ROME – A leading member of Opus Dei and its spokesman in the UK has suggested that in light of revisions made recently by Pope Francis to the nature of “personal prelatures,” a status Opus Dei has held under Church law since 1982, the group may be forced to seek another category that better reflects its inner identity.
“If, in the end, it turns out the Church decides that lay people cannot form part of a prelature, then Opus Dei cannot be a prelature and it would have to find something else,” said Jack Valero, spokesman for Opus Dei in Great Britain.
“Maybe this figure has to move on and then Opus Dei also will have to move on. We will see what happens in the future,” he said.
Valero was speaking in a Sept. 9 video posted to X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter, in response to a Sept. 6 Times of London piece regarding a dispute over an Opus Dei-operated shrine in Torreciudad, Spain, which Valero dismissed as “totally inaccurate.”
Among other things, the Times article asserted that Pope Francis recently issued a decree “reducing Opus Dei’s special status and weakening its relationship with its followers.” The reference was to a motu proprio issued by the pontiff in August amending two articles in the Code of Canon Law governing personal prelatures, a category currently occupied only by Opus Dei.
While denying that Opus Dei either has or wants any privileged status in the Church, Valero conceded that long-standing tensions over the precise nature of personal prelatures seem to be being resolved under Francis in a way unsettling to the group’s conception of itself.
The vision of Opus Dei’s founder, Spanish St. Josemaria Escrivá, according to Valero, was for men and women, celibate and married people, and clergy and laity all to share the same vocation and to belong to the same structure.
“There is no organization in the Catholic Church that allows for this simple thing,” Valero said during the video.
According to Valero, the aim of such a structure has never been to subtract lay members of Opus Dei from their parishes or dioceses, or to exempt them from obedience to their local bishop, but rather to emphasize the equality and unity of vocations within the group.
Opus Dei believed it had found its canonical home in 1982, when St. Pope John Paul II assigned it the status of a personal prelature, but just a few months later the pope approved a new Code of Canon Law which appeared to suggest that prelatures are primarily for priests, not laity.
“This tension has continued through the years,” Valero said.
Valero cast the debate as a question of whether the law should follow life, as many Opus Dei members and canon law experts contend, or whether life should follow the law. The latter position, he said, is upheld by Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, an influential Italian Jesuit and canon lawyer.
According to Valero, Ghirlanda “has convinced the pope this is what prelatures should be,” meaning primarily a body of priests rather than clergy and laity together as full members.
Valero said in the video that when Escrivá first arrived in Rome in the 1940s with his idea for Opus Dei, he was told he’d arrived “100 years too soon.”
“Maybe it’s still too soon for us to have an organization that will be fully approved with men and women, celibate members and married members, and lay people and priests, all having the same vocation and all in the same organization,” Valero said.
“This does not exist yet in the Catholic Church, unless the prelature is allowed to be that,” he said. So, we continue seeking.”
“We’re still a new organization in the Church,” Valero said, “we’re finding our feet.”
“It’s not a matter of power, or getting more or less power or being divested of power,” he said.
“It’s a matter of the canon law which has existed for all these years and that Opus Dei has followed, and that has been working very well for Opus Dei, but maybe this figure has to move on and then Opus Dei also will have to move on. We will see what happens in the future,” Valero said.