Interview With the Vicar General of the Personal Prelature
By Miriam Díez i Bosch
ROME, 31 MARCH 2008 (ZENIT)
The doors of Opus Dei are open to
everyone, says the prelature's vicar general, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz.
ZENIT spoke to Monsignor Ocáriz for the 25th anniversary of the
establishment of Opus Dei as a personal prelature
the only one in existence at present.
He explains the relationship between this institution and the dioceses,
and says that the strength of the group is simply the power that comes
from the Gospel.
Q: Opus Dei was born to help laypeople in their ordinary life. Are
laypeople truly a part of the prelature of Opus Dei, or is the prelature
only for the relatively few priests of Opus Dei?
Monsignor Ocáriz: Opus Dei was born precisely to remind everyone, both
priests and laypersons, of the universal call to holiness. As [the
founder] St. Josemaría taught since 1928, the fact that this call is
universal and that God calls each person, means that all upright human
— professional work, family and social relations
can and should be a sanctified and sanctifying reality.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said when the founder of Opus Dei was
canonized, the message of St. Josemaría Escrivá has helped to correct an
erroneous idea of sanctity, as thought it were reserved only for the
"great." Sanctity means becoming a friend of God, letting the Other act,
the only one who can make this world good and joyful.
The laypeople of Opus Dei, both women and men, married or single, are an
integral part of the prelature, just as much as the priests who
constitute its clergy. The relationship between these sacred ministers
and the lay faithful is that proper to the Church.
At the same time, each layperson also belongs to the diocese where he or
she lives, just like any other Catholic. As John Paul II said on a
number of occasions, referring specifically to Opus Dei, the ministerial
priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay faithful
are united and linked in a unity of vocation and governance to fulfill
the prelature's mission of evangelization under the guidance of its
Q: At this time Opus Dei is the only personal prelature. Do you receive
inquiries from other ecclesiastical institutions that would like to
become personal prelatures?
Monsignor Ocáriz: Yes, at the moment it's the only personal prelature.
However, there are other ecclesiastical circumscriptions in the Church
which are delimited on a personal
and not territorial
basis, for various pastoral needs. For instance, there are the apostolic
exarchates that exist in some countries to care for faithful of Oriental
Rites, the military ordinariates, and a personal apostolic
administration erected a few years ago in Brazil.
Only the Holy See can establish a personal prelature. Furthermore, canon
law lays down that the episcopal conferences that are involved also have
to be consulted. Establishing a personal prelature is a pastoral
decision, aimed at furthering the Church's mission in a world
characterized by a constant movement of people. For example, in the
post-synodal apostolic exhortations "Ecclesia in America" and "Ecclesia
in Europa," John Paul II refers to personal prelatures as a possible
solution for people in need of special pastoral attention, mentioning
groups of immigrants in particular.
It is also possible, as happened with Opus Dei, that the action of the
Holy Spirit inspires particular apostolic tasks, which give rise to
pastoral needs that require the structure of a personal prelature.
I am not aware that Opus Dei has received any consultations from other
institutions regarding the possibility of becoming a personal prelature.
However, in the context of congresses, pastoral gatherings, etc., people
of Opus Dei have sometimes been asked to pass on the experience the
prelature has gathered over the years.
Q: What truth is there to Opus Dei's alleged independence
autonomy, if you prefer
stemming from the fact that juridically it is a personal prelature?
Monsignor Ocáriz: The reality is exactly the opposite. Erecting a
prelature means precisely "dependence." It means placing a part of the
Christian people in pastoral dependence under a member of the
ecclesiastical hierarchy. It doesn't make sense to speak of independence
or autonomy, since, on the contrary, Opus Dei depends on a prelate
appointed by the Roman Pontiff.
The prelate and his vicars exercise ecclesiastical power in common with
the other pastors, under the supreme authority of the Pope, in accord
with the universal law of the Church and the particular law contained in
the statutes which the Holy See has established for the prelature.
I think that the experience of the presence of Opus Dei in so many
dioceses all over the world should contribute to an understanding, even
from a practical point of view, that the personal prelatures introduced
by the Second Vatican Council do not harm the unity of the particular
churches. On the contrary, their purpose is to serve these churches in
the general evangelizing mission of the Church.
As Benedict XVI wrote to the present prelate, Bishop Echevarría, on the
50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, "when you foster the
eagerness for personal sanctity and the apostolic zeal of your priests
and laypeople, not only do you see the flock that has been entrusted to
you grow, but you provide an effective help to the Church in her urgent
evangelization of present-day society."
Q: Is it correct to say that there are "Opus Dei bishops"?
Monsignor Ocáriz: It depends what you mean by that phrase. When, as
occurs at times, a priest of the prelature's clergy is called by the
Holy Father to the episcopate, the same thing happens as with any
diocesan priest: He ceases to be incardinated in the ecclesiastical
circumscription from which he comes, although he continues to receive
spiritual assistance from the prelature. He has the same canonical
status as any other bishop.
Obviously, the prelate of Opus Dei has no power whatsoever over the
episcopal mission of these bishops.
Q: I imagine that you don't see any "before and after" in Opus Dei as a
result of the "Da Vinci Code" phenomenon.
Monsignor Ocáriz: Clearly not. It makes no sense to think that such a
novel could have an historical impact great enough to result in a
"before and after" in Opus Dei
On the other hand, it may very well have influenced some people. Without
ignoring the disorientation that this type of literature could give rise
to in some readers, I know that many people have decided to make contact
with the prelature and its activities of Christian formation precisely
as a consequence of the information that it gave about the Work, in
order calmly to counteract the book's errors.
There have also been very many examples of solidarity with Opus Dei on
the part of journalists, writers, and other people who have followed
this topic more closely. It has occasioned a marvelous ecclesial
solidarity; in times like these one truly senses that the Church is a
Q: At times one hears people speak of the "power" of Opus Dei. Why do
you think this image has arisen?
Monsignor Ocáriz: Despite our personal limitations
we neither are nor see ourselves as "the head of the class"
God has blessed Opus Dei's work for souls with abundant apostolic fruit.
Seen from a human point of view, some might see this as an expression of
"strength" or "power."
In reality, the Work is a small part of the Church, and its "power"
comes from its source: from the Gospel, which, as St. Paul writes, is
"the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith." The
fruitfulness of the work of Opus Dei's faithful is caused by the Holy
Spirit in the Church and through the Church.
Anyone who comes to an apostolic activity organized by the prelature
its doors are open to everyone
is offered a broad vista of Christian life. Anyone who comes to the Work
seeking human influence or anything other than a spiritual goal would
not last very long. He would hear people speaking about love for Jesus
Christ and the Church, about Christian commitment, about spiritual life
and generous service to others.