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 such a 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 Master 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 doctrine of 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, the stereotyped typology that is repeated in all sects with small variants is countered.

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 absolute.

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 "the Work of God". As Alberto Moncada tells us in his "Historia oral del Opus Dei" ("Oral History of Opus Dei"), the Opus followers 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 relationships with locals and strangers, and of the unconditional obedience of his people.

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, was engendered 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 loyal 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 [Escrivá] is 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 group 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.”

According to 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 outside of the magnetic force of the "Father". We could say that they live on drugs. (60) 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 Rodríguez 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 homosexuality.


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 (December 1987).
60. Nicolás Cobo Martínez, "Faro inconfundible", No. 23 (June 1988).
61. Carandell, p 125.
62. Covadonga Carcedo. "Interviú" magazine (04 June 1988).

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