Country Listing

Spain Table of Contents


Opus Dei

The most influential Catholic lay group during the Franco period was the controversial Opus Dei (Work of God). This group did not fit conveniently into any political category. Although it denied any political aims, its members played pivotal roles in the modernization of the economy under Franco and in the subsequent liberalization of politics and government. At the same time, they were theologically conservative, and their desire for modernization was far from radical. They believed that economic reforms would improve society to the extent that thoroughgoing political reforms would be unnecessary.

Opus Dei was founded in 1928 by an Aragonese priest, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas, and it was subsequently recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as its first secular religious institution. Although attention has been drawn primarily to its activities in Spain, it is an international body with members and associates throughout the world. Members take a vow to dedicate their professional talents to the service of God and to seek to win converts through their missionary zeal. The organization in Spain has emphasized professional excellence, and it has expected its members to serve in important government positions.

During the late 1950s and the 1960s, Opus Dei members came to control the economic ministries, and they occupied other important cabinet posts as well. This was in keeping with the organization's aim of influencing the development of society indirectly. Opus Dei recruited its members from among the brightest students, which encouraged a sense of elitism and clannishness. Because of this clannishness and the secrecy that surrounded the organization, some critics termed it the "Holy Mafia."

The Opus Dei technocrats were largely responsible for devising, introducing, and later administering the economic stabilization program that formed the basis of Spain's economic development. They encouraged competition as a means of achieving rapid economic growth, and they favored economic integration with Europe. Although these policies implied eventual political as well as economic liberalization, this was not Opus Dei's avowed goal; the group remained socially conservative, stressing personal piety and orthodox theology.

With the advent of democracy, Opus Dei lost much of its influence, and it was condemned by the more progressive forces in both the Catholic hierarchy and Spanish society for having propped up a repressive regime. Its stature was somewhat restored under Pope John Paul II, who viewed the orthodox Catholicism of the organization with favor. Opus Dei remained influential in the area of education as well as in certain sectors of the financial community.

Data as of December 1988