By Kevin B. Fagan
Article Review of “The Pope’s Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church”
By Gordon Urquhart. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1999. 490 pp.
Reviewed by Kevin B. Fagan, Ph.D.
Journal of Church and State
42.4 (Autumn 2000): 865-66
â€œDoctor, heal thyself,â€� is Gordon Urquhartâ€™s appeal to Pope John Paul II. Instead of preaching to the city and the world the Churchâ€™s defense of human rights, he ought look down on his own troops in St. Peterâ€™s Square. Rather than scour the Vatican archives for public repentance of the Churchâ€™s past evils, a glance over his shoulder inside the sacristy would reveal troubling conduct today in the name of Christ.
While traditional religious orders lose ground and members, several Catholic cult-like organizations gain prominence and power with the apparent blessing of the Holy Father. Urquhart analyzes three of these movements â€“ Focolare, Communion and Liberation, and the Neo-catechumenate, – while admitting they are not alone in present-day papal benevolence. However, from a perspective of the typical characteristics of a â€œsect,â€� all graduate with straight â€œAs.â€�
By their fanaticism you shall know them. The visitor, or rather recruit, is â€œlove and faith bombedâ€� with aggressive proselytism; an insistence to adore God above all else is translated as absolute dedication to this exclusive group; secrecy is kept on the real rules and controls therein; gradual isolation from outsiders, especially family, becomes total; freedom of movement, correspondence, and information, is severely monitored to avoid contamination from the â€œsinfulâ€� world; faceless authority is exercised as direct electronic mail from the Holy Spirit; control of food, dress, and recreation, leave no time for individual initiative; a personality cult to the canonized-in-life Founder is fostered; criticism of authority is outlawed by reprimand or worse; intolerant elitism is shown towards the unlucky folks beyond our walls; refugees are feared the fate of Judas.
Why does the Pope seemingly love those Movements, and they love him? Urquhart suggests a virtuous circle of mutual devotion and support. In an age of dissent and disorder within the Church, His Holiness finds in these groups docile proselytizers of his teachings and rulings. Nevertheless, the distinction orthodox message-immoral method remains intact. Furthermore, all is not black and white with the Holy Seeâ€™s seal of approval. Voices in the Vatican and bishops around the globe whisper concern at this ideology of secretive gnosticism and manichean dualism. These divinely selected few, saintly defenders of orthodoxy, bless the Lord to be far from the mad evil world outside their walls. However, are their real gods not the idols of power and wealth, rather than the Gospel of love that sets us free?
Gordon Urquhart may be easily dismissed as another â€œdisgruntled ex-member,â€� but where else can one find the inside story? Educated Catholics, familiar with Church history and Danteâ€™s Inferno, tear no garment in scandal with either pope or pauper. And, as for contemporary Catholic behavior, we remember the convert Cardinal Newmanâ€™s dictum: â€œCatholics did not make us Catholics: Oxford did.â€� Urquhart admits the weakness of his book: a mere exposÃ© of wolves clothed as shepherds. Maybe Christ crucified constantly calls, like to Francis, to â€œrebuild my Churchâ€�. As for this â€œinvincibleâ€� Armada, Gordon no doubt would send it to the sea bottom.
Kevin B. Fagan, Ph.D.