Fans of John L. Allen Jr, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, will be delighted by his latest book, Opus Dei, billed as an "objective look" at "the most controversial force in the Catholic Church." Like his previous successes, including All the Pope's Men (Doubleday, 2004), Allen delivers once more on his vocation to shed light on what some find arcane, secretive, or even a little odd about Catholicism.
If Allen pulls off one thing in this book, it's thoroughness. Given unprecedented access to Opus Dei throughout the world, Allen explains "the Work" simply and clearly, making what could be a boring exposition both readable and engaging. What appears at first glance to be 15 chapters of heavy lifting fly right by.
Still, Allen's method deserves caution. His treatment is journalistic by design, based on interviews and his personal review of materials provided by Opus Dei under controlled conditions. Few of those he consulted can be described as neutral observers; many are current Opus bigwigs. In this sense, Allen's treatment is more subjective than objective, though he provides insight from a broad range of people.
As a result, his analysis of controversial topics, though extensive, tends toward examples and counterexamples: Does Opus Dei favor the wealthy in recruiting? Allen offers an Opus laundry worker in Peru and the Work's apostolates on behalf of the poor as rumor-busters, but a sociological study would probably give a more comprehensive answer.
While admitting that advocates of the Work have some PR to do, Allen judges that overall there's really not a whole lot of fire for all the smoke shrouding Opus Dei's public image. Some might be convinced by Allen's impressive treatment and others less so, but none will deny that after reading his 350-plus pages they know a lot--and I do mean a lot--more about Opus Dei than when they started.
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|Title Annotation:||under review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2006|
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