Claudia C. was picked up at her parents’ house when she was 13 years old, in 1979. They told her that they were going to do a lottery among many girls to enter a Catholic high school with a scholarship and they gave her a stamp of Josemaría Escrivá Balaguer to pray to him. Shortly after, she was “chosen”: from the city of Ramallo, 220 kilometers from the City of Buenos Aires, she arrived at the Institute for Comprehensive Training in Domestic Studies (ICIED), known as “the Opus Dei maid school.” He was there for almost 21 years but they never paid him a salary.
Claudia’s is one of the 42 testimonies that are part of a collective complaint before the Vatican that ElDiarioAR could access exclusively, for “abuses of power and conscience with subsequent subjection of the victims to situations of personal exploitation”, against the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, the most secret and conservative of Catholic institutions, born in 1928 in Spain and with a presence in 68 countries.
The presentation was formalized in Argentina with women from this country, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, who served the institution between 1974 and 2015 as “auxiliary numeraries”, the lowest category members, and who fulfilled tasks of domestic service in those countries and some of them also in Italy and Kazakhstan. On September 7, he entered the Abuses section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the charge of Cardinal Prefect Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer.
Deceptive recruitment, abuse of conscience and exploitation
In the almost 30 pages, the writing recounts in detail the way in which Opus Dei recruited these women from “families with a humble socio-cultural and economic context” when they were adolescents between 12 and 16 years old. It says that there was a “proselytizing plan” and that “they did it with the knowledge and consent of the people who held the powers of organization and control of the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei in the respective territory, in an organized and lasting manner in time, with distribution of tasks or functions, and with a very similar repeated sequence among all the victims. ”
According to the reports of the complainants, they were never told about a religious vocation when they went to look for them. They told all the families that they were going to take them to study. And although several were taken to ICIED, a school where they were taught to do household chores that did not have any formal qualifications, many were sent directly to work in centers and residences of the Work. There, they were subjected to a rigorous prayer routine under spiritual direction and thus convinced that they had a “vocation to serve.” Once incorporated as “auxiliary numeraries”, they were involved “in a situation of exploitation of which they themselves were not aware due to their young age, feeling obliged to provide said services in payment of the ‘debt’ contracted for the transfer, accommodation and the fictitious studies whose hope of realization they constantly harbored “. The working conditions, the lawsuit lists, were “non-existent remuneration and without registration in the Social Security regime, unlimited working hours, which extended more than 12 hours, with short rest periods and limited to the hours of eating and praying, without personal documentation or with retention of the same and other violations of basic rights “.
In addition to the violation of labor laws, the letter delves into the abuse of power and conscience that Opus Dei, through its priests and directors, would have exercised over these women from a very early age: “They are frightened with spiritual evils if not they fulfilled ‘the Will of God’ “, such as that they would go to hell for not fulfilling what God asked of them, that they would never be happy outside of Opus Dei, that Opus Dei was their true family to whom they owed their training. human and spiritual received. “The girls were stalked and persecuted without respite or rest and, in this spiritual harassment, the priests of Opus Dei, with knowledge and will, contributed in an essential and relevant way to the realization of proselytizing purposes.”
The complaint began to take shape in early 2021. In February, the women met in a parish in Lower Belgrano and shared their testimonies. Most spent between one and two decades in the institution, some even more than two decades, and today they are between 40 and 60 years old. After that meeting, through their lawyer they tried to talk with the regional authorities of Opus Dei but they were not received or received a response. They also got an audience with the nuncio in Argentina, Monsignor Miroslaw Adamczyk, who recommended that they send a letter to Pope Francis. They sent it in May and had no response.
The complaint began to take shape in early 2021. In February, the women met in a parish in Lower Belgrano and shared their testimonies. Most spent between one and two decades in the institution
Before presenting the formal complaint to the Vatican, there were also meetings with the auxiliary bishop of the City of Buenos Aires, Alejandro Giorgi, and the vicar of Justice of the Buenos Aires Interdiocesan Court, Ricardo Daniel Medina.
After the publication of their testimonies in the press, the highest authority of the feminine branch in Argentina, Catalina María Donnelly, acknowledged that these women had been part of “the Work” although she did not recognize a labor relationship: “The auxiliary numeraries are not employees of Opus Dei, they are Opus Dei, it is their own family,” he said in an interview with the newspaper La Nación.. However, in another section he explained: “I never saw unpaid work in the Work centers. It was always paid (…) I cannot say that I want to apologize because they did not have a salary, because for me they did.” The argument he gave was that perhaps those who were in charge of the houses and centers where they worked collected the money “like a family” and “managed” it.
New authorities in the region
Shortly after the complaint was registered in Rome, the prelate of Opus Dei – the highest world authority and one of those denounced as the current responsible – signed a decree by which he announced a change in the South American structure of the institution, of which Argentina it is historically the country with the highest hierarchy.
The document, dated September 29, announced that to “improve the impulse and coordination of apostolic work,” the Plata Region (Platensis) was created, made up of Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, with the headquarters of the regional vicar. in Buenos Aires and with delegations in Uruguay and Paraguay. In addition, among several changes in the main directors, who was until today the regional vicar, Vïctor Urrestarazu, will be sent to Paraguay and his place will be taken by Juan Lavallol. Urrestarazu is also among those denounced along with another Argentine, Mariano Fazio Fernández, since 2019 auxiliary vicar in Rome – second in the line of succession to the Prelate – and previously regional vicar in Buenos Aires for a decade.