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The Pope's Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church Hardcover – June 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Of the several right-wing Catholic organizations that have gained influence in the Roman Church during the reign of Pope John Paul II, Opus Dei is by far the most famous. There are several others, however and Gordon Urquhart's The Pope's Armada is a detailed, firsthand look at the inner workings of three such organizations: Focolare, Neocatechumenate, and Communion and Liberation.

For nine years, Urquhart belonged to Focolare, whose 80,000 core members live in 1,500 dioceses around the world. He left in 1976 and has since devoted himself to exposing what he now calls the "sinister characteristics" of the three aforementioned groups. Urquhart summarizes their common features this way: "the personality cult of the leader; a hidden but rigid hierarchy; a highly efficient internal communications system; secret teachings revealed in stages; a vast recruitment operation using sect-like techniques; indoctrination of members; and boundless ambitions for influence in church and society." Of greatest concern to Urquhart is another goal of these groups--"ego-destruction, causing depression and mental breakdown on an alarming scale."

God's Armada contains many damning stories about its subjects, but none more so than the stories of young people who give up their greatest loves, ambitions, and possessions in slavish devotion to their sect leaders. "Catholic critics of the new movements maintain that the Pope cannot know what is going on within the movements, otherwise he would not allow them such a free hand," Urquhart writes. He allows that this may be true, but he also raises some disturbing questions: "Have [Vatican leaders] concluded that their own supreme ends ... justify [these groups'] strong-arm techniques...? Could the Pope have had this in mind when he conferred special status on lay Catholics who joined the movements, 'which are a privileged channel for the formation and promotion of an active laity that is aware of its role in the Church and in the world'?" --Michael Joseph Gross


"A fascinating read. Highly, highly recommended. One of the best of the decade in the area of religion." -- The Critical Review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; 2nd edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157392699X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573926997
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,391,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Gordon Urquhart (born 1949) "In 1967... joined the Focolare Movement, one of the controversial new movements that have sprung up in the Catholic Church in the post-war period... Having taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a full-time member of the Movement, Urquhart co-founded a Focolare Community in Liverpool and went on to become the leader of its Youth Section in the UK and editor of ... its magazine, New City. In 1976... he severed his ties with Focolare. Since then he has worked in the film industry..." [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 576-page paperback edition.]

He notes, "As Focolare is not parish-based, but has its own structures independent of Church establishment, its main proselytizing methods are open meetings and personal contacts. Convinced that it is the movement's destiny to unite the world, and that it possesses the fulness of truth, everyone is considered a suitable target, not just Catholics of Christians." (Pg. 56-57) He adds, "the movement's strong anti-intellectual bias first struck me. Those branded intellectuals would be given the most menial tasks." (Pg. 67)

He suggests, "The fact that Neocatechumenate is the movement which is currently closest to John Paul II could well indicate a shift in mood from the combative but optimistic early days of his pontificate... to a darker, more dualistic view of the world." (Pg. 238)

There are few books on these movements, so this book will be of interest to anyone studying them.
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13 of 22 people found the following review helpful By mianfei on January 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"The Pope's Armada" was written by Gordon Urquhart about several right-wing sects in the Roman Catholic Church, including one, Focolare, that he had been in for some time during his youth. There is also a study of Communione e Liberazione (CL) and Neocatechumenate (NC). It aims to discuss the support that John Paul II has given these groups because of their theological conservatism and the opposition others in the Church have to them because of their interference with ecclesiastical affairs.

The book is very effective in explaining how "During the reign of John Paul II, Catholic Rome has been invaded by wave upon wave of groups and movements of all sizes and shades..." in order to illustrate the impacts of these groups on the Catholic Church. Their fanaticism and willingness to follow Catholic doctrine in key political and theological arenas made John Paul II see them as more than useful. This led him to confer special status on these movements and to see them as a definitive model for laity in the Church. Thus, the Pope selected of many members of these groups - vastly out of proportion to their numbers - for the 1987 Synod On The Laity.

Urquhart is exceedingly effective in showing the characteristics of these movements that make them cults, especially in terms of the way in which their founders are adored and the way in which they are seen as being the whole of Catholicism by members.

Urquhart also manages to go into dense detail about how these groups have been opposed by parish priests and bishops because of their desire to appeal straight to the Pope. This is because they want to use any form of authority only to justify their own causes - indeed bishops can be recruits for these groups.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gene Glass on March 20, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It kept me interested.
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16 of 29 people found the following review helpful By William Kirk on April 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Now I ought to say that, if you're an anticatholic you will find 'ammunition' in this book. That is to be regretted. Because the author raises the distinct possibility that Roman Catholicism as we know it may soon cease to exist, and THAT ought to be a concern for everyone. Everyone, that is, opposed to a 'fundamentalist' sect of Christianity. A fundamentalist Catholicism is in fact what is being promulgated by the Focolinari, the Neocatechumenate, and other appendages of the 'Pope's Armada'. The author suggests, but unfortunately, cannot prove, that John Paul II WANTS to promote these sects as a counterweight to the rising power of fundamentalist protestantism. One readily sees the danger, because the resources of the Catholic Church dwarf those of any Protestant fundamentalist sect. In contradistinction to the first reviewer, I think the Focolinari, as oftentimes said, are a kind of 'Moonies', and so, for the most part, ignorable, if not exactly harmless, as long as you can muster reserves of self-determination so as not to be subverted into their cult. The neocatechumenate, however, come off a great deal more sinister, almost violent, certainly they seek to compel obedience in any diocese which they 'infect'. And secretive. I think these guys are worht keeping an eye on.
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21 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As Urguhart I was member of the Focolar Movement, for 11 years. The horror experiences and extreme manipulation of the focolarini and the thirst for power in Chiara is a really dangerous "carisma" inside the church, they are millions, there have money, they are all over the world ( in the poor village of brasil and africa and inside the congress of the United Nations, Italy, Brasil, Europe Union..., they want the world to be one... but under they control... The Focolar movement is probably the most dangerous structure inside our contemporary world.. as Chiara said "one day, the church (the Catholic church) will wake up and everything around and inside will be focolarini"
This book is a great "open eyes" tool to understand how the devil can seduce the soulds using nice words, videos, meetings, meditation, prays.
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