Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei (Latin: Prelatura Sanctae Crucis et Operis Dei), is an institution of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.
The majority of its membership are lay people, with secular priests under the governance of a prelate (bishop) elected by specific members and appointed by the Pope. Opus Dei is Latin for Work of God; hence the organization is often referred to by members and supporters as the Work.
Founded in Spain in 1928 by the Catholic priest St. Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei was given final Catholic Church approval in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. In 1982, by decision of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church made it into a personal prelature—that is, the jurisdiction of its own bishop covers the persons in Opus Dei wherever they are, rather than geographical dioceses.
As of 2010, members of the Prelature numbered 90,260. Lay persons, men and women, numbered 88,245, while there were 2015 priests. These figures do not include the diocesan priest members of Opus Dei’s Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, estimated to number 2000 in the year 2005. Members are in more than 90 countries. About 70% of Opus Dei members live in their private homes, leading traditional Catholic family lives with secular careers, while the other 30% are celibate, of whom the majority live in Opus Dei centres. Opus Dei organizes training in Catholic spirituality applied to daily life. Aside from personal charity and social work, Opus Dei members are involved in running universities, university residences, schools, publishing houses, and technical and agricultural training centers.
Opus Dei has been described as the most controversial force within the Catholic Church. According to several journalists who researched Opus Dei separately, many criticisms against Opus Dei are are based on fabrications by opponents, and Opus Dei is considered a sign of contradiction. Several popes and other Catholic leaders have endorsed what they see as its innovative teaching on the sanctifying value of work, and its fidelity to Catholic beliefs. In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Escrivá, and called him “the saint of ordinary life.”
Criticism of Opus Dei has centered on allegations of secretiveness, controversial recruiting methods, strict rules governing members, elitism and misogyny, and support of or participation in authoritarian or right-wing governments, especially the Francoist Government of Spain until 1978.. The mortification of the flesh practiced by some of its members is also criticized. Within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei is also criticized for allegedly seeking independence and more influence.
In recent years, Opus Dei has received international attention due to the novel The Da Vinci Code and its film version of 2006, both of which many prominent Christians and non-believers protested as misleadingly inaccurate and anti-Catholic.