BUENOS AIRES Lucia Gimenez still feels pain in her knees after spending hours cleaning floors in the Opus Dei men's toilet at the Opus Dei residence, Argentina's capital.
Gimenez, 56, was promised an education when she joined the conservative Catholic group in Paraguay, where she was 14 years old. Instead of learning math and history, Gimenez was taught how to cook, clean, and perform other household chores in order to help in Opus Dei homes and retirement homes.
She washed clothes, cleaned bathrooms, and looked after the needs of the group for 18 years. With only breaks for food and prayer, she worked 12 hours per day. Despite all her hard work, she said that "I never saw any money in my hands."
Gimenez and 41 others filed a complaint to Opus Dei against the Vatican for alleged labour exploitation and abuse of power and conscience. Between 1974 and 2015, the Argentinean and Paraguayan citizens were involved in the movement in Argentina and Paraguay as well as Uruguay, Uruguay, Italy, and Kazakhstan.
Opus Dei, Latin for Work of God, was established by Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest, in 1928. It has over 90,000 members across 70 countries. This lay group was greatly supported by St. John Paul II who canonized Escriva 2002. It has a unique status within the church and reports directly the pope. The majority of members are laymen with secular jobs and families, who seek to "sanctify everyday life." Others are priests and celibate laity.
According to the complaint, the women were often minors and worked under "manifestly unlawful conditions". This included 12 hours of work plus without pay, without breaks, food or prayer, and no registration in the Social Security System.
They are asking for financial compensation from Opus Dei.
Gimenez said that she was tired of the pain in her knees and of having to get down on my knees for the showers. They don't allow you to think, criticize or say you don't like it. You must endure, because God requires that you surrender completely to Him.
Opus Dei stated in a statement to AP that it was not notified of the Vatican's complaint, but had been in touch with women's lawyers to "listen to their problems and find a solution."
All the women in this complaint share one thing: humble roots. Between the ages 12 and 16, they were recruited and taken from their families. Some cases, such as Gimenez's were taken to Opus Dei centers elsewhere in the country to circumvent immigration controls.
They claim Opus Dei priests, and other members, used "coercion" to force women to serve. If they refused to do so, they threatened them with spiritual evils. They also managed their relationships with the outside world.
Many of the women wanted to leave because the psychological and physical demands were too much. They were then left with no money when they did leave. Many people also stated that they required psychological treatment after leaving Opus Dei.
Sebastian Sal, the lawyer for women, stated that "the hierarchy (of Opus Dei), is aware of these practices." It is Opus Dei's internal policy. These women are searched for in the same manner all over the globe. ... It's something institutional."
The complaint is similar to the allegations made by Legion of Christ members, another conservative Catholic organization favored by St. John Paul 2II. Legion recruited young women to be consecrated members of Regnum Christi, its lay branch. They then worked in Legion-run schools, and other projects.
These women claimed that they were subject to psychological and spiritual abuse. They were told they were being separated from their families and their discomfort was God's will. It was also said that abandoning their vocation would mean abandoning God.
Pope Francis is taking steps to curb 20th-century religious groups after several religious orders, lay groups and leaders were accused of sexual abuse. Despite the fact that Opus Dei has sofar avoided most of the controversy surrounding this topic, there have been instances where individual priests were accused of misconduct.
Josefina Madariaga (director of Opus Dei’s press office in Argentina) stated to the AP that they do not have any official notice from the Vatican regarding the existence of a particular complaint. She stated that the women's lawyer had informed the group about their complaints last year regarding the inability to contribute to Argentina's social insurance system.
She said, "If someone has had a trauma or left them with a scarlet letter, we want them to tell the truth, listen, and then fix what they have done wrong."
She said that all people "working on site" are currently paid, and that Opus Dei currently employs 80 women in Argentina.
She said that society dealt with these issues more informally or in families during the 60's 70's 80's and 90's. ... Opus Dei made the necessary modifications and changes to the law that is in force today.
Beatriz Delgado worked in Opus Dei's Argentina and Uruguay offices for 23 years. She said that she was told by her bosses "that I had my salary to the director, and that everybody gave it." ... It was part giving to God."
"They convince with the vocation, with God calling you, God asks you this, you cannot fail God." She said, "They hooked me with that."
The Vatican has so far not decided on the complaint, and it is not clear if they will. A Vatican spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request.
If no response is received, the legal representatives of the women will file criminal proceedings against Opus Dei in Argentina, and in other countries where they worked.
Argentine law criminalizes human trafficking and sentences you can expect to spend between four and 15 years in prison. The statute of limitations expires 12 years after the alleged crime has been committed.
Gimenez stated that "they say they are going to help the poor" but it is a lie. He said, "They don't help, and they keep (the) money for themselves." It is important to get some justice."