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Pope takes Dane to court

The enigmatic Roman Catholic Opus Dei organization has taken a young Dane to court over the use of its Latin words.

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Mark Rees-Andersen, 28, is due in the Danish Maritime and Commercial Court today to do battle with Roman Catholicism’s church within a church – the Praelatura Sanctae Crucis et Operis Dei – to defend his patent and right to the use of the Latin phrase Opus Dei.

The prelature, which in mixed English and Latin is known as the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, and internationally abbreviated simply as Opus Dei, is suing Andersen to the tune of DKK200,000 for his use of the term in his game: “Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion”.

The organization is also calling for the court to ban Andersen’s use of the term Opus Dei and for the websites opus-dei.co.uk and opus-dei.dk to be shut down.

The Opus Dei community was founded in 1928 by a Spanish priest. In 1982 it was given the title of a personal prelature, with no geographical boundaries, giving its own bishop jurisdiction over members irrespective of where they are. As one of the very few Roman Catholic organisations, the prelature is the personal responsibility of the pope, reporting directly to the pontiff and not through normal religious channels.

“It’s not right that they can claim the sole right to the concept of a deity and the right to define God. Opus Dei is a common concept that you cannot demand sole rights to, just as you cannot demand exclusive rights to Jesus, Christ, God or the Virgin Mary,” says Rees-Andersen.

Rees-Andersen’s wrangle with the Vatican comes as a result of a game he developed with a university colleague while studying philosophy.

“It was really just a hobby, and nothing serious,” he says.

It took four years to develop the prototype for the strategy game in which gamers try to develop the perfect world. The game, 5,000 copies of which were produced in India, included the Opus Dei phrase as those playing have a role akin to a deity. The game is currently available in some few outlets in Germany, Britain, the United States and Canada.

Rees-Andersen has Danish patents on the logo and title of the game: “Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion”. He also has internet domain rights to a British and Danish site.

“It’s a nerdy game. But we developed it so that people who didn’t know much about philosophy could learn,” Rees-Andersen says.

In 2009, however, he received a letter from Opus Dei’s Spanish region claiming to have the rights to the Opus Dei brand throughout the European Union and several other countries, urging him to stop using the concept and remove it from all games.

“It was provocative. We had developed a small niche game for philosophers and out came the artillery,” Rees Andersen says.

Denmark’s Patent Office handled that case, asking Opus Dei to prove that it had actually used the logo – which it could not.

In 2010, however, the Praelatura Sanctae Crucis et Operis Dei decided to subpoena Rees-Andersen at the Danish Maritime and Commercial Court, which starts its hearings today.

Opus Dei argues that its organisation is known in over 70 countries and says that it uses the name Opus Dei as a brand for its activities. Not least, the organisation suggests, Rees-Andersen must have known about the organisation as he has admitted to having read The Da Vinci Code, which names Opus Dei as an on-going organisation.

Opus Dei wasn’t too happy about The Da Vinci Code either.

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