Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, the prelate of Opus Dei, said the institution he has led since January 2017 “does not want to be an exception” in the Catholic Church.

The prelate gave his comments June 27 to El País Semanal in a weekend supplement to the Spanish newspaper, which was published Aug. 26 in a report titled “Opus Dei at the crossroads.”

When asked if Pope Francis, with the reforms he has ordered for Opus Dei, has decided to dissolve the “specificity” of the institution, the prelate said he amiably disagrees and that “the specificity of Opus Dei rests on its charism or spirit rather than on its legal trappings. At its core is the universal call to holiness through work and the ordinary realities of life.”

“For the rest, Opus Dei does not want to be an exception,” he noted.

The fact that until now “The Work” has been “the only personal prelature that could have been perceived as something ‘exceptional,’ but of course it’s not that: On the contrary, I think it would be very good if there were other personal prelatures that contributed to the evangelization of numerous areas especially in need of Christian inspiration,” Ocáriz remarked.

Opus Dei means “the work of God” in Latin, which is why its members refer to the institution as “The Work.” Its emphasis or charism is sanctification through daily work. It is made up of priests, celibate laymen who are called numeraries and associates, and supernumeraries who are married members.

Founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá on Oct. 2, 1928, and erected as a personal prelature on Nov. 28, 1982, by St. John Paul II, since March 2022 Opus Dei has been at the center of a series of reforms determined by Pope Francis.

The most recent, issued Aug. 8, equates personal prelatures with public clerical associations that have the power to incardinate clerics.

A little over a year ago, on July 22, 2022, with the motu proprio Ad Charisma Tuendum (“to protect the charism”), the Holy Father transferred the competencies in matters of personal prelatures from the Dicastery for Bishops to the Dicastery for the Clergy and determined that the prelate, currently Ocáriz, will not be a bishop although he maintains the honorary title of monsignor.

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Blessed Álvaro del Portillo and Javier Echevarría, the first two successors of St. Josemaría at the head of Opus Dei, were appointed bishops by St. John Paul II.

The perception outside of Opus Dei

The prelate also pointed out to El País Semanal that “most of the people who know us appreciate us. Especially when they know about the work that is done: social, educational ... when they come into contact with people individually, because these are the realities. Even when they think otherwise.”

Then there are other environments, he continued, “in which there may be more criticism, due to prejudice: due to a conception that one has of the history of the Church and of its role in the world that can lead to a nonpositive assessment.” 

It is understandable, then, “that there are aspects that do not fit the way of thinking of some people. But that’s pluralism. The only important thing is to respect each other: We can always collaborate,” he added.

Position in face of criticism

Regarding the criticism that Opus Dei receives, Ocáriz commented that “mistakes and personal inconsistencies are part of life. Criticisms help to improve when they are well-founded and come from knowledge of reality.”

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“I would like the variety of Opus Dei people to be better perceived from the social and cultural point of view. Sometimes the focus is on a person of public importance and not on a hundred others who have difficulties making ends meet.”

In the opinion of the 78-year-old Spanish prelate, “in some cases a stereotyped reading has been made of Opus Dei, based on clichés, which don’t help understanding a broader and more plural reality.”

“I would also like to see greater understanding that Opus Dei people are free and responsible. Their merits or mistakes in their professional performance or in civil life, for example, must be attributed to him or her, as it happens with any other Catholic,” he noted.

The prelate of Opus Dei stressed that “the opinions or decisions of a politician on the left or the right are his and his alone, not attributable to the Church or to an institution; these are realities that move on different planes. Historically, this mechanism of attributing personal performance to belonging to a spiritual path has fostered misunderstandings that continue to this day.”

Opus Dei is currently present in almost 70 countries and is made up of more than 93,000 lay members, of whom 57% are women and 43% men, in addition to 2,095 priests.

Fighting between progressives and conservatives in the Church?

Regarding the “fight” between conservatives and progressives in the Catholic Church, Ocáriz recalled that “the pope was asked a similar question, and he pointed out that it was a worldly interpretation, alien to the religious dimension. I think that too often there is a tendency towards a reading of reality in terms of power and polarization, with groups that oppose each other and don’t understand each other.”

However, the prelate explained that “in the Church the logic that must prevail is that of service and collaboration. We all row in the same boat, open to being helped to improve.”

And about the “old conflict” that the Spanish newspaper mentioned between Jesuits and members of Opus Dei, the prelate noted that “personally I can tell you that I am a former student of the school of the Society of Jesus in Madrid, and I am very grateful for the formation and the example I received from the Jesuits.”

A prayer request from the prelate

The reform ordered by the pope, which includes the modification of the statutes of The Work, led to holding a world congress in Rome in April in which 126 women and 148 men participated, of whom 90 were priests.

“The motu proprio of Aug. 8 must also be taken into account when adapting and updating the statutes of the Work … For this reason, I now renew the request for prayers that I already addressed to you a few months ago, so that this work comes to fruition,” Ocáriz wrote in a letter to the members of Opus Dei two days after the publication of the papal document this month.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.