The British film-maker Roland Joffe, who made his mark with his religious drama The Mission about crusading Jesuits in the Brazilian jungle, is to tackle an even more controversial chapter in the history of Catholicism: Opus Dei.
Joffe is to recreate the life and miracles of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, the Spanish priest who founded one of the most influential and secretive organisations within the Catholic church, and was canonised in 2002.
The film seems set to stir up more controversy, following in the wake of several screen hits tapping into public fascination with tales of Opus-inspired crimes and conspiracies, which have set Vatican chasubles aflap.
The Opus furiously condemned the blockbusting Da Vinci Code in 2006, and its sequel Angels and Demons currently topping the bestseller lists. Opus members were banned from seeing or talking about Javier Fesser’s award-winning Camino, 2008, about the cult of suffering.
By contrast, Joffe’s There be Dragons has received Opus Dei’s blessing. “The film team asked us for help in gathering information and we gave them access to the documentation. That’s the beginning and end of our collaboration with this film,” says Luis Gordon, Opus Dei’s former information officer. Mr Gordon said he was reserving judgment on the project’s merits. The organisation denies reports that it was providing funds.
The film focuses on the early years of Escriva’s life during the 1930s, prompting concern that his rise during the Franco years may be brushed over. “This is a propaganda film written and supervised by members of Opus Dei in a desperate attempt to clean up its battered image in the eyes of public opinion,” says an anti-Opus blog of former members who say they were “mentally and spiritually diminished” by the organisation.
Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer was born in north east Spain in 1902, son of an Aragonese shopkeeper. He studied for the priesthood and moved to Madrid where, in 1928, he founded Opus Dei, a secretive organisation that urged the individual to pursue sanctity through their work and daily life. It became influential during Franco’s dictatorship and still retains support among members of Spain’s political and economic establishment. Members are reluctant to declare themselves, or their medieval practices.
When Escriva died in Rome in 1975 bishops worldwide clamoured for him to be canonised, which he was in October 2002 by Pope John Paul II in St Peters in Rome. R