French court acquits 2 Opus Dei followers

November 24, 2011 - 5:00 PM

PARIS (AP) — A French court on Thursday acquitted two Opus Dei followers and an association closely linked to the conservative Catholic group of charges they forced a disciple to work.

The trial was based on a complaint by Catherine Tissier, who claims she worked for more than a decade for little or no pay as a "numerary assistant" at a hotel school linked to Opus Dei.

Tissier's lawyer said she would appeal.

A spokeswoman for Opus Dei, Beatrice de La Coste, welcomed the decision, saying it "reaffirms the complete exoneration of Opus Dei."

Defense lawyers had portrayed the case as one about labor law. But the trial drew attention to practices of the secretive group, portrayed in Dan Brown's best-seller "The Da Vinci Code" as a murderous, power-hungry sect. The group vigorously protests this view.

During the September trial, the prosecutor had requested a euro30,000 ($42,000 at the time) fine against the association, ACUT, linked to the Roman Catholic group and euro6,000 in fines against the two Opus Dei members.

They faced charges of "clandestine work" and "remuneration contrary to dignity."

However, the court ignored those requests, acquitting all defendants. The ruling did not evoke the situation of "numeraries" and said that Tissier's claims went unproven. The court recognized that employees of ACUT "handled numerous unpaid tasks," but said that Tissier's decision to join was "without constraint."

The court noted that state records show she was paid. She claims she was asked to sign blank checks by her employers and never saw her salary.

Tissier was 14 when she joined the hotel school in Dosnon, in eastern France. She stayed on despite the rigors, following the group's spiritual path. At age 29, she claimed she weighed just 39 kilograms (86 pounds).

Tissier filed a complaint in 2001.

Tissier's lawyer, Rodolphe Bosselut, denounced what he said was the "extreme hostility" of the court toward his client. "She was treated like a defendant."

La Coste, the Opus Dei spokeswoman, said the court's decision "confirms the seriousness and diligence" with which the Dosnon school follows French educational guidelines.

Opus Dei "will continue to provide spiritual support" for the school, she said, praising its "human and professional education"

Opus Dei's founder, Spanish priest Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, was made a saint by Pope John Paul II.