The charitable side of ... Opus Dei

Mathew Little

The Catholic sect outsources its UK charitable activities to an association boasting some heavy duty establishment patrons.

In the imagination of Dan Brown they are a group of self-flagellating fanatics intent on protecting the Catholic Church's darkest secret by any means necessary. To many critics, they are misogynistic reactionaries opposed to contraception, homosexuality and abortion. But in the UK, Opus Dei, the secretive Catholic group founded in 1928 by Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva (right), can be found on GuideStar.

There are two Opus Dei charities - the Opus Dei Charitable Trust and the Sacerdotal Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. But most of the sect's charitable activities are outsourced to another organisation: the Netherhall Educational Association, based in London.

The association says it is dedicated to "all-round formation for people for all ages", with stress on "human virtues" such as self-discipline, service to others and the "spirit of hard work". It runs halls of residence for students in universities in London, Manchester and Oxford and study clubs for young people. Its income was £2.7m in 2004. The association is nominally independent but says its activities are "entrusted to Opus Dei".

Patrons include scions of the establishment such as entrepreneur Sir Bernard Audley, Sir Rocco Forte, chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, and Sir Trevor Holdsworth, former chairman of National Power. Ruth Kelly, Britain's most famous Opus Dei member, is not among them.

The association's links with Opus Dei prompted the resignation last month of William G Stewart, the TV presenter and patron of the association's Kelston Club project for boys. "If I'd known it was connected to Opus Dei I'd have steered well clear," he said.

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