RUTH Kelly, the Education Secretary, has been confirmed as a member of Opus Dei by sources in the organisation, ending long-running doubts over her religious affiliation.
An investigation by The Scotsman has established that Mrs Kelly, 36, has "supernumerary" status within the Roman Catholic organisation made famous by the bestselling book The Da Vinci Code. This makes her the most devout of the Roman Catholics in Tony Blair’s government - including John Reid, the Health Secretary, and Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who is a Papal Knight of St Gregory.
Since her promotion to Education Secretary last month, Mrs Kelly has refused to confirm or deny that she is the first Cabinet minister to belong to Opus Dei. She has instead said her "deeply-held" faith has no relevance to her job.
John Allen, Vatican correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, said: "The fact that Opus Dei has been given a parish in Westminster and Ruth Kelly has been appointed Education Secretary are both signs of Opus Dei coming in from the cold.
"Opus Dei does not have a political agenda beyond recruiting lay members and giving them a Catholic formation. Ruth Kelly will not be given her marching orders in terms of making policy."
But he said most Opus Dei members are conservative on the major cultural issues - such as divorce, abortion and homosexuality - and that this was likely to characterise Mrs Kelly’s personal views.
The Scotsman has established that, as a supernumerary, Mrs Kelly, a mother of four, is not required to inflict pain on herself - unlike some celibate Opus Dei members - but is instead asked to observe a rigorous daily regime of prayer.
It was portrayed as a sinister and violent cult in The Da Vinci Code, which cast an Opus Dei monk as the villain of the piece. But The Scotsman has been given open access to the organisation, which insists it has nothing to hide.