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DENVER – In the wake of recent changes decreed by Pope Francis, the leader of Opus Dei has announced that he’ll convene a special meeting in early 2023 to revise the group’s statutes in order to comply with the papal mandates.
Among other things, the pontiff decreed in July that from now on, the head of Opus will be a priest rather than a bishop, and also that Vatican supervision of the group will fall under the Dicastery for Clergy rather than the Dicastery for Bishops.
In political terms, many analysts have interpreted the changes as a “downgrade” in the group’s ecclesiastical standing, though Francis said the purpose is to protect its founding vision.
In an Oct. 6 note, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, prelate of Opus Dei, made clear the group plans to comply. He said members of their General Council and Central Advisory body are currently studying “how to carry out what the pope asked us” in terms of revising their statutes “to reflect changes ordered by the pope.”
The changes came in a motu proprio, meaning legislation issued on the pope’s own initiative, Ad Charisma Tuendum, dated July 14. Roughly translated as “For the protection of the charism,” the legislation is intended “to strengthen the conviction that, for the protection of the particular gift of the Spirit, a form of government based more on charism than on hierarchical authority is needed.”
Opus Dei was granted canonical status as the church’s first personal prelature by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Unlike a diocese or a territorial prelature, a personal prelature brings clergy and laity together for a specific purpose, although for the ordinary life of the church, laity remain members of their local diocese.
A personal prelature can also have its own priests and seminaries. At the moment Opus Dei is the lone personal prelature in the church, though Filipino bishops are presently mulling whether to propose the creation of another to serve roughly 3 million Filipino workers around the world.
Opus Dei currently has roughly 93,400 members, some 2,300 of whom are priests incardinated in the prelature, and another 2,000 priests associated with the group but who remain attached to their dioceses.
In his letter Ocáriz, who was elected prelate of Opus Dei and approved by Pope Francis in 2017, said group leaders have been in contact with the Dicastery for Clergy and “have been advised not to limit ourselves to considering only what refers to the dependence of the prelature on this dicastery,” or the specific change requiring the prelature to report to the Holy See about their activities annually, rather than every five years.
Rather, “we should also propose other possible changes to the statutes that seem appropriate in light of the motu proprio,” Ocáriz said. “We have also been advised to spend as much time as necessary without any hurry.”
To this end, Ocáriz said he intends to convene an Extraordinary General Council in the first half of 2023 to discuss and introduce any potential changes to the prelature’s statutes reflecting the changes asked for by the pope.
Ocáriz invited members of Opus Dei with suggestions to send them “well in advance,” but cautioned that “it is a question of complying with what the Holy See has indicated, not of proposing any change that might seem interesting to us.”
“Along with the desire to be faithful to our founder’s legacy, it is important to keep in mind the good for everyone that the legal stability of an institution entails,” he said, saying the pope’s motu proprio is an opportunity to discuss other ideas “apart from what is related to the statutes,” in order to “give new impetus to the apostolic work.”
He invoked the intercession of Opus Dei founder Saint Josemaría Escrivá, asking God that “the charism God entrusted to our Father in the service of the church may bear fruit with renewed strength in the life of each one of us, as Pope Francis has urged us.”
During the John Paul II years Opus Dei was at times controversial, in part because it’s generally seen as politically conservative, and in part due to internal structures and practices that some critics and ex-members described as cultish. Those perceptions reached an apogee with the 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, though in more recent years much of that backlash has receded.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen