Friday, May 6, 2011

From the "Da Vinci Code" to "There be Dragons" - an exercise in public relations

"There Be Dragons" opens in theaters today. Set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, when the founder of Opus Dei Jose Maria Escrivá was a young man (he died in 1975 and was canonized Saint Josemaría in 2002), the movie was conceived by Roland Joffé, an Oscar-nominated English director.

According to a review in the Wall Street Journal, the movie offers a human and sympathetic portrait of Escrivá and, by extension, of Opus Dei.

This is quite a change from the dark portrayal of Opus Dei in the "The Da Vinci Code." According to the reviewer, the  new more sympathetic portrait symbolizes a genuine evolution for Opus Dei, an Institution I believe which has much in common with the Regnum Christi movement founded by Marcial Maciel.

Not unlike the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, the Opus Dei's penchant for secrecy and the influence it wielded in Rome served to amplify rumors of questionable practices and finances that in turn fueled Vatican conspiracy theories. Of course there are differences between the organizations - however I have always suspected the similarities outweigh the differences.

Marcial Maciel, especially during the early years of his foundation, clearly sought to emulate the organizational achievements of Opus Dei in terms of involving lay people in the activities of the Catholic Church.

Favored by the late Blessed John Paul II, Opus Dei flourished.  A well executed strategy of public relations following the controversies awakened by the "The Da Vinci Code" has helped take the spotlight of public scrutiny off the institution. By carefully "flying below the radar" of the latest controversies in Rome, Opus Dei has positioned itself as a more confident, open and mainstream movement in the church.

Would that the Legionaries of Christ learn to quickly move on from the defensive posture that has characterized their public relations reaction to the scandalous revelations of their founder's double-life. Learning this lesson from Opus Dei would be an ironic twist to Maciel's thinly disguised admiration for the "rival" organization.

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