Opus Dei members in French court on abuse charges
Two members of the secretive Roman Catholic society Opus Dei, made famous by the blockbuster "The Da Vinci Code", were due in a Paris court Thursday accused of subjecting a disciple to years of abuse.
The case comes after a nine-year probe and centres on a woman known as Catherine T. who says she was forced to work 14-hour days and brainwashed, resulting in charges of "undignified punishment" and illegal employment.
Catherine joined a hoteliers' school in northeastern France in 1985, aged 14, which she later discovered was run by associates of Opus Dei, which in Latin means "Work of God" and so is often referred to simply as "The Work".
She said she was forced to take vows and made to work as a domestic servant for virtually no pay. Opus Dei has said it was "not involved in the charges being brought" and had "nothing to be guilty about."
Catherine's parents only realised that their daughter's institution had anything to do with Opus Dei when a film was shown about the organisation's founder at the end of the year.
She said the group compelled her to take vows of obedience, poverty and chastity and for the following 13 years gave her jobs with organisations that her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said were linked to Opus Dei.
She said she was made to work 14-hour days, seven days a week, cleaning and serving. Staff paid her a salary and then reclaimed money from her by making her sign blank cheques, supposedly to pay her room and board, she alleged.
Staff accompanied her wherever she went, including on visits to the doctor, she said. On these occasions she says she was taken to see an Opus Dei doctor who prescribed tranquillisers that left her "senseless".
Catherine weighed only 39 kilograms (86 pounds) in 2001 when her parents rescued her from the group. Lawyers first took legal action that year alleging "mental manipulation" among other charges.
The organisation, which is branded a dangerous sect by some critics, came to wide attention after being portrayed as a secretive and violent cult in the blockbuster novel and film "The Da Vinci Code".
Opus Dei objected to its portrayal in the film.
The group -- which has a chiefly lay membership estimated at 80,000 -- was founded in 1928 by Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, who was canonised in 2002 with support from the late Pope John Paul II.
The charges against the two Opus Dei members and the University and Technical Culture Association (ACUT) -- which ran the school -- are for "undignified punishment" and for not declaring her as an employee.
ACUT has said it has no more than a "cultural link" with Opus Dei.
The college's lawyer, Thierry Laugier, has previously said that "There is nothing to this case," and insisted that Catherine T. "was paid according to the work she did."
© 2011 AFP