Ex-Opus Dei Members Decry Blind Obedience

It's been more than 15 years since Tammy DiNicola left Opus Dei, but she still tries to raise awareness about the secretive and conservative Roman Catholic group.

DiNicola, 37, considers herself a faithful Catholic despite her falling out with Opus Dei, which she joined while she was in college. She stayed with the group for nearly three years. After her painful departure, she founded a support network in 1991 with other families of former Opus Dei members to shed light on what they believe are Opus Dei's true intentions.

With the upcoming release of the movie of "The Da Vinci Code," which casts Opus Dei as the villain, DiNicola's Opus Dei Awareness Network, or ODAN, has suddenly gained more attention.

"I really do feel God let me go through all this so I could be a spokesperson," DiNicola said. "If there was nothing wrong with Opus Dei, we wouldn't need to exist."

ODAN isn't out to attack Opus Dei, but it would like to see more transparency.

Opus Dei lends no credence to ODAN except to express dismay at members who leave Opus Dei.

Changed Personality

DiNicola still believes the organization is untruthful in its vocation.

"Everything they do is couched in beautiful terms, sanctifying work and love, but in reality the whole process is deceiving and couched in orchestration," she said.

DiNicola was a freshman at Boston College when she went on her first Opus Dei retreat. Her parents rejoiced that their daughter took the time to deepen her faith while at school.

Without telling her parents, DiNicola joined Opus Dei and in her junior year became a numerary, a lay person who pledges celibacy and devotion to God's teachings. She moved into an all-female Opus Dei residence and slowly broke her ties with outside friends and family.

"I could tell I was a different person," she said. "When I was back home, people were devastated at how distant I was."

Her mother didn't like the change in DiNicola's personality and begged her to consider other options within the church, she said.

It was too late.

DiNicola said she had already fallen prey to what she now considers a controlling organization.

"All choices are made for you when you're in a group. You're not allowed to question anything," she said.

Her mail was read, her salary was handed over and she needed approval before reading anything or leaving the residence, she said.

"If you wanted to shop, you needed permission," DiNicola said.

Opus Dei acknowledges that many members hand over portions of their salaries but says that there is no truth behind allegations of excessive control, and that its only intention is to teach and coach.

Mother Teresa Did It

Obedience came in all sorts of ways.

She said she was presented with the cilice, a spiked chain that members strap around their upper thigh to prove their devotion. Wearing it "is not presented as an optional thing," DiNicola said.

"I think a few people in Opus Dei just mildly slap it on their back while reciting prayers," Opus Dei spokeswoman Terri Carron told ABC News' "Good Morning America." "Mother Teresa, everybody knows her life, most people wouldn't think she needs penance, but she did practice penance."

Carron also refutes the claims of excessive control.

"You have to understand that people who are giving themselves up -- as I do as a supernumerary -- the idea anyone would be controlling me is rather absurd," Carron said.

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