Monday 1 April 2024

Opus Dei rejects claims of 'exploitation' made by former Irish member, who joined aged 15

Unveiling Opus Dei: Irishwoman from FT investigation speaks out

OPUS DEI HAS rejected claims by an Irish woman that the secretive Catholic group exploited her when she was a member during the late 1970s.

Anne Marie Allen spoke out alongside other former members against Opus Dei in a recent investigation by the Financial Times. Allen spent over five years as an unpaid assistant numerary in the Opus Dei religious group.

She has called for compensation for her work and that Opus Dei are held accountable for the alleged poor treatment and exploitation of its former members.

While Opus Dei have said it is “very sorry and deeply regret that Anne Marie Allen was hurt by her time in Opus Dei”, it rejected claims of poor treatment and exploitation, adding that former members must file an official complaint.

In the newspaper investigation a number of assistant numeraries – roles filled by women in the religion to serve other members – highlighted abuse they recieved from Opus Dei.

Allen left school in 1975 to join a catering college at Ballabbert School, which was run by the religious group, at the age of 15. She claims the college did not have a curriculum and that members of Opus Dei were assigned to each student to bring them into the religion.

Allen told RTÉ’s Upfront podcast that the members would make the students “feel special” and that frequent “love bombing” would take place. In later conversations, the members would promote of the practices of Opus Dei in order to deal with their issues.

In the months after starting at Ballabbert, Allen was asked if she wanted to begin a ‘vocation’ – a dedication to the Opus Dei religion – and begin work as an assistant numerary, a domestic work and catering role offered to, often uneducated, women.

Allen accepted the position but but has stressed the fact that she was underage at the time.

“At that point, I was 16. I was a bit taken aback and I didn’t have the strength to challenge that you know and then next thing the word vocation kept being mentioned,” Allen told the programme.

Allen detailed that the treatment she recieved from the secretive Catholic group led to her suppressing her own values, thought processes and opinions and the daily routine stripped her of a life.

When not working for its clients, she lived in an Opus Dei centre and took part in what she found to be “uncomfortable” practices of the religion, such as wearing a ‘cilice’ – a strap with sharp wire on one side – on her leg and deprived herself of food and sleep.

“It was like Catholicism on cocaine,” Allen said. “You got up, you had to go to Mass, you had to do two, half-hours of prayer, you’d to do 15 minutes of spiritual reading, I forget how many decades of the the Rosary, you had to examination of conscience at nighttime. That was just on a daily basis.

“You had silence from two o’clock in the day until six o’clock in the evening. And the same from nine o’clock at night in to six o’clock the next morning,” she added.

She added: “I was told: ‘You have a vocation as big as a house. And if you don’t follow it, you’re going to go to hell and your family will go to hell, and bad things will happen to you. If you leave Opus Dei bad things will happen to you’.”

Allen eventually left the religious group after her Father stopped her from returning to the centre when she was visiting family – however, she says it took her almost two years to regain her own opinions again.

“It took until I was brave enough to say, ‘I don’t want to go back. I can’t do this anymore. This is not me’. So took all of that length of time. And it was quite difficult. Because Opus Dei pursued me long and hard during that time.”

In a statement provided to the RTÉ programme, Opus Dei acknowledged that Allen was hurt by her time as an assistant numerary in the religious group, but rejected claims that its members exploited her.

With regard to her experience in the late 70s, we reject the accusation of exploitation.

“Assistant numeraries are women in Opus Dei who, like all the other members, aim to love God and others through their work and daily life. In their case, their chosen work is caring for the people and centres in the family setting of Opus Dei. This work is paid in accordance with the employment legislation of the countries in which they live.

“The vocation of assistant numerary is being followed by thousands of women around the world with freedom, love and commitment, and has the same dignity as any other life choice. In fact, many women who joyfully live out this vocational call made a public plea a few months ago for their free and conscious choice to be respected and not demeaned.

“In cases in the past where there may have been irregularities in social security contributions, or bad experiences within the organisation, Opus Dei recognises that these things can have happened, but needs the people concerned to make a formal complaint. They can do so,” it added.