Opus Dei, one of the most controversial institutions of the Catholic Church, was founded in Madrid by Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás on October 2 1928. At the time, Josemaría was a 26-year-old Spanish Roman Catholic priest who is said to have been totally committed to the teaching that everyone is called to holiness by God and that ordinary life can be the path to sanctity. The young priest, described by Pope John Paul II as "the saint of ordinary life", worked among the poor and the sick in the slums of Madrid; a calling which he considered to be God's will for him.
Opus Dei is Latin for Work of God. The majority of members are lay people, while the remainder are priests governed by a prelate - a high-ranking member of the clergy appointed by the Pope. Around 70 per cent of Opus Dei members live with their families and work in secular occupations, while the remainder are celibate and, alongside charitable and social work, offer training in how Catholic spirituality is applied to daily life. A central feature of Opus Dei, which places special emphasis on certain aspects of Catholic doctrine, is its focus on the lives of the ordinary Catholics who are neither priests nor monks. It teaches the universal call to holiness and promotes the belief that everyone should aspire to be a saint.
However, Opus Dei, which was given final approval by Pope Pius XII in 1950, has been fiercely criticised throughout its 92-year history and was described by one journalist as "the most controversial force in the Catholic Church". Even founder Josemaría, who was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 2002, came under attack from critics, who labelled him as a "polarising figure".
Most of the criticism was based on allegations of secrecy and some even say it is a Catholic form of Freemasonry. The organisation was also criticised for its support of authoritarian rule (including the fascist regimes of Hitler and Franco), the mortification of the flesh and accusations of elitism and misogyny.
Supporters claim that many criticisms are based on myths concocted by anti-Catholic opponents. The institution received global attention following the release of the bestselling novel and blockbuster film The Da Vinci Code, although this was branded as misleading and inaccurate.