Opus Dei was always a swearword in my house growing up. My devout Catholic house, let me explain. For years, no one else had heard of them, until someone I worked with mentioned that when at Brunel University he had inadvertently ended up in an Opus Dei Hall of Residence because his mother had been insistent he went to a Catholic Hall of Residence. He didn't say much about the experience except it was weird and unnerving.
When my father was at University (what is now City University but was a college of London at the time), being a devout member of CathSoc and a former priest-student was preyed on by Opus Dei, but rejected them. Years later, in the work place he was called on by colleagues to extricate someone from the grips of what I gathered was a dangerous cult. My cousin, also a devout RC, infiltrated them at Cambridge University, and holds a scathing opinion of what is effectively, a cult.
I did a little bit of cult-infiltration myself at one stage, and concluded that what is most disturbing about cults or quasi-cults is the way they prey on certain types of people. Universities are recruitment hotbeds; my personal experience was in bedsit land, being early-twenties and seemingly impressionable. But sufficiently sceptical not to be brainwashed. I have seen this behaviour in religious groups and also in political groupings, particularly in the small fringe Trotskyist parties and groupings. Someone at Uni who had a bunch of insecurities use to swing bwtween Socialist Workers, Born Again Christian Union and overt homosexuality (the first two did not allow the last).
Opus Dei have recently become more prominent, largely because of that book, which I have no desire to read, having read sufficient reviews that highlight its writing style as dreadful, content aside. And through Ruth Kelly. I have never met Ruth, but for a time I was quite friendly with Derek, aka Mr Ruth, and it is difficult to imagine a more unlikely couple - he was Cupid in an ultimately short-lived affair I had with someone who went on to be a Hackney councillor.
Someone I know has a son who is going off to Rome to study to be a priest. That is not uncommon in the sort of circles I mix in. Seriously. But rather than, say, the English College, he's off to Opus Dei College, with no permission to return home for seven years, except in compassionate circumstances. I believe that compassionate circumstances may occur in that time.
Now despite my frequent rants against organised religion I have a tremendous respect for many clergypeople. Over the years I have collected many friends and acquaintances who are the offspring of clergy and more than a few who themselves are clergy or studying to be so. In general, I would say that these clergy people are remarkable and set a tremendous example, not only in their pastoral work but in the way they live their lives and relate to society. I remarked to this acquaintance that someone, a friend of the family, shall we say, holds a very senior position in the Church of England; I also mentioned some of my other clergy friends/acquaintances and my admiration for them. Rather snottily this acquaintance put them down because a Protestant clergyman (sic) is more a job whereas a Catholic one is a vocation.
I admire the serious Anglican/Methodist people I know from clergy families because whatever their chosen profession or job they work it as an extension of their personal belief system. This may mean choosing to work in the public sector or voluntary sector rather than earn higher money in an equivalent position elsewhere (to some extent this is my motivation although not entirely and not for Christian reasons). It may mean that when commenting on a housing development they reflect the inequity between the private and social aspect of the scheme. This son has been working as a lawyer in a hotshot city firm, earning serious money and with invitation to become partner. He has 'found it difficult' working with women - he has spent most of his post-University life as a numary, a celibate Opus Dei, living in barracks or somesuch.
I find it difficult to square the sanctimony of a celibate cult that calls on people to make their Christianity part of their everyday life and yet chooses life as a high-earner for capitalism above the various less well paid legal careers that work to better society. I suspect a counter-argument would be that what one contributes to society is irrelevant, it's how you live your personal life that matters. But I am unduly influenced by an IBVM quasi-Jesuistical version of secular democratic socialism. In parenthesis I see little Christian-like about a young man effectively deserting his family during the years when he may be of great assistance to them - although in further parentheses his presence has not been remarkable thus far.
I have a considerable problem with celibacy. It is required of priests and religious in the Catholic church but not in general in other Christian sects. Anyone can decide to be celibate or have the matter decided for them by default; one can also choose abstinence or chastity however one defines it. But I find the elevation of celibacy and its near-total requirement for priests to be problematic. In general, I would say that priests who live a full life, of marriage, probably with children, are more capable of attending to pastoral needs than those who have no experience of the difficulties in relationships and families that their congregations experience. I suppose for contemplative religious, celibacy is a natural accompaniment to lack of possessions and a frugal diet, but I find it difficult to see the value of a contemplative, perhaps secluded, life, when surely, a Christian should turn their life to improving society.
I also have problems in the way that the worship of celibacy has corrupted views on sexuality. Judeo-Christianity and Islam have for thousands of years promoted a partial ideal of sexuality as being for procreation and, on the whole, for nothing else. I have never found a satisfactory answer from a theologian or preacher as to why the natural rhythms of our (God-given) bodies should be wrong. And I do not understand why a young man, who finds the presence of women in the workplace to be difficult chooses nevertheless to reject women. If that is merely how he chooses to live his life, that is his choice, in my view a misinformed choice, because surely sexual attraction and arousal is a gift from god. I would not accuse this young man, because I do not know him, but I do believe that that leads onto a logical conclusion that women must be excluded from the workplace, or wear veils to cover themselves, to make it easier for a man who chooses celibacy or chastity. That is fundamentally wrong, because it elevates one man's perverse choice above nature and subjugates someone else to the fulfillment of that choice, makes women's choices the victims of the man's weakness.
In practice, in my experience, the workplace is not a hotbed of frustrated sexual desire. In practice the committed worker is focused on the work, perhaps looking forward to intimacy outside the workplace. The less committed is more likely to be clockwatching, surfing the news, football and blog pages on the 'net, or discussing low-rent telly at the water-cooler. Where there is sexual desire it is generally communicated subtly; it is welcomed or rejected, the consequence of the latter may lead to awkwardness or upset, but mature balanced adults 'get over it' work resumes and they move on. Few of us face a constant battle with sexual desire in the workplace because we have other outlets if our feelings are not reciprocated. But the glorification of celibacy and its consequent distortion of sexuality infantilises us all and creates artificial problems.