The Vatican’s top doctrine office says a once-controversial association the promotes veneration of the angels is now in full conformity with Church teaching.
Opus Sanctorum Angelorum (Work of the Holy Angels) was founded by Gabriele Bitterlich, an Austrian woman who claimed to have received visions of the angels, including their names and their functions in Heaven.
The Vatican began investigating the movement shortly after her death in 1978, when certain followers, including priests and nuns, began circulating sensational theories of “spiritual warfare” between angels and demons based on her visions.
Since 1992, the group has been under the authority of a Vatican appointed overseer, Dominican Father Benoit Duroux, who handed over his responsibilities to his fellow Dominican Fr. Daniel Ols in March 2010.
In a letter issued to the world’s bishops Nov. 4, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pronounced Father Duroux’s work to be a “success.”
“Today, thanks to the obedience of its members, the Opus Angelorum can be considered to be living loyally and serenely in conformity with the doctrine of the Church and with canonical and liturgical law,” the Vatican said.
“Therefore, in its present state, the Opus Angelorum is a public association of the Church in conformity with traditional doctrine and with the directives of the Holy See.”
The ruling means that local bishops can welcome the Opus Angelorum in their dioceses. The movement is largely confined to Austria and Germany, but there is a U.S. branch based in Detroit.
One Vatican official with close knowledge of the situation, told CNA that problems remain with some ex-members of the Opus Angelorum, including some ex-priests, who follow the original controversial practices of Bitterlich.
The official, who requested that his name not be used, said the Vatican is concerned that these ex-members may attempt to “deceive” Catholics into engaging in practices that the Vatican has prohibited, including referring to the angels by the names allegedly revealed to Bitterlich, and receiving Communion multiple times in one day.
In its letter, the Vatican warned bishops of “very discrete propaganda in favor of this wayward movement, which is outside of any ecclesiastical control, is taking place, aimed at presenting it as if it were in full communion with the Catholic Church.” Bishops, the Vatican said, must remain “vigilant” and “forbid” these activities.
However, in the main, the order is now in step with Vatican directives, the Vatican official told CNA.
Those members who did not abide by the regulations established were dismissed from the order, he said. In this way, problems were "totally eliminated" and incongruencies with Church teaching within the order are no longer an issue.
“As the letter says, it is an ecclesial movement that like all movements has its particular aspects, its spirituality, but everything is in order,” he explained.
Opus Angelorum is formed of lay members, religious sisters and priests. It has full pontifical status as a religious order within the Catholic Church, but its uniqueness is found in the practice of its members consecrating themselves to both their guardian angels and to the entire body of holy angels to attain "active" status in the order.
Father Paul Haffner, a theologian at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome who has studied the Opus movement, said there is nothing wrong with venerating angels. Problems arise, he said, when veneration crosses over into worship. He noted that “worship of angels,” was specifically forbidden by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians.
"Worship," Father Haffner explained, "must always be Christ-centered." Devotion to saints and angels, must be limited to "reverence." This proper reverence can also be shown through a consecration or special dedication to the angels similar to that promoted by Opus Angelorum.
He added that the Church "is very positive towards angels” but does not sanction the use of names for angels other than those angels specifically named in Scripture.
As for whether Mrs. Bitterlich's private revelations might one day be examined and possibly approved by the Church, the Vatican source familiar with the situation said that is not under investigation at the moment.
“There are many things that are good in these visions and revelations, useful things for the Church, along with these there are things that are not in conformity with the Church and must be put aside," he said. "Surely, she was a very religious soul and she had a very strong relationship with God."