BEYOND THE THRESHOLD -- A LIFE IN OPUS DEI
7. ROME II: RETURN TO THE UNKNOWN
At the outset, I would like to explain to the reader that I am able to write everything that follows in such detail, because when I left Opus Dei, I wrote down all the events that had occurred, including conversations and names of the witnesses almost as an exercise in mental health. I thought that years later I might forget events and names, and something in my heart told me that I ought to record the happenings, not out of rancor but for the sake of historic justice.
The Other Side of the Coin
Another hop over the Atlantic and the next day the plane flew over Lisbon, affording a splendid view. We arrived in Rome after dark. It must have been about 6:30 P.M., on October 16, 1965. According to Opus Dei custom, no one is met at the airport. Two numeraries were waiting for me in the bus terminal: Marga Barturen and Maribe Urrutia. Both of them were senior in the Work and both knew me. There was jubilation at my arrival and surprise on my part when they asked me: "Why did you come?" My answer was sincere, "I don't know."
We collected my baggage, which was rather light. At 8:15 P.M. we arrived at Villa Saccetti, 36. The arrival was normal for a person who had left the central house in September 1956, and returns in October 1965, just as she was when she left: directress of the region of Venezuela and an inscribed member.
While we were still in the vestibule, the central directress, Mercedes Morado (whom I mentioned in the description of my stay in Bilboa), came down to meet me accompanied by Marlies Kucking, prefect of studies. There were hearty greetings and Mercedes asked me: "Where are your suitcases?" "My suitcases? I only brought one small suitcase for two weeks."
I saw that Mercedes looked at Marlies and smiled. Immediately she said: "Let somebody show you to your room."
Lourdes Toranzo accompanied me to the room. (Lourdes was the subdirector of the formation course at Los Rosales.)
The room was in good order: flowers, sink and shower, and so forth. I was surprised to see a thick mattress on my bed on top of the plank, something that is only assigned to people who are ill, since female numeraries normally sleep on wooden planks. Opening the door to the lavatory I saw a urinal on the floor. I was puzzled and asked: "What is that urinal doing here?"
They told me that the Father had said that the numeraries who had reached their fortieth birthday should have a urinal placed in their room. I had reached that milestone a few months earlier.
I had not finished unpacking when they informed me by the intercom in the hall, that I should run to the dining room of Villa Vecchia, where the Father was waiting for me.
I went in all haste, because the dining room was about eight minutes away at a brisk pace.
Encounter with the Father
Rosalia, the servant, told me they were waiting for me and to enter without knocking. I went into the dining room of the Villa, where Monsignor Escriva had just had supper with Don Alvaro del Portillo. Monsignor Escriva was seated at the head of the table, Don Alvaro del Portillo at his left, the central directress at the Father's right and the prefect of servants, Maria Jesus de Mer, a physician, was also present. I approached Monsignor Escriva's chair and with the left knee on the floor, as is obligatory in Opus Dei, I kissed his hand.
The conversation went as follows:
"How was your trip?"
"Very good, Father, thank you."
"How were they when you left them?" -- referring to the Venezuelan numeraries.
"Well, Father. Except that Begona concerns me very much because of her illness." (Begona Elejalde had just found out as a result of an operation that she had Hodgkin's disease.)
"'Misfortune,' you call it, knowing that soon she's going with God. But that is a blessing! What luck is hers! Happy is she thinking that she will soon die! And who is Begona? How long has she been ill?" The central directress whispered something to Monsignor Escriva. I realized that the Father did not know this inscribed member, founder of the Venezuelan region, a person who held two positions in the regional advisory. I also realized that the Father was even unaware that she was sick and had undergone an operation. I was very surprised that the Father was uninformed because we had faithfully reported to the central government about Begona's illness and operation. But I reflected and attributed it to the fact that the Father appeared old and that they wanted to avoid upsetting him.
Monsignor Escriva went on:
"And you, how is your health?" "Very well, Father." "I'll bet the doctor hasn't seen you." "Yes, Father, each year we have a thorough medical examination."
"Well, no matter! You, Chus," speaking to the physician, "have a look at her. Let her eat, let her sleep, and let her rest, because we are going to give her a lot of work here. Now rest, eat, and sleep." With these words he went out of his dining room with Alvaro del Portillo.
Since I knew Monsignor Escriva well, I realized that, though he was trying to be courteous, something in his voice betrayed a certain annoyance.
As we went down the stairs from the Villa dining room to the kitchen, I asked Mercedes with the confidence of one who had known her for so many years: "Tell me something, Mercedes. Why have I come to Rome? I'll go back to Venezuela, right?" "What did they tell you?" "That the Father wanted me to spend a few days here resting." "Well, that's it. I don't know anything about anything, but you heard the Father: eat, sleep, rest."
The next day I went to St. Peter's. Paul VI was then Pope. They asked me if I wanted to stay for the Pope's blessing, but I answered that I had better get back in case the Father called after lunch. This pleased the advisor who accompanied me, who reported it later. Once again, we see that in Opus Dei good spirit means putting the Father above anyone, including the Pope.
October 18, 19, and 20 I was stuck in my room with absolutely nothing to do. I was only able to leave it at the times set for common activities, all of which I was instructed to do with the central government. Whenever I tried to leave my room to go to the garden, for instance, I encountered Lourdes Toranzo, whose room was near mine and who always asked me where I was going. If I told her that I was simply going to pray the rosary in the garden, for instance, she would find some unlikely pretext, to send me back to my room. I got up in time to attend the last Mass scheduled late for those who were ill.
In the eyes of most people in the house, I received privileged treatment, since I performed all common acts with the central government. For myself, after so long in Opus Dei, it meant that they had me under close surveillance. In fact, I had felt watched ever since I arrived in Rome.
A few days later, Mercedes Morado told me I was to make my confidence with Marlies Kucking, who was the prefect of studies in the central advisory. She was German, blond, slightly stout, but attractive; she was the only member of the central government I did not know. I realized that she was the right hand of the central directress of Opus Dei women -- today she holds that post herself -- and that the Father held her in high esteem.
I noticed that they slighted Mary Carmen Sanchez-Merino, the secretary of the central government, to give more importance to Marlies Kucking.
After four days of doing absolutely nothing, for there were not even any books in my room, and leaving the room only to fulfill the schedule of common acts with the central government, I asked Mercedes Morado to assign me some task. They gave me the whole catalogue of the book storeroom (it was not called a library) of the men's and women's sections of Opus Dei; to be done by alphabetical order and by subjects.
I realized that this was drudgery that would take months. Nonetheless, I worked at it with determination. I did the work in my room so that I was completely isolated from the rest of the house.
Two weeks went by and nobody explained the purpose of my stay in Rome. I spoke to Marlies Kucking and told her that my departure from Venezuela was so hasty that the counselor advised me that I should write my parents on arrival in Rome to save time. Marlies told me to write them, but that they would send the letter to Venezuela so that it could be sent from there to my parents in Spain. I never found out why such deception was necessary.
The Betancourts, a couple from Venezuela who had made Opus Dei's Maracaibo foundation possible, arrived in Rome. Mrs. Betancourt was near death from cancer. When someone arrived in Rome from another country, the custom was for the numerary from that country who was in the central house to accompany the visitors during their interview with the Father. In this case, I was not called, which seemed surprising, but I did not give the matter much importance.
The visits that Monsignor Escriva received from different countries were totally regulated and organized, because the central government had established with the Father's approval, that 1) Opus Dei authorities in the countries had to explain why certain visitors should be received by Monsignor Escriva; 2) that once back in their own countries they should make the prospective visitors understand what Monsignor Escriva's "needs" are. This meant telling them that they should bring a gift of cash besides some other token of their esteem. Many people sent a check beforehand or handed it over on arrival when their visit was announced. Needless to say, nobody arrived empty-handed.
When the Betancourts visited the Father, they made a most generous donation and invited me to lunch. I was advised that they would come for me at one o'clock and that I had to be back at three, an impossible time limitation in Rome, where lunch is a prolonged affair. I went out with the Betancourts, but in view of the time pressure, we decided to have just aperitifs. I was so upset at the restaurant that I became quite sick and vomited. The Betancourts brought me to their hotel to rest for a while, even at the risk of my getting back late. While Mrs. Betancourt went up to her room, her husband stayed with me in the vestibule and said bluntly that I seemed very different, very nervous. I explained that I had been in Rome for three weeks without any assigned job and still did not know why I had come. He offered to give me money. They fussed over me; and finally told the hotel manager in my presence that if I should ever turn up at the hotel, he should give me whatever I needed at their expense. They went away quite worried and called several times, once from Florence. We chose our words carefully, because we suspected that someone was listening in.
In family life within the central government I was under surveillance. I received absurd fraternal corrections, such as that my Venezuelan accent was noticeable when I spoke. Whatever the fraternal correction, they always added that "I exhibited enormous individualism and tried to squelch others." When I asked them to give me an example to understand my fault better, they never provided one. Accordingly, in family life, I spoke as little as possible.
I had yet to be told if I was to go to Spain to visit my family or return to Venezuela. Eventually, I sensed that there were plans for me that Monsignor Escriva would tell me. They attempted to distract me like a child; the confidences dealt with silly topics. I never found out what the real problem was. One day I went out with one of the advisors to buy several things for Venezuela, a common practice when the directress of a country arrives in Rome. But I realized that it was all a charade. When we came back, the giggles among the advisors were too obvious.
I went to confession to Father Carlos Cardona, who was the ordinary confessor of the house, and who, as I recall, was the spiritual director of the central advisory. In my first confession, I told him with some anxiety about the strange treatment I was receiving from my superiors, which had no connection to the explanation for my trip to Rome given me by the counselor of Venezuela. I had not seen the Father again since the night of my arrival. During my first two confessions Father Cardona seemed kind and understanding, but suddenly he changed. He repeated unceasingly that my leaving Venezuela was providential, because my salvation was in danger due to a very sophisticated pride. As confessor he understood and saw all this in the name of God. It was clear through his change of attitude that either the Father, or the superiors on the Father's instructions, had given him directions to follow in my case. My anguish became terrible.
During my confidence and even in my confession there were insinuations that I had done terrible things in Venezuela, letting me understand that they went against the Father and the spirit of the Work. But again I pressed and requested specifics so that I might amend and repent of them; the only answer I got was: how was it possible that I didn't realize? Nobody went beyond that or specified anything to me.
My anguish grew so dreadful that one night after supper I decided to speak to Mercedes Morado, the central directress. I plainly stated that I noted great tension around me and to please tell me what they planned to do with me. A month had gone by since my arrival from Venezuela, and I didn't know what I was doing in Rome. I broke down and began to cry, but Mercedes remained cold and hard. To end the conversation, she said: "I don't know anything, do you believe me?"
I answered that it was difficult to believe that she, the central directress, didn't know why I was in Rome. But finally I blurted out: "Yes, I believe you. Just as I still believe in the Father's note that said that I was coming here to rest for a few days."
In the confidence, I mentioned several things I found disturbing at the central house in Rome. Rather than a sense of inclusiveness of all countries, everything revolved around Spain; Italian was hardly spoken. In addition, the directors lacked warmth, and there was servility rather than affection for the Father along with a cultic worship of his personality. Family life was not spontaneous, and people were not free to come and go. Above all, there was such a sense of discretion and secrecy that everything had become sheer misery. For example, you were never told when a numerary was coming from another country; you simply met her in a hall or saw her in the oratory.
Naturally, both Marlies Kucking in the confidence and Father Cardona in confession told me that what I had to say showed my lamentable critical spirit. Because I had mentioned some of these matters to a senior numerary or some servant who had reminisced with me about the years 1952-1956, I became the recipient of extraordinarily sharp fraternal corrections, being told that this was murmuring, scandal, and bad example. The moment came when I did not know what to talk about.
The superiors never spoke to me about Venezuela. I felt like someone from another planet in those surroundings.
One night, Rosalia Lopez, the servant who always waited on the Father at meals, said to me: "The Father has asked me how you are." (I had not seen the Father again since the night of my arrival.) "What did you tell him?" "Well, that you're very Venezuelan, and you talk the way they do there."
I was very careful not to let my tongue slip in front of her, because I knew well that she carried tales to the Father.
The atmosphere in Villa Sacchetti and the central house reminded me of the movie The Nun's Story, based on Catherine Hulme's novel, where she depicts the central house of a Belgian religious order and calls its superiors "the living rules." I had the same feeling: I was speaking to "living rules," not human beings.
As I described it in my confidence, the atmosphere in the house was like a police state: between the coldness of the superiors, my reclusion, the commandments from on high, and the letter of the spirit instead of the spirit of the letter, together with what I call that "mysterious discretion," and everything wrapped up in "the Father says," "the Father likes," "the Father has said," "the Father passed through here," and so forth.
Two thoughts occurred to me. On the one hand, I wondered if the Rome I had known from 1952 to 1956 was not more open than this other Rome that I met now. We worked like madwomen then, but I remembered it as more human. On the other hand, I thought that the open, warm temperament of Venezuela had changed me, and that coming back to this house of the central advisory, I felt asphyxiated. We did not speak about the church or about apostolate, but about proselytism. We did not speak as much about God as about the Father. The Second Vatican Council was taking place but it was not mentioned in a single get-together.
The eve of a First Friday, before entering the oratory, Rosalia Lopez, Monsignor Escriva's maid, said to me: "Miss, say goodbye to your country, because you are not going back to Venezuela."
I reminded her that what one hears in the administered house should never be repeated. When I mentioned the incident to the central directress, she responded: "To what are you going to pay attention, to what I say or to what a servant says?" "Naturally to what you tell me," was my answer. "Well then, don't pay attention to the servant."
To some degree, I went to the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with greater peace.
Since I had not expressly been told to hand over my letters to the directress, I took advantage of the arrival of people from Venezuela and wrote two or three short letters as a major superior to my directress in Caracas, telling her the uncertainty in which I lived, the anguish I felt, and the closed atmosphere of the house.
One day in November just before noon, I was notified that I had been summoned by the Father. I immediately went to the central advisory sessions chamber. The room is not large. To reach it one must cross the government oratory. The walls and high-backed chairs are upholstered in red velvet. A refectory table is in the middle. In one wall there is a niche with the Virgin of the Work. The small image is carved according to the vision that Monsignor Escriva had of Our Lady, they told us in whispers.
I entered the room. Monsignor Escriva was seated at the head of the table. Don Alvaro del Portillo was absent. However, at Monsignor Escriva's left was seated Father Javier Echevarria, who at that time had no role whatsoever in the Women's Branch. At Monsignor's right was the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and at her right, the prefect of studies, Marlies Kucking. Monsignor Escriva ordered me to sit next to Marlies. The conversation went as follows:
"Look, Carmen, because I am not going to call you Maria del Carmen, as you like." He paused to look around as if seeking approval. "I have called you," he continued, "to tell you that I want you to work here in Rome. You are not going back to Venezuela! We brought you here under false pretenses," he said smiling, almost amused, "because otherwise, with that temper of yours, I don't know what you might have been capable of. So, now you know. You are not going back to Venezuela. You're not needed there, and you will never return. At a given point I sent you there because you had to save the day and you did it very well. Now, you're no longer needed at all! It is better that you never go back again."
My voice sounded unexpectedly strong and clear and made everyone turn their eyes toward me when I said with utter respect: "Father, I would like to live and die in Venezuela."
Visibly annoyed, Monsignor Escriva rose from his chair and began to shout at me: "No and no! Didn't you hear! You're not going back, because I don't want you to, and I have authority" -- and he pointed his finger at each of those present -- "to order him and her and you, with your gigantic pride! You are not going back!"
It was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. I responded sadly: "Father, that is very difficult for me."
"Well, if it's difficult for you, it's also difficult for me," Monsignor Escriva shouted striking his chest, "not to go back to Spain and here I am: stuck in Rome! And if you love Venezuela, I love Spain more! So, put up with it!"
Monsignor Escriva started to leave, and we all rose. Heading toward the Relics Chapel, he turned back and exploded again: "Besides, that is pride! I'm going to say Mass now and I will pray for you. Stay in the oratory for a while." And he left through the Relics Chapel.
I waited in the oratory for about fifteen minutes, and asked the central directress if I might speak with her. In her work room I broke down and could not stop weeping. Between my sobs, I repeated that what hurt most was to find that I had been deceived and that the Father had lied and made the others lie. I told her that it seemed dishonest to circulate a printed letter which says that "people will be asked whether they want to go to a country or not," since they had not only not asked me about my preference, but had lied to me the whole time. In my tears, I kept repeating that what crushed me was to realize that the Father had lied.
I went to my room and did not want to eat. I spent the whole afternoon there. The physician, Maria Jesus de Mer, came to my room and forced me to swallow some pills against my will, without telling me what they were, they put me to sleep.
The next morning at ten, the central directress, Mercedes Morado, called me to the soggiorno of La Montagnola, the central advisory house. With her were the government secretary, Mary Carmen Sanchez Merino, and the procurator, Carmen Puente, a Mexican. The central directress asked me if I felt calmer. I said "yes," shrugging my shoulders like one who has no other choice. She also asked me if I still thought that they had lied to me in the note and that the Father had deceived me and had lied. "Yes, I still think so."
Realizing that she made these questions in front of advisors who had not been at the meeting the day before, I asked her: "What is this? An admonition?" 
Mercedes answered: "No, no. It is caring and wanting to see how you are. Very well, now go to your room."
I went to my room.
First Canonical Admonition
My room was at the other end of the house. I had not been back there for more than twenty minutes when they notified me by the intercom in the hall that I should go immediately to the sessions room of the central government.
I entered. Monsignor Escriva was standing and visibly irate. Father Javier Echevarria and Father Francisco Vives were on his left, both looking very stern. At the Father's right was the central directress, Mercedes Morado, the physician, Maria Jesus de Mer, and the prefect of studies, Marlies Kucking. All of them looked furious. I felt terrified at the scene.
The interview went as follows:
"These people have told me," Monsignor Escriva said, pointing his finger at the central directress and the other two advisors present, "that you have received the news that you are not going back to Venezuela with hysteria and tears." Beside himself, he shouted at me, "Very bad spirit! You are not going back to Venezuela, because your work has been individualistic and bad! And you have murmured against my documents! Against my documents, you have murmured!"
His anger affected his breathing, and he held his clenched fist close to my face. "This is serious! Serious! Serious! I admonish you canonically. Let it be so recorded," he said directing his words to Javier Echevarria, who, I insist, had no position whatsoever in the women's central government. "Next time," continued Monsignor Escriva, "you are out! Always complications since 1948! You and that other one! Now you come to me with this. And don't cry, because your trouble is that you are proud, proud, proud ... " Repeating these words he went through the chalice room, toward the major sacristy.
I stood frozen. I did not budge. The central directress said angrily: "What unpleasantness you are causing the Father!"
I should like to explain here the past event to which Monsignor Escriva obviously was referring. In 1948, when I was struggling with my vocational problem, I made a trip to Valladolid to attend an alumnae reunion of the French Dominican nuns' school. Incidentally, I discussed my situation with Mere Marie de la Soledad, who, as I said, did not see my vocation to Opus Dei clearly. However, I concluded that if God sought it of me, I should surrender my doubt and stop thinking of my fiance. I discussed the matter again with the nun who suggested that I send the news about my final decision to my confessor, Father Panikkar. So, I simply resolved to send a telegram to Molinoviejo, where he was at the moment. As I recall, the text of the telegram was something like: "I have offered everything for the missions, although more in love than ever." (Obviously, I was talking about loving my fiance.) Naturally my confessor understood the text, but apparently not the director of the house, who opened the telegram and discussed it with an Opus Dei superior, as they told me later. Several months later, on a trip to Madrid, Encarnita Ortega, who by then lived in Rome, called me to Zurbanin and told me in the crudest fashion "that I had declared my love to an Opus Dei priest by telegram." I was dumbfounded, because nothing was further from the truth. I so informed her. When she told me what she and the Father believed, I could not believe my ears. I explained matters, but she refused to understand. I then said that I lamented that something had been so greatly misinterpreted, that I was truly sorry, and that I would present my apologies to Monsignor Escriva, telling him that I did not wish to offend any of his priests in any way and much less my confessor. After that I did not go to Zurbaran for a while. Now, with this admonition, Monsignor Escriva made me recall such an unpleasant incidence.
All of the advisors departed and left me alone with my anguish. They made just one indication: "Come to lunch on time."
I could not believe what I heard and saw. That good, affectionate Father, whom I had dearly loved, for whom I had done everything in my life since coming to Opus Dei, had just formulated an admonition with the threat of expelling me from Opus Dei. I could not accept that Monsignor Escriva could be so harsh and not allow me the opportunity to speak to him alone, listening and questioning me before judging me in public. It was a trial with no defense but only prosecution. Above all, I was hurt by the Father's manners, his lack of understanding, or more precisely, his lack of charity.
I kept repeating his phrase: "Next time, you're out," but still could not believe it. The "murmuring" about the documents to which Monsignor Escriva referred must have meant my overt comments to the counselor and regional priest secretary of Venezuela, suggesting that the members of Opus Dei be allowed to go to confession to whomever they wanted as long as the confessor was an Opus Dei priest or, should special circumstances arise, with anyone authorized to hear confessions. Although such freedom is written into Opus Dei documents, it is "bad spirit" if anyone actually uses it. I considered all this a serious lack of freedom opposed to the freedom of which Opus Dei members were supposed to be pioneers.
My comments were equally open, and in the course of my official responsibilities, with the superiors of the Venezuelan regional government, when notes arrived laying down obligations, as for example: "Our members will make a monthly outing to the countryside." Since Venezuela does not have a countryside but a jungle, we interpreted the notes by going to private beaches at times when they were not crowded, taking advantage of an apartment loaned by a friend or cooperator. Or, again, my comments referred to requests from Rome to get subscriptions for the then newborn Actualidad Espanola, a magazine edited by Opus Dei, which had no interest for anybody in Venezuela.
In the afternoon of the day I received the first admonition, Marlies Kucking came to my room and told me that the Father had decided the following: a) that I would not write to Venezuela again; b) that they would not give me any letter that might come for me from there; c) that if visitors from Venezuela should ask for me, they would be informed that "I was sick or temporarily away from Rome"; d) that I must make reparation for the harm I had done in Venezuela; e) that they would attempt to make everyone in Venezuela forget me and that they would make clear to all what "bad spirit" I had shown; f) that I had deformed the spirit of the Work; g) that only by prayer and blind obedience would I save my soul; h) that no one in the house in Rome was to be aware of "my lamentable situation." They wanted to help me to get out of the pothole in which I was stuck because of my pride ("Pothole" means any spiritual problem you might have.) I did not respond. I accepted what Marlies said and only asked that they should tell me about Begona Elejalde's ongoing health problems, because her illness was serious and she had recently undergone an operation. Days later Mercedes Morado responded negatively to this request, telling me that "I could not even ask how Begona's health was; my will should force my intellect to not ask," which meant to put the will on a higher level than the intellect.
We had learned about Begona's illness shortly before I left Caracas. When her family learned of the operation, they called from Bilbao, but I received orders from the counselor, Father Roberto Salvat, not to inform them that she had Hodgkin's disease and to downplay the gravity of her illness. I felt uncomfortable talking to Begona's mother, since I could not tell her the truth.
I know that she was sent to Spain, and once, by chance, we met in the Barcelona airport. I was delighted to find that she was the same as always and that she was pleased to see me. However, in our brief conversation, we only exchanged generalities about her sister whom she had just seen off. After Marlies's visit, they changed my room and put me in charge of all the oratories of the house. There were some fourteen or fifteen oratories with several large sacristies where all the vestments and sacred vessels were kept. My job was to prepare the vestments for each Mass that was celebrated in the house and to iron the oratory linens, prepare candles for each set of candlesticks, which were different in every oratory, and make all the hosts. The work was endless; the oratories were far apart; several Masses were celebrated in each of them, and the time to perform these tasks in the afternoon was minimal. Each morning I had to put away all the vestments used in the Masses and bring the dirty linen back home.
Nobody helped me in the work except on feast days when we used the best chalices, normally kept in the Chalice Chapel. There are many chalices in the Opus Dei central house, since each country has sent one to the Father or has made a contribution to have one made. Monsignor Escriva often said that he wanted a chalice in which the screw linking the foot and the cup was a large diamond; he did not want it to be seen from the outside, but be reserved for Our Lord alone.
When a female numerary comes to Opus Dei, she turns over all the jewelry she owns, which is hand delivered to Rome. I cannot estimate the value of the jewelry that we sent to Rome in my time. Later I was humbled by being reminded by a woman who had been a numerary for many years in Venezuela that I once had told her to remove the precious stone in her ring so as to send it to Rome, and to replace the diamond with a false jewel. When she told me her mother might notice, I even suggested that she tell her mother that the ring was dirty. In my eagerness to help Rome and serve the Father I, too, lied.
The next order that I received was to take charge of cleaning the administered house. I thought that perhaps I would drown my anguish in work.
I wanted to inform my director in Venezuela and the other advisors about my situation in Rome and that I would not return again. Since it was impossible to do so through Opus Dei's "legal channels," I managed one afternoon to go out with an advisor who did not speak Italian, and on the pretense that I had to find out whether the Betancourts had left something in my name for the Father, I went to the hotel where they had stayed. I had prepared a note which I handed to the manager with the request that he take care of it, while I asked him if the Betancourts had sent anything for me. He asked me to wait for a minute. He disappeared. Two minutes later, without the paper in his hand, he said that he would remember to notify me if anything arrived, adding: "Tutto a posto, signorina" ("Everything is in order, Miss"). I know now that the telegram reached Venezuela. It said simply that I was staying in Rome under the Father's strict orders.
From that day in November 1965 until March 1966, I was held completely deprived of any outside contact, with the absolute prohibition to go out for any reason or receive or make telephone calls, or to write or receive letters. Nor could I go out for the so-called weekly walk or the monthly excursion. I was a prisoner.
I developed the mentality of an inmate and learned to recognize people by their steps. I learned how long each person took to complete any task. I did not ask for anything. Julia, the older servant, who had known me for so many years, said to me one day in the ironing room: "Don't forget that God sees everything and will not abandon you,'" and she shook her head, expressing her discomfort: "My, my!" Although no complaint escaped my lips, the people in the house knew that I was not allowed to move freely and the disrespectful treatment that I had received from Monsignor Escriva.
Almost two weeks after the admonition, they called me to the session chamber of the central advisory. I trembled as I entered the room.
Gathered there were Father Francisco Vives, central secretary for the Women's Branch worldwide, Father Javier Echevarria, with no authority in the Women's Branch, the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and Marlies Kucking, prefect of studies, who received my confidence.
Father Francisco Vives told me to sit down because he wanted to clarify something related to the admonition the Father had given me. What followed was as close to a set of specific charges as I ever received.
a) "I had murmured against the Father's writings, and I should recall that any writings sent by the Father to the regions had been submitted to internal censorship, although that was not required. It was therefore arrogance on my part to question the Father's writings.
b) "I was very attached to Venezuela and this was deadly.
c) "I had diabolical pride because some people in Venezuela had come to be so attached to me that they didn't dedicate themselves to the Work.
d) "I had personally hurt the Work by trying to rise above it.
e) "I had to cut off all contact with Venezuela and have no further contact with anyone there.
f) "He (Father Francisco Vives) was aware that I had requested in my confidence to leave Rome for Spain, but I should realize that my personal problem would have to be resolved in Rome, since the Father, because of his special love for me, wanted me to remain in Rome.
g) "I would have to fill my day with intense work.
h) "I would have to begin at the bottom and lower than the bottom; I would have to forget everything I knew and had done and ask my director about absolutely everything as if in a spiritual childhood: from how I had to put on my panties to how to fasten my bra.
i) "I should forget my experience and past life and should ask God to give me a child's humility.
j) "This was going to be very difficult because of my diabolical pride, but everyone was going to pray for me so that I might get out of this pothole in which I had fallen.
k) "I should not think of leaving Rome or think that my stay would only be transitory. I had to remain there in the form and fashion that the Father determined.
l) "Nobody in the house could become aware of my lamentable situation.
m) "What I had said to the Father was unheard of, that 'I wanted to live and die in Venezuela,' because nobody in the Work had ever contradicted anything the Father had said."
To all this Father Francisco Vives added that I was "nothing and nobody in the Work." I recall his contempt and the gestures of disgust that accompanied his words during this "conversation."
It was his idea that I should go to confession immediately.
All seemed like a nightmare, although this conversation was almost a repetition of what Marlies Kucking had said to me in the previous days.
I understood that my confidences and confessions were manipulated and that, with the excuse of "helping me get out of the pothole," my soul was on public display.
It goes without saying that for a priest like Father Francisco Vives to describe such an array of past "misdeeds," he must first have spoken to Monsignor Escriva. Of this I had not the slightest doubt.
For months the tension was brutal and the confidences with Marlies Kucking were sheer torture.
In order to make my confidence with her I had to follow a routine: I had to telephone her to remind her that it was my day for the confidence and ask her what time was convenient for her. When I arrived punctually for our appointment, almost always at the visitors' parlor in La Montagnola, the women's central government house, there were times when she made me wait more than an hour. One day I told her that perhaps it would be "lack of spirit," but that I wanted to learn about the health of Begona, the numerary who had Hodgkin's disease. She told me that it was bad spirit, because I had to avoid thinking about anything or anybody that had to do with my stay in Venezuela.
Several Venezuelan numeraries studied in Villa delle Rose, seat of the Roman College of Santa Maria in Castelgandolfo. They had left the country a month before me. They were Mirentxu Landaluce, Mercedes Mujica, and Adeltina Mayorca. They had all belonged to local councils in different houses in Caracas before coming to Rome. Of course I had not seen them yet. I remember that the central directress told me shortly after my arrival in Rome to go with Montse Amat, a Catalonian who was prefect of studies, to visit Villa delle Rose. We arrived, and -- surprise! -- the students had all gone on an excursion. Only Adeltina Mayorca and a member of the local council, Blanca Nieto, who was the subdirector of the press, when I left Rome the first time were there. I might have swallowed the story better if Montse Amat, who was in the central advisory, had not told me that she "didn't know that they had an excursion." I realized that they did not want me to meet the students nor that they should meet me. I remembered the Venezuelan saying, "What is one more stripe for a tiger," and I let the matter go.
These pupils came to Rome almost weekly to lunch or an afternoon snack in the central house. Marlies Kucking ordered me not to speak to any Venezuelans. One day when she saw me speak to one of them on the staircase, she subjected me to a grueling interrogation, as well as the other person, I later discovered.
Marlies asked me what topics we had mentioned in the conversation, if we had spoken of Venezuela, about what and about whom. She repeated the interrogation altering the order of the questions. It was a secret-police interrogation. The most normal things were interpreted as "war crimes." What I did not realize then was that these methods of asking about the same thing a thousand times is exactly what is done by the security forces in all repressive regimes. What is intolerable is that in the name of God and the church, Opus Dei would use such an approach to "obtain information." After all, the Inquisition was abolished centuries ago. Here, again, the Opus Dei system is identical to that of any sect.
A few days after Monsignor Escriva gave me the first admonition, Marlies Kucking, called me to the central government soggiorno and informed me that I was no longer directress of the Venezuelan region, and by indication of the Father she was giving me a copy of the rescript, number 215, as a subject for meditation. This rather long note, written by Monsignor Escriva, says that cargos son cargas, offices are burdens and should be left with the same joy with which they had been undertaken. I told Marlies that I had already done my mental prayer that afternoon, but that I would use the rescript for meditation the following day. Just in passing, I asked her: "Who is regional directress now?" The question greatly irritated her. She said:
"You must understand, Carmen, it is lack of tact and discretion to ask that question. It should no longer matter to you. How could such a question occur to you? Don't you understand?" "No, I don't understand. But it's all the same. I accept it fully."
Given the isolation to which I was subjected, I asked Marlies in one of my confidences if the canonical admonition carried any penalties. She told me it did not.
I put the same question to the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and she told me the same. Both Marlies and Mercedes told me that nobody "oppressed" me, that it was "my imagination." They also added that everything they did was by the Father's indication to facilitate my spiritual recovery. I asked permission several times to go out and the answer was always, "No."
Mrs. de Sosa's Visit
My friend from Venezuela, Ana Teresa Rodriguez de Sosa arrived in Rome in December, 1965.
She telephoned the house, and by some coincidence, I answered the phone, since I was the only one present who spoke Italian. She asked for me, but naturally, following the "rules," I did not identify myself, notified the central directress by intercom that Mrs. de Sosa was on the phone, and switched the call to her office.
That day I prayed to God with all my soul that I would be allowed to see Ana Teresa. That night Marlies told me to call Mrs. de Sosa at her hotel, saying that I was out when she called (another lie) and that she could come to see me the following afternoon.
When I called the hotel, Mrs. de Sosa -- who was not bashful -- told me that it seemed very odd that I had not returned her call until the evening, since she had called me several times, which I did not know.
"Child, everything seems strange. I have called you several times and you haven't answered. Are you being held prisoner so you can't answer my calls?," she added half jokingly.
Since I feared someone might be listening on the government office phone, which was connected to mine, I answered in French that indeed, I was, and that she should do everything possible and impossible to speak to me alone when she came to see me the next day.
Lourdes Toranzo was the numerary who had attended Mrs. de Sosa on her previous visits to Rome. It annoyed me extraordinarily when she referred to this woman "to whom it was necessary to attend because she made large contributions to the Work," without a touch of genuine affection. Lourdes mentioned that Mrs. de Sosa had told her she would bring flowers for the oratory in the morning. It so happened that following morning, a Peruvian numerary who had been in charge of the oratories was showing me how the electrical master switches worked. They were located near the delivery door, which the concierge had opened while she cleaned the entrance. Suddenly I recognized Mrs. de Sosa's voice. Seeing the delivery door open and the servant there, she left her orchids for the oratory and turned away. Instinctively, I rushed out that door to catch her, since I was afraid they would not let me speak with her alone that afternoon; but Mrs. de Sosa did not see me for she had gotten into her taxi and was heading toward Bruno Buozzi. Although I was outside for less than a minute and a half, the concierge had immediately reported by intercom to the advisory that I had set foot in the street. (The idiom was never more literal.)
When I rejoined the Peruvian numerary at the switch box, I said: ''I'm afraid that they are going to scold me for having tried to greet Mrs. de Sosa." "The way they are treating you is ridiculous," the girl replied, "but I don't think they will." At just that moment Marlies appeared, looking incensed. (In the midst of it all God conserved my sense of humor and, when she and Mercedes were furious, they reminded me of Walt Disney's weasels showing their teeth.) Marlies asked: "What happened with Mrs. de Sosa?"
I explained I had heard her voice and gone out in order to greet her. Furious, she continued: "If you go on this way, we will have to take stronger and harsher measures with you, more vigorous measures. What you have done is intolerable! You have broken a firm order not to leave the house."
I begged her pardon, but I was sure there would be reprisals. That same afternoon I was waiting for them to announce Mrs. de Sosa's arrival. At the precise moment when the concierge announced that the lady had arrived, Marlies told me that Lourdes Toranzo would be present during the visit and would bring Mrs. de Sosa to the Villa Sacchetti soggiorno. I had no choice but to agree. I arrived at the visitors' parlor and Mrs. de Sosa was alone. I handed her a letter I had written and went out to call Marlies by intercom to say Lourdes had not arrived. Marlies said it didn't matter, that it was all right, but that "I should try to make the visit short."
When I returned to the parlor, Mrs. de Sosa said that Lourdes Toranzo had shown up to accompany us, but that she had told Lourdes that she had already seen her the day before and that she wanted to see me and to speak with me. We went up to the Villa Sacchetti soggiorno and I chose a place to sit down that was out of reach of the microphone installed in this room. (Monsignor Escriva had ordered several microphones installed in different places in the house, all connected with his room.) One of them was in the soggiorno or living room, another in the oratory, another in the ironing room, another in the kitchen, another in the hall in the servants quarters; and also in several places in the central advisory house, La Montagnola.
Rapidly, I explained my situation to Mrs. de Sosa and I gave her a sheet of paper to read later, saying that the only way that they would let me go to have lunch with her was to extend the invitation in the same note that enclosed an extra donation to the Work. She sent a thousand dollars for the Work in a check made out to me. They had no choice but to let me go to have lunch with her alone, although I was instructed that, if I went out at twelve-thirty, I ought to be back at three.
I was completely open with Ana Teresa and described everything that was happening and what they had said to me: Her reaction was, "The Father must be getting senile, because what they have done to you is an injustice." She bought me stamps so that I could write as much as I wanted and told me that she would write to me care of General Delivery, Rome. She acted in every way as a true friend. Her first reaction was that I should not return to Villa Sacchetti but stay with her. I said no, that there was a general congress scheduled in Opus Dei's Women's Branch and that I was convinced that things were going to change.
But this optimism was temporary, and when I was back in my room at Opus Dei, my spirits sank as I realized I could not even phone Ana Teresa without breaking the rules that had been imposed on me. However, the prison mentality stimulated by my involuntary reclusion had made me aware that there was a brief time -- not more than two minutes -- when I could use the telephone without being heard. The day before Ana Teresa's return to Venezuela, while I was cleaning the entrance area of the men's house, I realized there was an outside phone, and at considerable risk, I used it. I called her very early. I told her that I was thinking of leaving the Work, because neither my mind nor my physical strength were going to last much longer. I was trying to eat as much as I could to survive, but in spite of that, from mid-October to mid-December I had lost almost twenty pounds and my hair had turned completely white. They had broken me. Although Mrs. de Sosa tried to console me as best she could, I felt profoundly alone when I hung up and she left that day.
I wrote my directress in Venezuela, believing she was entitled to an honest account of what was happening in Rome. However, I was afraid that if she wrote to General Delivery, some Opus Dei member would discover a way to collect my mail. Mrs. de Sosa wrote me a couple of letters to General Delivery that I was able to receive through a Venezuelan numerary who picked them up for me on a trip to the main post office in Rome. Through this same numerary, I also managed to arrange to open a post office box in one of the district post offices in Rome and received a few brief notes there from some of the advisors in the Venezuelan regional advisory. Once they included a meditation letter written by a Venezuelan Opus Dei priest which gave me some hope. He encouraged me by saying that we have to live God's will and that everything would pass, because superiors are human and can err, while God is above everything and everyone. It filled me with encouragement. Needless to say, I burned this letter after I read it.
Apparently, they sent a second meditation by this priest that must have been lost. I had torn up a third meditation to shreds, intending to burn it in the wash basin at night. While I was getting undressed, two of the advisors entered my room, searched high and low, and took away the shreds of the note that I had hid at the back of the closet days before. I had made the dreadful mistake of showing one of these letters to two students who were at the Roman College of Santa Maria. Judging by the consequence, today, I am almost certain that they had reported the matter to their superiors.
Here I would recall a remark I made in the introduction that I would always use real names but to avoid reprisals by Opus Dei superiors I would refrain in exceptional cases from identifying certain persons, since they still belong to the prelature. A condensed version reached me then of the events in Caracas which paralleled my reclusion in Rome. Subsequently, I was to learn of them in detail from trustworthy sources.
The numeraries had been informed of my retention in Rome one by one in the following manner: "Maria del Carmen will not come back again. There is to be no comment by anyone." Obviously, that put my stay in Rome in a cloud of suspense. Here, Ana Maria Gibert merits a brief parenthesis. She was my directress in Caracas, as I have said. Doubtless her sending me two or three letters to Rome motivated her removal from Casavieja to a bedroom on the top floor of Etame School of Art and Home Economics, where she was held completely incommunicado for about two weeks. She could not receive telephone calls, mail, visits, or any contact with the other numeraries who lived in the house. Ana Maria must have been about 46 years old then. The directress of the Etame School of Art and Home Economics, Lucia Cabral, an intelligent woman who had worked in one of the most progressive schools in Venezuela under doctor Luisa Elena Vegas, acceded to Opus Dei's tactics and acted as Ana Maria Gibert's jailer. She had to bring her food at mealtimes.
This treatment of Ana Maria Gibert, a person of prestige in the academic world, who had sacrificed her professional and personal future in the interest of the Work, was one of the most unjust things I have known in Opus Dei. Beloved of numeraries and outsiders for her affability, spiritual life, and maternal character, she was one of the numeraries who began our work in Venezuela. She established a fine atmosphere at the Etame school and maintained its good reputation, along with Begona Elejalde. After her forced reclusion, they sent Ana Maria to Opus Dei's Dairen students residence in Caracas and from there to Spain. Years later I met her on a Salamanca street, as I will describe later.
Eva Josefina Uzcategui took charge of removing my photographs from the houses of the Work. Not surprisingly, given her temperament, she performed the task without the slightest embarrassment in front of other numeraries.
I was beginning to feel utterly exhausted. I thought I was being treated unjustly, but in order to repent I needed to know the specifics of my sins. I asked for examples again and again, and they never gave any. Everything was left hanging in the air; the accusations were serious but always couched in vague terms. St. Francis de Sales's phrase that you can catch more flies with a spoon of honey than a bottle of vinegar came to mind frequently.
For example, they spoke of "murmuring" -- but the criticism they referred to was open and meant to be constructive. After all, I had not gone about the streets of Caracas proclaiming my opinion about the rescripts sent by Monsignor Escriva, but discussed them frankly with Opus Dei superiors in Venezuela. I had even made my differences of opinion known in a sealed letter I had sent to Monsignor Escriva. Perhaps the most obviously sectarian characteristic of Opus Dei is precisely the absence of self-criticism. Even more than that, the divinization of its leader and the sanctification of its Founder in life made it practically impossible to disagree with anything he might say or write.
My physical strength was diminishing, and the idea of leaving Opus Dei came to me frequently. I wept a lot at night and had dreadful headaches during the day. I thought I must ask God to take my life, because in Opus Dei it is recommended that "you must ask God for death before failure to persevere." The truth is that I asked God a thousand times to take my life. The fancy of taking my own life even passed through my head, but obviously my mental health was still intact. I requested permission to do extraordinary bodily mortification, which was granted. I believe I treated my body with brutality.
Years later I learned of suicide attempts by Opus Dei female numeraries who did not die but who were maimed for life. One of them was Rosario Morin (Piquiqui) in England. Piquiqui threw herself out of a window of an Opus Dei women's house in London. She did not kill herself but was seriously injured, breaking her pelvis. Once out of danger, she was taken to Madrid. She died insane, although of natural causes according to Opus Dei. One of the numeraries who cared for her (and whose name I will make available upon written request) informed me in detail about Piquiqui's insanity. I do not believe the claim that she was already insane. What I do believe is that Opus Dei drove her insane, which is different. As a child, I went to school with Piquiqui in Madrid. Her brother was in my class. We met again years later at Zurbarin and requested admission to Opus Dei at about the same time. She was able to reside in houses of the Work before me. We were together in the Molinoviejo course, when she was preparing her trip to Mexico. People in Mexico were very fond of her and she was happy there. During my last stay in Rome we met again. Piquiqui had arrived from Mexico on her way to England. I remember a conversation we had in Villa Sacchetti in 1966, while the general congress of the Women's Branch was being held. We discussed possible appointments to the central advisory. As a consequence of that conversation, I was the object of a very energetic fraternal correction by Mercedes Morado, because Piquiqui had told her that we had talked about possible changes in the central advisory. I never understood why this was so wrong and thought that when I met Piquiqui, I would call her stupid at least. Certainly, Piquiqui was not insane in 1966. You must understand that one of the requirements of those whom Opus Dei chooses as numeraries is the absence of mental illness in their families.
A case in the United States involved an American numerary who had been at the Roman College of Santa Maria. On her return to the United States, the superiors led her to believe that she was attached to her male cousin who belonged to Opus Dei. She had never considered that affection reprehensible, but it turned into a nightmare for her. She lived in Washington, D.C. Going from one Opus Dei house to another, she began to wander aimlessly for hours. She arrived at a military installation where the soldiers found her with sores on her feet, dirty, disoriented, insane. They took her to hospital from which they notified her Opus Dei house, probably because of some piece of identification she was carrying.
The numeraries from her house came and without further ado had her committed to a mental institution. One day she asked for a little mirror with which she tried to commit suicide by cutting her veins. They took her from the insane asylum to the Opus Dei house, where a Peruvian numerary, Maricucha Valdearellano, who was in the United States regional advisory, did not pay the slightest attention to her. A numerary from another South American country who lived in the house took care of her and calmed her, especially at night. Apparently, the American numerary has recovered and still resides in an Opus Dei house, but not in Washington, D.C.
Another case with which I am familiar is that of Aurora Sanchez Bella, whom the Opus Dei superiors sent to England because one of her brothers held an important post there. Aurorita was a good person but had no gift for languages; while I was in the central advisory in Rome, I remember opposing her assignment to England. However, they sent her primarily because of her brother's position there. When I returned to Rome in 1965, she seemed quite unbalanced. Her room was next to mine, and at night I could hear her pacing up and down the room.
I pointed this out to Mary Tere Echeverria, who told me that "she already knew her situation." Opus Dei creates situations that can break people psychologically. When my brother Javier, who is a medical doctor, learned about my stay in Rome, he told me: "You can certainly say that you have no insanity genes, because others have lost their mind for less."
The family life that I shared in Rome with the central advisory consisted in participating with them in all common acts, meals and get-togethers. The common acts belonging to the life of piety were limited to the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, the Preces, and the rosary. Other than that, because of my work in the administration and the cleaning schedule, I fulfilled the remaining norms in one of the two Villa Sacchetti oratories.
The women's central advisory had its own dining room by now. It was not at all attractive. The only impressive thing was a round table where thirty could easily be seated. When some advisor from another country arrived, they ate there. One of the major superiors who came most often was the delegate in Italy, Maribel Laporte, a Spaniard. Maribel was the daughter of a colleague of my father's, and I knew her fairly well. Accordingly, when I arrived, she was one of those who was pleasant to me, doubtless because our parents would talk about their daughters in Rome. Her older sister, who became a nun and whom I knew well, always inspired respect and affection because of her sheer goodness, whereas Maribel, by contrast, always seemed somewhat of an opportunist.
November 21, 1965, Monsignor Escriva ordered everyone in the house to go to the Mass that His Holiness Paul VI was to celebrate in the Tiburtino to mark the assignment of the Parish of St. John the Baptist al Collatino to the Opus Dei. The pastor was Mario Lantini, the first Italian numerary and first Italian numerary priest, currently Opus Dei regional vicar in Italy. The Father also announced the blessing ceremony of the newly constructed Elis Center buildings, devoted to vocational-technical education, some of which were apparently completed. Monsignor Escriva informed us that Opus Dei numeraries would line the Pope's path with lighted torches. He explained to us that unless we had specifically been designated to do so, we could not go to communion at the Pope's Mass. Among the numeraries so designated was Fernanda, the first Dominican numerary, who was rumored to be next directress in Venezuela. We were also informed that the majority of the women numeraries of the Italian region, at that time Milan, Naples, and Rome as well as representatives of the international press would be in Tiburtino.
After the Father had finished his announcements, some of us remained in the Gallery of the Madonna. Mercedes Morado reported that the Father had just said: "Daughters, take care to tell your little sisters [i.e., the servants]. I know that they love me very much, but for once, let them applaud the Pope more than me. They will have other opportunities to see me and applaud me." They repeated this to us many times.
They also told us that the Pope would visit an administration of the Women's Branch for the first time in the history of Opus Dei. Consequently, it was totally forbidden under any circumstances that anyone should go to that administration. Maribel Laporte, the delegate of the Italian region would be with the numeraries from the local council of that administration.
Also at this time the image of the Virgin, which is now placed in a chapel at the University of Navarra, was transported to Rome to receive the Pope's blessing.
I was instructed to go to the Tiburtino parish with two servants, Concha and Asuncion, both long-time Opus Dei members. When we arrived at the parish church, the huge marble statue of the Virgin occupied the middle of the nave. The Father arrived giving orders to the men about the placement of the Virgin or some such thing. The servants had learned that "for once" they had to applaud the Pope more than the Father. The majority of the women who were going to communion wore white veils and were in the central nave. The two servants and I had a good view from a lateral nave.
The Mass moved me deeply. Paul VI lauded the Opus Dei and mentioned in the homily that he had worked in the neighborhood as a priest. When he said that one of the things that he praised most highly in Opus Dei was the "spirit of freedom," I rebelled and wanted to shout out loud: "Lies, Holy Father, lies!" I realized that the world press was there and that my shout in Italian would embarrass Opus Dei but felt that in the final analysis it would embarrass the church. Although I tried not to cry, I wept uncontrollably, my Catholic loyalty being stronger than the oppression of my soul. I could not help but reflect bitterly, however, on the distorted information that the Work's superiors must have given the Holy Father.
My thoughts were interrupted by one of the servants telling me that she had an urgent need to go to the bathroom. There were no restrooms around. The poor soul was in such discomfort that I took a chance and accompanied her to the administration. I rang the door bell and Maribel Laporte opened the door. Seeing me, she said in the most disagreeable tone of voice imaginable: "As always, disobeying with your bad spirit." Maribel's words and tone of voice squelched the poor servant's problem. She kept apologizing because I had been the object of abuse on her account. I calmed her down and told her not to worry.
The following morning they broadcast the ceremonies at the Tiburtino on television, and the order was given in the ironing room for everyone in the administration to go up to the fourth floor where the central advisory offices were situated to see the Father (not the Pope).
The only television set in the women's area was in a large room at the end of the corridor on the central advisory office floor. I asked the directress of the administration if she was sure that I was allowed to go up and she said I was. So I went up. It was the first time I entered the office floor since 1956. I went down the hall with the Peruvian I mentioned earlier, and passing by the open door of Mercedes Morado's office, I saw her reading a letter. I felt she saw me, however. The television room was dark. I saw Marlies. Thirty seconds later someone said: "Marlies, Mercedes is calling you." The next moment everyone heard Marlies summon me into the hall. Naturally, they also saw that I did not come back. Marlies said: "You had better go down to the ironing room and continue with the oratory work." I went down, swallowing my rage.
As was to be expected, the next day after lunch, Marlies called me to the central advisory visiting parlor in La Montagnola and told me she was surprised that I had gone up to the office floor when it was clearly established that no one could go up to that floor without permission. I said simply that the directress of the administration told me to go up with the others. Then Marlies responded: "Yes, but the directress of the administration does not know that you are not like the others nor does she know about your 'lamentable situation.'"
I kept quiet.
Mercedes Morado called me two days later and asked about the Tiburtino ceremony in general. I concentrated on the Mass and the Pope, although I knew that she wanted to get to the scene in the administration, as she eventually did. I did not go into any detail but simply said we had disregarded an express order. I made no commentary on Maribel's behavior. When Mercedes insisted, I only said: "We have to realize Maribel is still very young." I knew that my understanding bothered her more than any reproach would have.
This occurred at the end of November 1965 and the Second Vatican Council was to be concluded on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8. I asked for permission to go to the Vatican, saying that this was a very important event for me as a Christian, and that it was the only time in my life that an occurrence of such significance would take place in the church. Marlies and Mercedes Morado said no because there was a great deal of work in the house and "more important things to do than go to the conclusion of a Council." They added that Don Alvaro and "some of our brothers would be there and that was enough."
The television carried the ceremonies live that morning and ran the tapes that night. I was the only numerary in the house who was not permitted to watch TV. Of some three hundred women numeraries in the house, nobody went to the Vatican that day. I never understood this. Monsignor Escriva's professed love of the church and the Pope rings hollow.
My parents tried to phone just before Christmas. Apparently, the connection was broken. What probably happened was that in the rush to look for Lourdes Toranzo who was my "guardian" in matters relating to the outside, they hung up. My parents then sent me a telegram informing me that they would call on Christmas Day. I was able to speak to them but realized that somebody was listening in, possibly Lourdes Toranzo. I insisted that I wanted to see them and that they should come to Rome, but to my great surprise my mother got on the phone and said that she was still very much afraid of flying and that they would come to see me in the spring, by train. In spite of my insistence, they could not understand. They were happy to have me nearer.
I had become passive, and I barely spoke. I was meek. I helped the servants with all my strength. I just listened. The only time when I spoke up was when the superiors in the women's central advisory would say in front of Latin American numeraries that in their countries people were "soft," "tacky," uncultured. I realized that the whole house was silently on my side.
The superiors did not give me a single card or letter at Christmas. Marlies simply said there was no mail for me. I was convinced she lied but had no proof. One day I took a desperate chance. Since I knew where the duplicates of keys were kept, including the key to the mailbox, I went up to the secretary's room and grabbed the duplicate of that key. Given the arrangement of the doors in the delivery area, it was an adventure full of suspense to open the mailbox without being heard. My heart was thumping, but I did it. I saw that there were at least eight letters for me. I found out who had sent them. I opened one of them, from Lilia Negron, who could not understand my silence for months. She and her husband asked why I didn't answer their letters. I destroyed that letter. I left the other seven in the mail box, and, of course, with more suspense I returned the duplicate key to its place. A week later I asked Marlies whether any letters or Christmas cards had arrived for me, and she said no. Then I had clear proof she was lying.
I believe they were afraid I might escape through a window. In any case they changed my room again. This one had a window onto an interior terrace.
March 19 was St. Joseph's Day, an important Opus Dei feast for several reasons. First, it is Monsignor Escriva's saint's day. Second, on that date vows are renewed, or whatever they are now called in the prelature: contracts, sworn promises, in the last analysis still a juridical bond before God carrying responsibilities. Furthermore, the evening before there is the custom in all Opus Dei houses and centers of making the so-called list of St. Joseph. The director writes on a sheet of paper the names of three persons that each numerary gives her, for whom she will pray and mortify herself during the year to win their vocation as numeraries. Once the list is completed, it is placed in an envelope which is closed and kept by the director until the following year. Finally, the litany of the saints and the Preces of the Work are recited. Next year on St. Joseph's Day the envelope is opened and there is jubilation when some of those whose names were written on the list are now numeraries.
I decided I was not going to commit suicide but that I had to find a way of loosening the noose around my neck. Therefore, I wrote a few lines to Monsignor Escriva, congratulating him on his feast day and telling him that I would attempt to correct my errors. (I never knew what they were.)
A few days afterward, when Monsignor Escriva came to La Montagnola, they called all of us who were in the administration to hear the Father speak. He was on the staircase, and the whole house was gathered between the vestibule and the white marble steps. In front of everyone, he addressed me and said that my letter had given him great joy. It was all the same to me. In years gone by, I would have been overjoyed by his words. Now I was so disillusioned, so broken, that the only thing I wanted was to be left alone until the General Congress so that there could be changes in the central advisory of the Work and that thereafter my situation might be definitively reviewed.
Towards the end of March, Marlies called me to go to the visitors' parlor in La Montagnola, asking me first: "Are you dressed?" "Yes," I answered. "Well, get up there at four."
I arrived at the room and I waited for an hour. I did not know what it was all about. Suddenly Father Francisco Vives and Father Severino Monzo appeared. Surprisingly, they met with me alone.
They were conciliatory. They told me that they wanted to help me "get out of the pothole." They saw months go by, and I was the same. I didn't improve. They understood that the Father had directed special words of affection and that I did not receive them as was hoped. I was to tell them what was happening to me.
Then I spoke. I told them clearly and bluntly that a) I felt like a prisoner; b) they were wearing me down in that forced isolation; c) the atmosphere around me was cold; d) they should tell me why I cannot have contact with Venezuela and why they told me lies so that people would not see, hear, or write to me; e) they didn't let me talk with the students of the Roman College of Santa Maria; f) I cannot go out alone; g) they should tell what horrendous things I had done in Venezuela, because without knowing what the sins were I could never duly repent; h) Marlies was a torture for me; i) they should have sent me to any other country in the world, except Rome; j) I didn't want to be near the Father, because he surrounded himself with a climate of suspicion, surveillance, and lack of affection. I told them what I thought of Rome and the house. I especially insisted that they change the recipient of my confidence from Marlies to somebody else, because I was afraid I might not be sincere with her; she inspired terror in me, because I knew the rage with which she spoke to me. Finally I said to them: "You have managed to break me!" And I began to cry.
To Father Severino, I said: "Besides, you, Father Severino, have known me for years. You know perfectly well that I have faced difficult and hard times and that I am not an idiot cry baby."
Then Father Francisco Vives gave a quick twist to my words: "Idiot no, cry baby very much."
Their conclusion was that things would change. I could go out alone to Mass, and even write a letter to Venezuela. I should be very sincere and humble. They would consider a different person for my confidence. I would not leave Rome, because the Father did not want that. But if I wanted to go out, I should say so, and I would go out.
Things did not change. From a "no," when I asked to walk around the block, the answer became "let me think it over and I'll tell you later." In other words, "no," just the same. I came to think that everybody was right except me. By dint of telling me that I had to forget how I had lived and what I had known in the last ten years and of Marlies objecting to anything I asked for, I noticed that my memory for names was fading. Sometimes I remembered faces but did not recall the names. I confused places and situations. By constant insistence that it was "bad spirit" to think about the past and the present, I started to think that my problem was a matter of my imagination, just as they claimed.
The moment arrived when I doubted my sanity. My memory slipped. I must confess that it has cost me years of concentration once again to remember names that were once so familiar and events that I had lived so intensely.
Years later, I understood that Opus Dei had brainwashed me; the agents were Marlies Kucking, Mercedes Morado, and, whether directly or indirectly, Monsignor Escriva.
The "freedom" granted after the conversation with Father Severino Monzo and Father Francisco Vives consisted in accompanying a servant to the dentist or going out for half an hour on Saturday to buy flowers for the oratories at one of the stands on Viale Bruno Buozzi. One anecdote is from an afternoon I accompanied a servant to the dentist. Her name was Soledad and she was one of the oldest servants. On the bus she wondered if, perhaps, I had found things different in the house from what they were in 1952. She told me that things had changed very much. Now, they hardly went out, and when they did, it was in groups to Villa Borghese. They no longer went downtown. I asked her why and she said she didn't know, but that things had been that way for four or five years. I made not the slightest comment. I looked at my watch and saw that we had exactly fifteen minutes before the appointment with the dentist, whose office was near the Piazza del Popolo. The thought was father to the deed. I got her off the bus and guided her through the square. I showed her the church where Luther preached, and I brought her through one or two of the little streets nearby where she saw some store windows. One cannot do much in ten minutes. We went to her dentist and returned home.
That night at supper time, I noticed strange vibrations toward me from the members of the government. I truly could not guess why.
Next day, I will remember as long as I live. They were showing Mary Poppins in the aula magna (the theatre). As I was about to enter the aula magna, they told me Mercedes Morado had called me to her office. As always, she made me wait, this time some fifteen minutes. The conversation went as follows: "What do you have to tell me, Carmen?" "Nothing special. What do you want me to tell you?" "Don't you have anything to tell me, nothing that is bothering you?" "Look, Mercedes, you know everything and nothing new has come up. What can I tell you?" "You haven't spoken with someone about something that bothers you, that you think was not right?" "Well, really no." "Is your soul so coarse? Think! Let's see, Carmen, to whom have you said something incorrect?" "I haven't spoken with anybody. I only went out yesterday with Soledad, and I didn't tell her anything." "There, there. Dig deeper! Do the comments that you made to a servant seem all right to you? Let's see, tell me what happened!" "Well, nothing. She told me that they no longer go out. I told her that it seemed strange, because the Father always says that we must go out at least once a week." I went on to tell her briefly what the servant had said the day before. "But let's see. What did you say?" "Well, I already told you. That I didn't understand that, because in the Work we must go out to be in touch with people, etcetera." "No etcetera, etcetera! No! What did you tell her!" "Look Mercedes, I don't remember because I didn't have a tape recorder, but it was all about the rule that the Work gives us and that the Father would not like it if he heard."
As may be supposed, she went on to tell me I had "murmured." I had "passed judgment on the conduct of superiors and specifically the Father, speaking to a servant." I had "made comparisons between 1955 and the present." I was "giving a huge bad example." It was not the first time that similar comments that I had made in the house had gotten back to her. The correct attitude would have been to run to Marlies or her as soon as I arrived home, to report that I had made this comment to a servant. It all reflected "my great lack of spiritual finesse." I should try to imagine how hurt the Father would be when he is told.
I said I was sorry, but I had not murmured as God was my witness, but that hereafter, she need not worry, because I would speak even less than I did. I was very sorry. So, I went in to see Mary Poppins with a monstrous rebuke ringing in my ears.
A letter from Caracas reached my secret post office box, informing me that Father Jose Ramon Madurga, who was stationed in Japan, had gone to Venezuela as ordinary visitor. He had spoken to each of the members of the regional government. Different superiors wrote to tell me their particular versions. They all agreed that Father Jose Ramon came with his mind made up and was shooting to kill. They all told him about the trick with which I had been yanked out of the country.
In January 1966, there was a reunion for counselors in Rome. I asked to speak with Father Roberto Salvat, Father Jose Ramon Madurga, or Father Manuel Botas. The central advisory denied my request. As it happened, during a Mass concelebrated by Monsignor Escriva and Father Roberto Salvat and Father Jose Ramon Madurga, they asked us to bring more cushions to the sacristy of Santa Maria. The sacristy was a small triangle with mirrors so you could see yourself from all angles. We brought the cushions, and when I faced Father Roberto Salvat I looked fixedly at his eyes. He could not stand my gaze and lowered his eyes. Afterwards, when they asked him in Caracas if he had seen me, he said no. To lie about the most insignificant matter is characteristic Opus Dei policy.
Another day I also saw Father Manuel Botas in the sacristy. He could not speak to me but when he reached Spain he called my younger brother Manolo and told him to tell my parents that he had seen me in Rome and that I had failed a great deal, enough to impress the most hardened person. I had aged and was much changed.
During this period I was in charge of the oratory of Santa Maria and had to prepare the first two concelebrated Masses at which Monsignor Escriva officiated. The Father was in high dudgeon. As we were preparing the first concelebration, he said: "We will do it once, and this will not set a precedent. This is not our style." At another point, referring to the concelebrated Masses, or rather to Paul VI: "Let's see if that man rests in peace." Monsignor Escriva let show in words or gestures an attitude of disapproval regarding the application of Council doctrine. More than once I heard him make remarks about His Holiness Paul VI similar to those I had previously heard about Pius XII. "Let's see if he leaves us in peace once and for all, and the Lord God in his infinite mercy takes him to heaven." If he considered John XXIII "a hick," as many Opus Dei members could bear witness, he considered Paul VI an "old Jesuit." So, as I have mentioned earlier, it seems presumptuous when his Opus Dei biographers insist that he had ecumenical spirit or when the present Monsignor Javier Echevarria has the gall to assure the Holy See in official documents that Monsignor Escriva "felt emotion when he recalled his meetings with His Holiness Paul VI."
The General Congress of the Women's Branch of Opus Dei was to take place in Rome in May. At the eleventh hour they decided it would be held in the Villa delle Rose, seat of the Roman College of Santa Maria. One of the reasons for this change was that I was at Via di Villa Sacchetti, and the central advisory did not want the electors to meet me. The congress filled me with hope, because I thought that the leadership would change and things would go back to normal. The congress took place, and except for Pilar Salcedo, who dropped by Villa Sacchetti one afternoon, the other electors did not come to the central house. Unfortunately, there were no substantial changes. Mercedes Morado was reelected central directress and they named Marlies Kucking second in command, that is secretary of the central advisory. The Mexican, Carmen Puente, continued as procurator. This was a blow to me. I saw no solution to my problem without changes.
May 9, 1966, I made the customary May pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, to which I have always had great devotion.
Second Canonical Admonition
Toward the middle of May of that year, the earth seemed to shake beneath my feet. I was summoned on the run, as always, to the sessions chamber of the central advisory. Monsignor Escriva was seated at the head of the table, with Father Francisco Vives and Father Javier Echevarria on his left; Don Alvaro del Portillo was absent. At the Father's right were the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and Marlies Kucking, in her new capacity as secretary of the central advisory. I was told to sit between Mercedes Morado and Marlies Kucking. Something horrible was in the air. Shouting, puffing, and beside himself, Monsignor Escriva said: "Look, Carmen, this has to end. You are not going to laugh up your sleeve at us."
He picked up a half sheet of paper that he had in front of him and adjusting his eyeglasses said to me: "They tell me that you write Ana Maria Gibert, that woman, that wicked woman! And that you have a post office box here in Rome."
He left the eyeglasses on the table and began shouting at me: "What is this, you great hypocrite, you deceiver, wicked woman?"
I answered him: "Yes, Father, I have written Ana Maria Gibert, but she is not a wicked woman."
Monsignor Escriva went on reading from the sheet: "And that procuress Gladys, that sow, let her come in!"
Gladys was the Venezuelan numerary who helped me with the mail. She entered the sessions chamber completely pale. Without any preamble, Monsignor Escriva began to shout at her: "Do you take letters to the post office for her, for this wicked woman? Do you comprehend the gravity of what you have done?"
Gladys remained silent. But Monsignor Escriva insisted: "Answer! ANSWER!"
Gladys unimpressed, remained silent, so I intervened. "Yes, Gladys, say you have taken some letters for me."
After that Gladys said: "Yes, Father," and she fell silent. Monsignor Escriva breathed deeply before going on. "You will no longer work for the central advisory. You will not set foot upstairs, on the advisory office floor. Let them find you some other job in the house. And now, go to your room and don't leave it for any reason! Do you hear? For any reason!
When Gladys left the sessions chamber, Monsignor Escriva told the central directress and Marlies Kucking in the presence of the priests already mentioned: "After this, take that one," he said, referring to Gladys, "lift up her skirt, take down her panties, and whack her on the behind until she talks. MAKE HER TALK!"
Addressing me, Monsignor Escriva shouted: "I give you the second admonition, hypocrite. You write me a letter on my saint's day telling me you want to begin again, and this is what you do to me! Tell these people everything, everything. You're a bad piece of work! I warn you that I'm waiting for some affidavits from Venezuela, and you'll find out what's trouble! You're a wicked woman, sleazy, scum! That's what you are! Now go! I don't want to see you!"
It is impossible to explain my state of mind: I was terrified. Leaving the sessions chamber, I had no idea of what they might do to me, and they gave me no time to think coherently. In the best tradition of secret-police procedure, I was interrogated relentlessly either by Marlies or by Mercedes. They called me to the visitors' parlor of La Montagnola, generally after lunch. Quite often I had to wait for an hour before one of them appeared.
I do not know what they wanted me to confess about my time in Venezuela. From the drift of their questions I had the impression that they were referring to something sexual, but they were never explicit. I did my best to cooperate, but since my conscience did not trouble me regarding this unknown thing, their questions were incomprehensible.
A standard question was: "Let's see. Have you thought of anything you haven't yet said?" If I answered: "But, about what? "But how can you have such a coarse conscience? Try to think of something you didn't tell us about." And so on.
I felt physically and spiritually drained. I got rid of everything I had. Specifically, I threw away the key to the post office box through the grill of the window of my room; it fell into a neighbor's garden. When Marlies and Mercedes requested the key to the box, I told them that I had thrown it away. They understood down the toilet, and I let them think that, because if I had said it had fallen into a neighbor's garden, they would have been capable of going over the ground inch by inch to find it. I got rid of all my notes, letters from my family, and other written materials. I kept only some photographs of my parents and the records that dealt with my studies, and addresses. Naturally, my passport had been taken from me on arrival in Rome, as was customary.
When I failed to see Gladys in the oratory or at meals, I guessed they had secluded her. Risking everything, I found out where her room was. When she saw me arrive, she told me terrified that several members of the central advisory had interrogated her for an entire day without interruption and had told her that speaking to me would be a mortal sin. With all the strength of my being I told her that no one could tell her that she was in mortal sin for speaking to me. She should stop worrying about me and be faithful to God. I closed her door and have never seen her again. She is still an Opus Dei numerary, living in Venezuela.
Mercedes and Marlies continued to interrogate me several times a day and the questions went on for hours. They repeated the questions time and again.
"Tell me the number of the post-office box at Piazza Mazzini," Mercedes Morado asked.
I emphatically said that I would not tell them. Then they threatened me, saying that if I didn't tell them I was in mortal sin. They also kept repeating that I was killing the Father with my conduct.
After each interrogation they brought me back to my room. An advisor, usually Elena Olivera, accompanied me, and stayed in the room with me. I remember that I remained seated in front of the desk with my head in my hands awaiting the next interrogation. They kept at me from May 14 to May 31, 1966. In addition to an advisor in my room, there was another one in the hall. Even when I went to the bathroom, both stood right outside. They even took charge of throwing away my tampons when I had my period, after first having checked them to see if there was anything inside.
When I returned to my room after each interrogation, I observed that things kept disappearing. My overnight bag, my academic records, family pictures, addresses, and family dates. They went through everything. I found the closet in disorder, the bed, my pajamas, even my toiletries such as face cream or toothpaste. I do not know what they hoped to find. They asked me from whom was I getting money. Mrs. de Sosa had only given me a good supply of stamps.
They relieved the servant who acted as concierge, and Mary Tere Echeverda took charge of the keys to the door. She was the local directress of the central advisory house.
Furthermore, the telephone in the room off the Galleria della Madonna was permanently watched by a member of the administration's local council. They did not allow me to do anything in the house, not even cleaning, or going to the dining room. I was confined to my bedroom. They brought me up a tray with my meals. I was completely sealed in. They did let me go down to the oratory to make my prayer.
I began to shake almost constantly as a result of my terror. I was afraid they would take me to a mental institution, as I knew they had done to other members of the Work. In my fright I remembered that Ismael Medina, the husband of an old friend from Spain, was a journalist in Rome. I had his telephone number, which by an odd and happy coincidence I had jotted down in my missal. I commended myself fervently to God and took a desperate risk, coming from the oratory. I managed to reach the telephone just as the member of the local council was called away. I called and I could barely say: "Ismael, this is Maria del Carmen. Come to see me. Insist even though they will not let you see me. It is serious." I hung up.
Since I shook almost constantly, Chus de Mer, the physician, who belonged to the central advisory, took my blood pressure frequently. Despite that, the interrogations continued.
One day Mercedes Morado came to my room and said: "Let's see! Give me your little reminder book, crucifix, rosary, and pen!" She took everything away.
I was just able to utter the words: "Mercedes, Tia Carmen gave me that rosary." Her answer was: "You don't deserve it."
Gathering all my courage, I told her that I had come to Rome believing in the Work and in the Father, that I was without personal problems of any kind, but they had organized a gigantic problem for me with their behavior. If I had done anything wrong, let them tell me so that I might repent. But they continued without being specific, despite the scoldings they gave me.
Visits from a Spanish Friend
Ismael Medina, the husband of my friend Conchita Banon, came to the house several times and phoned several times. They always told him that I was not in or that I was away from Rome, and they did not know when I would arrive. Finally, he told the numerary who opened the door that he would make inquiries at the Vatican. I found this out later from him. The fact is that Marlies came to my room and asked me if I knew Ismael Medina. I said I did. Next she asked me if I had called him, and I said no, so that they would not keep me from seeing him. Marlies went on to say that he was in the visitors' parlor and that I could see him but she would stay with me during the entire visit. I warned Marlies that that would seem very odd to Ismael, since I was a friend of his wife and that once when he visited Caracas, we had met at his hotel. Marlies insisted that if, during the visit he tried to see me alone, I should say that Marlies was a very good friend of mine. With this warning we arrived at the visitors' parlor.
I cannot express the joy it gave me to see Ismael. I introduced him to Marlies. After a few minutes Ismael suggested that he would like to speak to me in confidence. I docilely said that he could go ahead since Marlies was a "close friend of mine." Ismael made the obvious reply: "She may be a close friend of yours, but as for me, this is the first time I meet this lady." So addressing her, he requested politely that she have the kindness to leave us alone for a few minutes. Marlies smiled and without saying a word, she remained seated. The strange thing is that I could have spoken to Ismael and complained in front of Marlies about what they were doing to me, but I felt too terrified.
We began to speak about the "possible divorce of my parents," a completely preposterous subject, knowing as he did how united they were. Ismael told me that I would have to go to Spain to salvage the marriage and besides begged Marlies to tell my superiors that I was the eldest and had to speak with my parents.
Obviously, Ismael realized that I did not have any freedom whatsoever in view of the absurd conversation. I will always remember him saying goodbye with his eyes and giving me his telephone number. Marlies tore the number away from me as soon as the outside door closed behind him.
That very afternoon, via Julian Herranz, a numerary journalist and priest, Opus Dei located Ismael, as he explained to me days later. They told him I was leaving for Spain to be with my family (before I knew it). He was told that I had returned from Venezuela on account of a psychological crisis, not a spiritual or religious one. To this, Ismael Medina retorted dryly that he had known me for many years as a close friend and that I had never shown any such problem.
Third Canonical Admonition
On May 27 I was again summoned to the central advisory sessions chamber. I was certain that sooner or later there would be an explosion on the subject of the written meditation sent by the Venezuelan priest, which they had found in the closet, torn into tiny pieces before I had time to burn it.
This time, gathered in the central advisory sessions chamber with Monsignor Escriva were Alvaro del Portillo, Javier Echevarria, Mercedes Morado, and Marlies Kucking. Monsignor Escriva went directly to the point: "Carmen, there is no solution for you other than to get out of the Work. Choose to leave by requesting your release, and say in the letter that you have been happy, because you have! Say that for some time you have realized that you don't have the strength to fulfill the obligations to the Work and you want to be released from them. If you don't ask for it that way, I will take everything to the Holy See, with documents, letters, affidavits, the names of all parties, and everyone will be dishonored -- including you yourself. Your name, and the names of others, will remain marked in the Holy See. I give you from now till tomorrow noon to choose." With great irritation he added: "Don't put 'Dear Father' in the letter, only 'Father.'"
"You're still young," he continued, "and you can find a good husband out there and satisfy all your instincts." Saying this, he made gestures with his hands, like someone stroking another's body. "Besides, you're capable of taking charge of an office and managing it well."
Here he changed his tone, his demeanor, and his manners and added, shouting at me: "But let it be stated for the record. Third admonition: Out! OUT! Leave us in peace." Pointing at Javier Echevarria, he added with the same irritation and ill manners: "Write it down for the records! This should be kept on record!"
Monsignor Escriva continued at a bellow: "So, think it over! Either you request your release or bring dishonor to everyone, including yourself. There is no other solution for you but the street! OUT!"
I went to my room shattered. Truly, I could not even pray. Chaos reigned in my mind. Of course, the surveillance inside and outside the room continued.
Not even two hours had elapsed since the scene with Monsignor Escriva, when Elena Olivera, one of the superiors in the central advisory, arrived to ask if I had written the letter yet. I told her no. I had until the next day, and furthermore, Mercedes Morado had taken my only pen. Elena Olivera urged me to write the letter to the Father as soon as possible because he was very concerned. She loaned me her pen to write the letter requesting the release.
I managed to write the letter along the lines Monsignor Escriva had requested. The text went more or less as he had indicated to me: "Father, although I have been very happy in the Work for many years, for some time I have realized that I don't find the strength to fulfill my obligations to the Work, and I want to be dispensed from them. I thank you for all you have done for me." I signed the letter and made a copy for myself, but Mercedes Morado took it away.
Mercedes told me that it was necessary to wait since it was the weekend and the Holy See would not give Don Alvaro the confirmation of my case until Monday. This puzzled me, because the president general's dispensation was sufficient in case of "voluntary separation from the institute," according to the Constitutions in effect at the time. But, at bottom, it was all the same to me. I was like a dishrag. I was exhausted.
They told me to write my parents to say that I was coming home. The letter did not reach my parents by ordinary mail, but someone left the letter with the concierge. I learned later that my father had sent me a telegram with the answer prepaid, asking me to send him my flight number. The answer to my father went out on May 31 at 8:30 A.M., the same day I left Rome. The superiors told me they had sent the answer. I did not even see it.
The idea of returning to my parents' home was a relief. I wanted to leave the house in Rome and the Father as soon as possible. It bothered me, however, that Mercedes Morado had kept my little reminder book, whose pockets contained my Venezuelan identity documents which were valid for several more years, my Venezuelan driver's license, my international vaccination certificate, and my international driver's license. I asked Mercedes to return those documents, which were indispensable personal identification. She paid no attention. She told me that I had enough identification in my passport. I likewise reminded Marlies.
After this admonition, Mercedes Morado and Marlies Kucking told me that I had to go to confession whether I wanted to or not. So, I entered the confessional and found Father Joaquin Alonso there, not as a priest and shepherd of souls, but as an Opus Dei major superior. I said that although I didn't know how I had been at fault, because they had never told me, I particularly repented of bad example I might have given and of harm I might have done to Opus Dei members. I likewise repented of anything caused by my bad example or behavior. I really felt that way. Father Joaquin Alonso said I had caused incalculable damage, whose extent he could not even foresee; I would experience considerable psychological trauma on leaving Opus Dei, and he hoped I would seek a good psychiatrist. God would pardon me because he was the God of mercy and pardon, but he, as an Opus Dei priest, had to tell me that I needed to live a life of penance, reparation, and prayer to the end of my days, if I desired that God might eventually grant my salvation, something that he, as a priest, saw as very doubtful.
The next to the last day, they told me not to go to Mass. The last day, I went to Mass, but Elena Olivera took me out of the oratory before I could go to communion.
On the morning of May 31 I did not know that I was to leave for Spain in the early afternoon. That morning they told me to go to the government sessions chamber. Monsignor Escriva stood in the Chalice Room. Also standing in a group were Father Javier Echevarria, Mercedes Morado, Marlies Kucking, Maria Jesus de Mer. Monsignor Escriva said tersely:
"Here is your passport, your pen, your crucifix, the plane ticket, and the Italian residence permit, because without them you can't leave the country."
When I was going to mention my other documents to him, Marlies stopped me.
Then Monsignor Escriva began to pace from one side of the room to the other, very agitated, irritated, red, furious, while he declared: "And don't talk with anybody about the Work nor about Rome. Don't set your parents against us, because, if I find out that you are saying anything negative about the Work to anybody, I, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, have the world press in my hands," and as he said this he made a gesture with his hands confirming the notion. "I will publicly dishonor you. Your name will appear on the front page of every newspaper, because I will personally see to it. It would bring dishonor on you before men and on your own family! Woe to you if you try to alienate your family from the good name of the Work or tell them anything about this!"
He went on: "And don't return to Venezuela! Don't even think of writing to anybody there! Because if you even think of going to Venezuela, I will assume the responsibility of telling the Cardinal what you are. And it would dishonor you!" Pacing the room he continued shouting at me: "I was thinking all night about whether to tell you this or not, but I believe it is better that I should tell you." Looking directly at me, with a dreadful rage, moving his arms toward me as if he was going to hit me, he added at the top of his voice: "You are a wicked woman! A lost woman! Mary Magdalen was a sinner, but you? You are a seductress with all your immorality and indecency! You are a seductress! I know everything. EVERYTHING! EVEN ABOUT THE VENEZUELAN NEGRO!  You are abominable. YOU HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR BLACKS! First with one and then with the other.  LEAVE MY PRIESTS ALONE! DO YOU HEAR? LEAVE THEM ALONE! In peace. Don't meddle with them! You're wicked! Wicked! Indecent! Come on, look at the business of the Negro! And don't ask me for my blessing because I don't intend to give it to you!"
Monsignor Escriva went away toward the Relics Chapel. From there he turned around to shout a final insult: "Hear me well! WHORE! SOW!"
I stood stock still, frozen to the spot. I saw and heard everything as if in a nightmare. I did not cry. I did not blink. Within me, while Monsignor Escriva shouted his insults, I had only two thoughts: one that Christ remained silent in the face of accusations; the other that God had liberated me.
I might have stood petrified for the rest of my life, if the physician, Chus de Mer, had not taken me by the shoulders and brought me to my room, where Elena Olivera and Carmen Puente were packing my suitcase. They went over every dress, every skirt, looking in the pockets and even in the seams, as if they still hoped to find something. They even took my box of talcum powder and face cream. I let them do it. They brought my suitcase down.
At that moment
Mercedes Morado entered my room and said to me:
Then, she added: "Well, before you go, tell me the post office box number."
To that I responded: "Look Mercedes, I'm sick of all your questions and interrogations! I won't tell you the number of anything or about anybody. So don't bother asking me again, because I won't tell you." Mercedes persisted: "Don't forget that you're leaving in mortal sin."
She told me to go down to the car. I was not even allowed to enter the oratory to say goodbye to the Lord.
A female numerary named Fontan, who had many family members in Opus Dei, drove us to the airport. Marlies Kucking sat beside her. In the back were Monserrat Amat, a member of the central advisory who was returning to Spain, and myself.
I observed profound silence. I only spoke to tell Marlies Kucking that I needed my identity documents, and she echoed Mercedes Morado in a tone of profound disgust: "You have enough in the passport."
At the passport checkpoint Marlies half flirtingly tried to convince the police officers to let her enter the international section so that she could stay with us until we boarded the plane. To my relief they refused. So, we stayed a little longer outside the passport checkpoint. Marlies pointed out that Monsignor de Ussia, brother of a Spanish Opus Dei numerary, was a passenger on our flight. Monsignor de Ussia had an important position in the Vatican. Because of his Vatican post, Opus Dei transferred his sister to Rome. While I was still in Rome, we were told that he was kidnapped, and his picture appeared in the press as "il Monsignore rapito." He was eventually released.
The superiors would not leave me alone even on the plane, and thus Monserrat Amat flew to Madrid with me. During the trip I was pleasant to her, for I always considered her a great coward rather than an evil person. Every time she saw me go to the bathroom she trembled, because naturally, she could not accompany me.
In the middle of my own personal tragedy, I was amused by the presence of Monsignor de Ussia. I thought: "Here we are on the same plane to freedom, 'il Monsignore rapito e la signorina rapita.'"
I am grateful to God for the sense of humor he gave me, which helped me even at the most difficult turns in my life.
1. Admonitions are official reprimands made to Opus Dei members concerning serious matters. At least three are required to dismiss a member. See Constitutions, 1950, pp. 62-68.
2. He referred to an Opus Dei numerary priest who always defended the Women's Branch and me as its director.
3. He referred to the telegram to Dr. Panikkar, mentioned above, that so shocked Encarnita Ortega.