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Popes and Prophecy | By Sandra Miesel | Monday, April 18, 2005

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When the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church convene today to elect a new pope, clouds of prophecy will swirl around their deliberations, for popes and prophecy go together like mountains and mist.

The earliest papal prophecy was delivered by Jesus himself on the last night of his earthly life. He predicted that St. Peter--whom Catholics count as the first pope-- would betray him "before the cock crows." (Matthew 26:34) Later, after the Resurrection, Jesus also foretells martyrdom for St. Peter, led in old age "where you do not want to go." (John 21:8)

Bible prophecies are the only kind that Christians must believe because they are part of public revelation. But the Catholic Church also recognizes that God may favor certain persons with the gifts of prophecy or other mystical phenomena. These private revelations can add nothing to the Faith and belief in them is optional. (Some can enrich our appreciation of doctrines that already exist, such as the visions of St. Faustina Kowalska on the Divine Mercy.) Nevertheless, in recent decades millions of people have spent billions of dollars chasing reports of visions and prophecies. Only a tiny fraction of those reported gain official Church recognition, the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes and Fatima being the most famous.

Catholic private revelations about popes are usually set within End Times prophecies. Typically these bewail the condition of Church and State alike, foreseeing horrible chastisements unless the world repents. One recently introduced concept is the Three Days of Darkness, during which demons will carry all the wicked off to hell as a sort of inverted Rapture. But whether medieval or modern, these prophecies carry political baggage from the eras in which they are made such as anxiety about European rulers, secret societies, and a climactic "Birch Tree Battle" in Westphalia, Germany.

In the prophesied time of tribulation marked by wars and unprecedented natural disasters, the Church will endure worldwide persecution. The pope will "have much to suffer," harassed by outsiders and surrounded by staff made up of secret traitors. Eventually he will be forced to flee Rome over the bodies of his cardinals and meet. a cruel death in exile. The Church will be left leaderless for many months while three anti-popes contend for power in what Bl. Anna Katharina Emmerich called a "false Church" with invalid sacraments.

Finally, Sts. Peter and Paul will come down from heaven and chose a legitimate pontiff. He will be known as the Angelic Pope. Together with the Last Emperor or Great Monarch, a descendant of Charlemagne and St. Louis, the Angelic Pope will usher in a period of world peace. There may even be a series of five Angelic Popes, but eventually the world will drift back to sin and disorder. Then the Antichrist will appear and the world ends according to the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

Personal predictions about popes are found in the Prophecies of St. Malachy, a series of cryptic phrases attributed to a twelfth century Irish bishop that were first published in 1590. But these prophecies look like a hoax because they are accurate only before the 1590 cutoff date. Nevertheless, some people still scrabble for interpretations that make modern popes fit St. Malachy’s words. Pope John Paul II was "from the labor of the sun" because he was born and buried during a partial eclipse. His successor is supposed to be "the glory of the olive" followed by the final pope, "Peter the Roman."

John Paul II was also supposed to be the "spark" from Poland predicted by St. Faustina, whom he canonized. False prophecies had him dying in 1994 or being violently removed from office by 1995 at the latest. Although the pope survived, an assassination attempt in 1981 has been read as fulfilling the Third Secret of Fatima. That prophecy, released in 2000, foresees a "Bishop in White" shot to death by enemies of the Church. The Fatima Secret at very least symbolizes the religious persecutions suffered during the twentieth century and proclaims the need for penance to avert more horror.

But Pope’s Radical Traditionalist critics reject this text. They claim that the "true" Third Secret has been hidden because it predicts mass apostasy and the election of a diabolical Freemason as the next pope, followed by the imposition of a false One World Religion. Trusting the spurious Secret of LaSalette, they are sure that "Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist." Whoever is elected pope, be he ever so orthodox and holy, there are Catholics who expect him to become the Prophet of Antichrist. After all, some of these rigorists think that every pope since Pius XII was a heretic.

If comfort is required from private revelation, consider the famous prophetic dream of St. John Bosco in which the Church is a ship attacked by a fleet of enemies. The pope as captain dies in the bombardment but another pope takes his place. He steers the Bark of Peter to safe anchorage between two pillars representing Jesus in the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin—the spot where it will always survive the forces of Hell.

Sandra Miesel is the co-author of the best selling The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code. She holds masters’ degrees in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of Illinois.

Since 1983, she has written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press, chiefly on history, art, and hagiography. She regularly appears in Crisis magazine and is a columnist for the diocesan paper of Norwich, Connecticut. Sandra has spoken at religious and academic conferences, appeared on EWTN, and given numerous radio interviews.

Outside the Catholic sphere, she has also written, analyzed, and edited fiction. Sandra and her husband John have raised three children.

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