Celibate and Lovin� It

The May 19 opening of The Da Vinci Code has given the media Opus Dei fever, so interviewers and TV crews have laid siege to Murray Hill Place, the Catholic lay organization’s pristine, towering brick headquarters on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 34th Street. But minus obvious evidence of the albino-led global conspiracies of the book, journalists have been left to create their own ominous aura. “Just today we had Diane Sawyer, and over and over she’s saying, ‘And here we are, with a first look inside the secretive headquarters of Opus Dei!’ ” says Peter Bancroft, spokesman for the group. “She’s, like, the twentieth camera here! It’s nuts!”

“The media has sort of jumped onto the building,” says Joseph Keefe, 24, who works at Polshek Partnership architects and lives in one of the sex-segregated buildings that house “numeraries,” members of the sect who have devoted themselves to celibacy. Alex Hoff, 25, who until recently worked at HBO in the on-air promo department, found himself grilled by his boss about the media coverage. “She’d come into work with articles and be like, ‘Hey, do you guys really do this?’ ” he says. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, not that, kind of this, but let me explain.’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh, look, there’s the building I live in.’ ” Joe Cardenas, 36, a handsome education grad student at Columbia, says that sometimes his classmates try to set him up. “Someone was like, ‘You’re single, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, not exactly.’ ”

“I can deal with telling some girls, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t put myself in that situation,’ says Hoff. He was in Sigma Chi at UCLA and says that in some ways, being a numerary is like never leaving the frat house. “It’s a blast,” says Keefe. Hoff plays guitar, and the guys have sing-alongs (“Hotel California” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” are favorites). “I know it sounds campy, but it’s not,” Keefe insists. They go out for beers sometimes: “I mean, I still have fun,” says Hoff. “You just can’t do everything you want.”

But what about the parts in The Da Vinci Code where the albino villain chants “Pain is good” while wearing a spiked cilice (a wire band worn around the thigh) and lashes himself violently with a rope? For these guys, it’s apparently less hard-core: two hours of barbed-cilice time a day, and the rope used for weekly “discipline” during prayer is really quite dainty. Mostly they engage in “spiritual mortifications” as a reminder of Christ’s suffering. “Like, ‘I’m gonna wait till the end of the meal to drink water,’ ” says Hoff. “When I go to get a glass, I remember I’m saving water till last, and I remember God, or my brothers and sisters in the work.” Keefe says, “This is something that’s very deep and private for us. So to have it talked about on every news station is … a little annoying.”

The publicity has its benefits: Bancroft says, “It doesn’t matter how good, bad, or mediocre the piece is. The next day, we get 200 e-mails saying, ‘I want to join Opus Dei!’ ” Next: Q&A With the Times Public Editor #1 Daniel Okrent

Celibate and Lovin� It