Two members of the secretive Roman Catholic society Opus Dei, made famous by the blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code“, were due in a Paris court Thursday accused of subjecting a disciple to years of abuse.
The case comes after a nine-year probe and centres on a woman known as Catherine T. who says she was forced to work 14-hour days and brainwashed, resulting in charges of “undignified punishment” and illegal employment.
Catherine joined a hoteliers’ school in northeastern France in 1985, aged 14, which she later discovered was run by associates of Opus Dei, which in Latin means “Work of God” and so is often referred to simply as “The Work”.
She said she was forced to take vows and made to work as a domestic servant for virtually no pay. Opus Dei has said it was “not involved in the charges being brought” and had “nothing to be guilty about.”
Defense lawyers portray it as a case about labor law, and an Opus Dei spokeswoman says that the plaintiff chose of her own will to follow the group.
But the trial is expected to shine a spotlight on the secretive group’s practices. [...]
Thursday’s trial comes after legal complaints filed by Catherine Tissier, who was 14 when she joined the Donson hotel school in eastern France, where the religious sacraments were led by Opus Dei.
Under the guidance of what she calls a “spiritual director,” she gradually chose to follow Opus Dei’s spiritual path and began working as a “numerary assistant.”
“I was working from seven o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock in the evening every day, seven days a week. The three weeks of holidays we had were spent with Opus Dei where they thought us theology and pursued in-depth studies on the spirit of the (Opus Dei) founder,” Tissier said in an interview with The Associated Press.
She said she was getting a paycheck at the end of the month, but was asked to sign blank checks by her employers, and never saw the money.
She described being encouraged to keep her parents at bay, and being diagnosed with depression. A doctor, whom she said was an Opus Dei follower, put her on medication.
“I wasn’t able to eat by myself, I couldn’t even wash by myself, my head was hard to keep straight. Regardless of that, I still had the same workload in the Donson school,” she said.
At age 29, she weighed just 39 kilograms (86 pounds). During a weekend visit to her parents’ home, they took her to see their family practitioner, who said she shouldn’t go back. [...]
She first filed a lawsuit in 2001 accusing Opus Dei of “mental manipulation.” Those charged were later dismissed.
After a decade of investigation, two Opus Dei followers and the association that employed her are going on trial on charges of “clandestine work” and “remuneration contrary to dignity.”
“This isn’t a crusade against Opus Dei, that’s not what’s at stake,” her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said. His client wants compensation and for Opus Dei to “review the status of the numerary assistant,” he said, describing the job as “dysfunctional.”
The Rome-based society with 90,000 members around the world has denied it ran the catering school.
It said in a statement: ‘We are not involved in the charges being brought and have nothing to be guilty about.’
The University and Technical Culture Association has also denied it is run by the Catholic sect and said it had nothing more than a ‘cultural link’ with Opus Dei.
It insists Ms Tessier was ‘taught catering skills’ and sent out to work in catering establishments as part of her training.
ACUT lawyer Thierry Laugier added: ‘There is nothing to this case. The girl was there voluntarily and paid according to the work she did.’
The woman is now suing Opus Dei for damages in the country’s first ever trial directly targeting the organisation, which claims not to be secretive but refuses to ever give names of its members.