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Opus Dei prepare for process to choose new prelate

Bishop Javier Echevarria, the late leader of Opus Dei who died in December, greeting Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes (CNS)

The three-step process to elect a new prelate for Opus Dei, the predominantly lay organisation, will begin on January 21 with a consultation involving more than three dozen women leaders.

The 38 women members of the Central Advisory will be asked to submit a list with the name or names of those priests in the Opus Dei electoral congress they believe are best suited for the position of prelate.

Opus Dei is a personal prelature, which in some ways is like a diocese without territorial boundaries. St John Paul II named as bishops the two prelates elected after the death of St Josemaria Escriva: first Blessed Alvaro del Portillo and then Bishop Javier Echevarria.

Bishop Echevarria, who was elected in 1994, died in Rome on December 12, 2016.

Opus Dei has about 92,600 members worldwide; 57 per cent are women and 43 percent are men, according to the Opus Dei press office. The majority of members — some 70 per cent — are married. The 2,083 priests who are incardinated in Opus Dei represent about 2.25 percent of the membership.

According to the Opus Dei statutes, the prelate must be a priest who is at least 40 years old, a member of the congress of electors, has been part of the prelature for at least 10 years and has been a priest for at least five years. His nomination as a bishop is customary, but not obligatory.

Currently 94 priests, from 45 countries, meet the requirements, the press office said.

The actual election occurs within the electoral congress, which is made up only of men. Some of the 156 congress members, both priests and laymen, participate because of the office they hold while others were elected to represent different regions of Opus Dei membership.

The electoral congress is scheduled to begin on January 23.

Manuel Sanchez, the press spokesman, told Catholic News Service on January 17 that while canon law would not prevent women from taking a direct part in the election, the current Vatican-approved statutes of Opus Dei limit the voting to male members.

However, he said, if the women’s Central Advisory group settled on just one or two names, “it would be an indication too strong to ignore” since women are the majority of members.

After the work of the Central Advisory and the vote of the electoral congress, Opus Dei submits the name of the elected prelate to the Pope for approval. The process should be complete by January 26, Sanchez said.