Idol Chatter

If you can sit through the 149-minute movie version of “The Da Vinci Code” directed by Ron Howard, you can certainly sit through “Opus Dei and the Da Vinci Code,” a 50-minute BBC documentary directed by Jeremy Jeffs, which aired last night on The Hallmark Channel and will be re-aired next Sunday.

The main problem (as with the “Da Vinci” movie, I’m told, because I haven’t seen it), is staying awake. In the documentary, narrator Mark Dowd takes the viewer on a tour of the landmarks of the $2.8 billion Catholic organization that plays the role of villainous criminal syndicate in “Da Vinci”: its $40 million office tower in New York, its plush London digs, its fancy shrine in Rome to its founder, the recently canonized St. Josemaria Escriva, who died in 1975. There are also interviews with various Opus Dei numeraries (the members who lead communal, celibate lives), supernumeraries (members who live on their own and marry), and some disillusioned former members who regard Opus Dei as a brainwashing cult on the order of the Moonies. All to the tune of much woo-woo music, as the camera pans yet another bleeding crucifix and photograph of Escriva.

Dowd, by his own confession, is an ex-friar and a “liberal” Catholic. Most liberal Catholics regard Opus Dei the way a bar patron regards a cockroach on his martini olive—but Dowd is remarkably fair-minded. He dimisses “Da Vinci” author Dan Brown’s assertion that Opus Dei made a big bank loan to the Vatican to get Escriva canonized, and he assures the viewer that, unlike in “Da Vinci,” the real-life Opus Dei does not have a single monk, much less an “Albino monk” of the kind played by Paul Bettany in the movie. Opus Dei members are shown sympathetically, although Dowd expresses a good liberal’s horror that married Opus Dei women have lots of children and don’t work outside the home, and that female numeraries have to clean the male numeraries’ living quarters. Nonetheless, he points out that 55 percent of Opus Dei members are women, and interviewee Adrienne Treveaven does seems to be one happy numerary, as she dusts off desks in the men’s dorm.

The high point of the documentary is, of course, the cilice, the chains-and-spikes contraption with which Bettany famously flogs his hindquarters in the movie. The woo-woo music crescendos as Dowd explains that all Opus Dei numeraries are required to wear the cilice for two hours a day. Numerary Eileen Cole hands her cilice to Dowd (it comes in its own little bag like a travel iron), and Dowd gamely ties it around his upper thigh—ouch! Cut to former Opus Dei member and current Opus Dei critic Monsignor Vladimir Felzmann, who asks, “What does this have to do with Jesus of Nazareth?” (It would seem that the good monsignor never saw “The Passion of the Christ”). Another critic charges that the organization’s charitable works, such as its Midtown Center for teen-age boys in inner-city Chicago, are actually covert recruiting stations—as though your average gangsta would be likely to sign up for Opus Dei.

All in all, though, as Opus Dei Director Jack Valero tells Dowd after one of the organization’s post-“Da Vinci” PowerPoint presentations has drawn a crowd of 60 young people: “Dan Brown’s actually our best recruiting agent.”

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus