaguer is a powerful drug for those who
allow themselves to be trapped in his powerful spider's web. So high is
the degree of intoxication that they suffer and to which they are
subjected, that in thought, in word, in deed, it is not Christ who is
there, it is the "Father".
Nothing is more graphic and representative than the image of the donkey
on a Ferris wheel, always walking, circling, so as not to go anywhere.
"Father" Escrivá urges his "sons" to be, in the spiritual sense,
like the donkeys on the waterwheel. And among the members of the Work,
it became fashionable to have a ceramic, straw or wooden figurine in
their homes, representing a donkey with a paddle. (61) The presence of
the donkey in the reception area of a house or in the
anteroom of an
office, could be an indication that the expert in opusdeism should
take into account to determine whether the tenant belonged to the Work.
Covadonga Carcedo, a former aggregate member
from Asturias, publicly
denounced Opus Dei, saying: “Opus
Dei is a mafia that controls
everything. I, who became an apostate thanks to Opus Dei, want to show
my fellow citizens the hypocrisy of these people, all of them spiritual
daughters of José María Escrivá de Balaguer, a
marquis they aspire to
take to the altars.” (62)
When talking about sects, here and now, the journalist Pepe
also asks himself whether
it would be interesting to study why there are so
many Spanish leaders in certain sects with a manifest or latent
52. Rodríguez, "Esclavos de
un Mesías" ("Slaves of a Messiah"), pp 44-46.
53. Idid, p 28.
54. Ibid, p 78.
55. Moncada, "Historia oral del Opus
Dei", pp. 12-13.
56. Moncada, "El Opus Dei: Una
interpretación", p. 125.
57. Carandell, p 98.
58. Ibid, p. 23.
59. "Marie Claire" magazine
60. Nicolás Cobo Martínez, "Faro inconfundible",
No. 23 (June 1988).
61. Carandell, p 125.
62. Covadonga Carcedo. "Interviú"
magazine (04 June 1988).
Index of Chapter I