Comment: Ruth Kelly – Minister for Sin?

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Marc Shoffman explores Opus Dei, the Catholic society at the centre of the row over Ruth Kelly’s appointment as minister for Women and Equality.

For a group often accused of secrecy, Opus Dei must be quite shocked at being thrust into the limelight over the past few weeks. The upcoming film adaptation of the Da Vinci Code portrays the organisation as an extreme, manipulative organisation, harshly defending the existence of Jesus Christ and now it has been brought into British politics with the appointment of one of its 80,000 members, Ruth Kelly, to head the government’s equality unit.

Created in 1928, the Christian evangelical group, approved by the Vatican, is a strong advocate of Catholic values including celibacy, opposition to homosexuality, abortion and artificial contraception, but as Opus Dei spokesman, Jack Valerro told, this is by no means a unique view, “We are just a part of the Catholic church, we don’t have any particular doctrine of our own, we just follow the catholic doctrine, we don’t have our own spin on it.

“Opus Dei is about helping people to seek holiness in their daily life, it’s an organisation of the Catholic church for Catholics.

“We have individual people who want to strive for holiness, at work, in their family and their ordinary life in the eyes of god

And like Catholicism, Opus Dei is not very positive about homosexuality, “If you are a Catholic you are not supposed to have sex outside marriage.

“There are actions which the Catholic Church considers to be wrong and therefore we tell somebody.

The Catholic Church would say its wrong for a man to have sex with another man, but this does not mean discriminate against the man who has this feeling inside.”

But he is quick to add, “You should not discriminate against anybody because of who they are or what they are.”

It is these views that gay groups and have raised issue with. Although she has never said she thinks homosexuality is a sin, how can Ms Kelly promote equality for gay people while at the same time striving for Christian holiness in her daily and work life?

The Catholic Church has often spoken out against gay marriage and gay adoption, both issues which Miss Kelly will have to protect, Mr Valerro explains, “Children have a right to have role models which are different who can teach them different things in life.

“Its not the right of the couple to have a child, but for the child to have a proper upbringing with all the elements that are needed.”

A key element of the society is self discipline, members show their faith through sacrifices such as fasting.

Mr Valerro told he was dismayed by Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code which portrayed an Opus Dei Monk self harming, “It’s so distorted, this mad monk, we don’t have monks or killers, if you are a Catholic you are not allowed to kill people, even Dan Brown, because you are not allowed to do anything bad even to get a good end.

“This monk has this attitude that he has to suffer and has as much pain as possible, that’s wrong.

“Then he does these practises of gruesome self mutilation whereby there’s loss of blood , we don’t do that either.

“And then the context is that he has to save himself, well we don’t do that either.

“The context and extent is wrong, the motivation is wrong.”

He admitted there is some physical sacrifice through use of a cilice, a spiked chain, “The cilice in the Da Vinci Code does exist but is not what is described.

“You put it on your leg and its uncomfortable and reminds you of sacrifice for Christ, It doesn’t’t pierce your skin or draw blood.”

Opus Dei expects its members to live their life consistently as Christians, and Ms Kelly’s voting record suggests that she has been doing this, her new role will see wider scrutiny on how she represents equality issues.

Mr Valero said it is up to her how she works out a balance between her belief and politics, “Our members would be expected to live their life consistently as Christians and to work out for themselves what it means.

“What does it mean for Ruth Kelly’s job? I don’t know she has to work it out, if it’s in conflict then she will probably say I cannot do this job, but if she does not say she cannot do this job then maybe it’s because she can.”

And maybe this is just another sacrifice for Ms Kelly, she needs to openly state what her beliefs are and actively show that she can defend and protect the gay community.