Interview with the Newspaper El País (Madrid), August 26, 2023

The full text of Msgr. Ocáriz’s interview with Daniel Verdú on June 27, 2023 is reproduced below. Numerous excerpts were published in the August 26, 2023 edition of El País Semanal.

What is Opus Dei today and how is it adapting to the changes that society has been introducing into people's lives?

Opus Dei is today what it has been since its birth in 1928, a small part of the Church made up of men and women who seek to follow Jesus Christ in their work, their families, and their ordinary lives. When this faith is authentic, it becomes a Christian witness, a catechesis that supplements that carried out by parishes and so many other institutions and people in the Church.

On the subject of change, I would say that the people of Opus Dei live in the midst of society so they are also agents of that ongoing change. They share the joys and sorrows of others and, like others, suffer from the tensions of today's world, in which there are advances and setbacks.

In my daily work, I frequently hear about events all over the world. Some are positive, but others involve the suffering caused by illness, injustice, problems in the family and at work, and economic conflicts... I also experience this when I travel outside Rome.

The early Christians are an example of how to adapt to the circumstances of time and place: with freedom and creative fidelity.

Certainly, many things have changed in Opus Dei in its almost one hundred years of history, while maintaining the essential thing which is its spirit. For example, in 1940, Opus Dei was centered in Spain and had very few members. Now, in 2023, it is established in 68 countries and its charism has been incarnated in many different places and cultures.

How do you think Opus Dei is perceived today, especially in Spain where it is more established in the public consciousness?

I think it varies a great deal. Most of the people who know the Work appreciate us, especially when they get to know what we do in social services, education, and other services. This is particularly true when they meet individual members, even though they may think differently, because the reality of the Work is its people. But then there are other environments in which people are more critical. Sometimes this is because of a prejudice, not in the bad sense of the word, but because of a conception of the history of the Church and its role in the world that can lead to a negative evaluation of Opus Dei. It is understandable that there are aspects of the Work that do not fit into some people’s way of thinking. But that is pluralism. The important thing is that we respect each other. We can always collaborate.

Has Opus Dei tried in recent years to change this tendency, with transparency?

Transparency is key both because we have nothing to hide and because that is the trend in today's culture. Anything that is not transparent seems to be mysterious.

How would you like to be perceived?

I would like us to be perceived as sowers of peace and joy: as people with whom it is easy to be friends and who, with their faith, wish to improve society; as service-oriented Christians; as welcoming, hopeful, open-minded men and women.

Naturally, personal mistakes and inconsistencies are part of life. This is also why well-founded criticism based on the knowledge of reality helps us improve.

I would like to see a more accurate understanding of the social and cultural variety of people in Opus Dei. Sometimes people focus on a public figure and not on a hundred others who have difficulty making ends meet. In some cases, people have a stereotyped vision of Opus Dei based on clichés which do not help understand its broader and more pluralistic reality.

I would also like it to be more widely understood that Opus Dei members are free and responsible. Their merits or errors in their professional activities or public life, for example, must be attributed to each individual, as is the case with any other Catholic. The opinions or decisions of a politician, whether of the left or right, are his or hers alone. They cannot properly be attributed to the Church or a Catholic institution. The Church and its institutions are realities that move on a different plane from politics. The tendency to attribute an individual’s actions to a spiritual path he or she follows has historically favored misunderstandings that continue to this day.

How did you interpret the change of relationship with the Holy See that the Pope established through the motu proprio Ad charisma tuendum? The Pope assures that he is trying to ensure that the authority of the organization is "based more on charisma than on hierarchical authority."

Charism and hierarchy complement each other in the Church; they are not two alternative concepts but complementary. Charisms have their raison d'être in the service they render to the Church as a whole. Hence, to spread them in the Church and the world, they are usually translated into institutional realities.

The discernment of charisms corresponds to the authority of the Church, and Opus Dei has depended on the authority of the Church in each of its institutional steps. With the reform of the curia, Pope Francis has promoted changes in numerous institutions and organisms to favor a more dynamic evangelization. That is the purpose of the motu proprio you mention. Therefore, we are working to respond faithfully to the Pope’s request knowing, for example, that what is essential is not whether or not the Prelate wears a pectoral cross, but that the faithful of Opus Dei and other people are able to fully live this charism within the Church.

Will Opus Dei's position with the Holy See be redefined after the Pope's motu proprio?

What the Pope asked for in the motu proprio was something quite concrete. We held a congress to get everyone's opinion on that request. There will be some significant adjustments, but they do not affect substantial aspects of the charism of Opus Dei. We cannot be more specific now, because the matter is in the hands of the Pope and it would not be appropriate to speak.

Does this request seem more of a formality to you?

Yes and no. The main changes (for example, changing the dicastery that oversees personal prelatures) affect organizational matters, not the substance of Opus Dei. At the same time, the papal document calls for strengthening the substance: promoting the charism of Opus Dei to increase its evangelizing dynamism.

Doesn't the measure take away the specific characteristic of the Work within the Catholic Church? Can this also be considered a positive element?

Allow me to politely disagree. The specific character of Opus Dei is found in its charism or spirit, rather than in its "juridical garb." At its core is the universal call to holiness through work and the ordinary realities of life. The Pope, in Ad charisma tuendum, refers to this message as a "gift of the Spirit received by St. Josemaría," that is, as a charism. I repeat: this is the relevant specific characteristic. In fact, with this motu proprio Pope Francis confirms the bull Ut sit, with which John Paul II erected Opus Dei as a prelature: he modifies two accidental aspects and confirms the essential charism.

Characteristic of Opus Dei is something as ordinary as work: the relevance of work as a place of encounter with God, whether in Silicon Valley or the slums of Kinshasa, whether working as an engineer in the Madrid subway or as a teacher in a school on the outskirts of any metropolis.

Opus Dei does not wish to be an exception within the Church. Its juridical proposals have sought the formula that best fits the reality of lay people who, through a vocational call and with the pastoral care of priests, want to follow Christ in the realities of their families, work, social life, etc. within the framework of their respective particular churches. The fact that until now it has been the only personal prelature may have been perceived as something "exceptional," but it is certainly not that. On the contrary, I think it would be very good if there were other personal prelatures that would contribute to the evangelization of many areas that especially need Christian inspiration.

Many see in the Vatican's decision the elimination of a privilege, a certain demotion, and a gesture of a more progressive Church towards a more conservative world as well as a manifestation of an old conflict between the Jesuits and Opus Dei.

Pope Francis was asked a similar question, and he pointed out that it was a worldly interpretation, inappropriate to the religious world. I think that too often there is a tendency to read reality in terms of power and polarization, with groups that oppose and do not understand each other. However, in the Church, the logic that should prevail is that of service and collaboration. We all row in the same boat, open to be helped to improve.

Regarding the old conflict you mentioned, I can personally tell you that I am a former student of the Jesuit school in Madrid, and I am very grateful for the formation and example I received from the Jesuits.

What is the design of the statutes that you have submitted to the Pope and how have you worked on this issue? What will change from now on?

In April, as I was saying, we held a general congress of Opus Dei in Rome, during which we drew up a proposal to be submitted to the Holy See for adjustments to the statutes, in accord with the Pope's express request. In this task, we have been guided by two fundamental criteria: fidelity to the charism of St. Josemaría and adherence to the will expressed by the Holy Father. As the Pope requested in his motu proprio, we have tried to express more clearly the charismatic dimension of Opus Dei, which is lived and carried out in communion with the particular churches and with the bishops who preside over them. But it is up to the Holy See to approve and promulgate these changes, so, logically, I cannot go into detail.

Opus Dei has played a leading role in Spain in recent decades: in politics and the economy. How would you define Spain today?

Two things. One is that the Work as such has not influenced politics. Some people in Opus Dei may have done so, but they think and act as they wish, just like any other Catholic. Then, I must tell you that being here in Rome I do not follow things in Spain very closely. But I do see some important issues, for example in the area of freedom of education, which have created a complicated situation, as in other places. The important thing is that we all know how to live together. It is necessary to collaborate more to create an atmosphere of getting along with others. Everyone has to defend their ideas, but not by attacking people who think differently.

So, do you miss having more freedom?

In Spain, there is a certain radicalization of the opposing factions. This happens less in Italy. It goes with the character.

Don't you think that in Spain perhaps religion and politics have not been well separated?

It is difficult to evaluate. It is difficult to judge with today's mentality an era of the past. What is needed is a carefully calibrated historical perspective. Otherwise, it is easy to criticize past situations that at the time were not so negative. Now they would be, but perhaps not then. And not because of relativism, but because circumstances often determine people's mentality and ways of doing things.

You are preparing for Opus Dei's centennial. What kind of contribution will Opus Dei make to society in the coming years?

Whatever people will do individually. The Work is promoted through people. Opus Dei as such does not do many things: its main activity is to give Christian formation to people. And then people take the social initiatives they see fit. What will it be like? Well, it will depend on individual people. I hope that the substance will not change and that it will adapt to the reality of each moment. We have to adapt to the needs of the moment.

In recent times, society's perception of the abuses committed within the Church has changed. How does the Opus Dei Prelature view this most important issue?

This is very sad. In addition to underlining how regrettable these abuses and crimes are (just one case causes so much pain!), I would also like to highlight the work done in recent years by the Pope and the Holy See through clear provisions: today, thank God, the universal Church and most Church institutions have protocols and guidelines to eradicate and effectively combat these abuses, which leave deep and sometimes irreparable wounds.

The protocols of the Prelature, for example, date back to 2013 and I updated them in 2020. They are designed to generate awareness of the rights and needs of minors and vulnerable people, and thus avoid any risk of exploitation, sexual abuse, or mistreatment in all the activities that are carried out in the centers of the Prelature, and which we hope will also inspire all the activities that take place in institutions that receive some kind of pastoral support from Opus Dei.

Because of human nature, these types of measures cannot guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen whether in the Church or society, but they certainly contribute to creating a new culture and a clear reference. Anyone who commits a crime of this kind now knows where he stands.

I would add that for understandable reasons, public opinion has focused on these abuses in the Church although it is something much more generalized in society. There are social spheres in which this sad and regrettable reality is more widespread. There are many concrete cases of priests, but compared to the thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of priests who have given their lives working, they are proportionally few. But yes, it must be fought with whatever means possible.

Romana, n. 77, July-December 2023, p. 200-205.

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