Quebec Tory candidate is Opus Dei member

A Conservative candidate running in a Montreal South Shore riding is a past spokeswoman and current member of Opus Dei, an orthodox Catholic organization.

The orthodox Catholic beliefs of a Quebec Conservative candidate who is an Opus Dei member speak volumes about the party's narrow-mindedness, which is out of sync with the province, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe charged Tuesday.

Municipal councillor Nicole Charbonneau Barron, a Conservative candidate in the South Shore riding of St. Bruno-St. Hubert, is a past spokeswoman for the conservative Catholic organization, and an active member of the society.

Denying he was on a witch hunt, Duceppe said Opus Dei's adhesion to strict Catholic teachings on abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage "do not correspond to Quebec's modern mentality."

"Those people are certainly sharing a kind of ideology that doesn't correspond at all to modern times in Quebec," he said during a campaign stop in Quebec City on Tuesday.

"I'm not saying they don't have the right to do so. [But] those people are against a lot of things that are allowed in Quebec."

The Conservatives were not aware of her affiliation when she was chosen as a candidate, the party's Quebec campaign spokesman Jean-Luc Benoît told newspaper La Presse.

"A political party is a coalition of people from different origins and beliefs," Benoît told the French-language newspaper in a report published Tuesday.

"What unites them is that they share the party's platform ideas, and that's what they present to voters."

Opus Dei welcomes queries about order

No one answered the phone in Charbonneau Barron's election headquarters in St. Bruno when CBC News called Tuesday.

On Charbonneau Barron's internet site, she does not indicate her affiliation with the worldwide organization, nor her religious beliefs, but presents her general views in a video clip that covers various issues, including family, work and women's rights.

Charbonneau Barron is entitled to her opinion like all other candidates, said Opus Dei spokeswoman Isabelle St. Maurice.

"When people [get to] know her, they will vote or not for her, thinking maybe she will bring [her beliefs], or she will try to bring something," to politics, she said.

The Catholic order is not secretive, and welcomes all enquiries about its tenets, St. Maurice said.

Opus Dei is not discouraging Charbonneau Barron from speaking about her faith, she added.

"What I heard is the Conservative Party is quite like this," she said.

Barron defended Catholic order after Da Vinci Code film release

Barron granted media interviews in 2006 as Opus Dei's Montreal spokeswoman, at a time when a controversial film inspired by Dan Brown's worldwide bestseller The Da Vinci Code was released in movie theatres.

The South Shore resident told francophone TV network LCN the movie was a caricature of the Catholic institution, and only a portion of Opus Dei members practised self-mortification, which features prominently in the film.

Barron refused to grant interviews this week, citing schedule conflicts with her campaign launch, but her husband indicated she is no longer a spokeswoman for Opus Dei.

CBC's French-language service reported that Jean-Éric Guindon, a federal Liberal organizer and former candidate in Trois-Rivières, is also a member of the conservative Catholic organization.

Opus Dei means 'God's work'

There are about 600 Opus Dei members in Canada, with more than one-third in the greater Montreal area, where the organization's national headquarters are located.

Opus Dei is Latin for "God's work."

The organization is rooted in the idea that the spirituality of work is a path to holiness.

According to the society's website, its mission is "to spread the message that work and the circumstances of everyday life are occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society."

The Catholic institution was founded in Madrid in 1928 by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who was canonized in 2002.

What is particular to Opus Dei is the kind of influence the organization wields on its members, said James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, writer and publisher of America magazine.

"The kind of power they have is a moral authority over their people in their organization. It's a particular brand of spirituality," he told CBC News.

"I'd say there are some very high-level people in the Senate, and some people think, in the Supreme Court, but it's not a lot of people," he said. "I think that their influence comes from the few people who are there, are pretty serious about the Catholicism, and about what Opus Dei teaches.

"It's not so much about quantity, as you would say, as quality, maybe."