Religious people love a good doomsday prophesy. Catholics have a very particular one, and we're about to see it play out: the Prophecy of the Popes by Saint Malachy. This prophecy, given in 1139, lists 112 Popes yet to come, with the 112th being the final Pope whose reign would end with the destruction of Rome. Pope Benedict XVI, who unexpectedly resigned the papacy today, was the 111th. Which means the next guy is the last guy.
Everything about Malachy's prophecy is shrouded in bullshit. For one, it wasn't published until 1595. The story has it that Irish bishop visited Pope Innocent II and was overcome by a vision of the future. He wrote out 112 cryptic lines, each describing a Pope yet to come. For whatever reason this list was immediately locked away in a Vatican vault and none of Malachy's official histories mention the event at all. A Benedictine historian 'found' it and published the list in full. Ever since then, eschatalogically-minded Catholics have been counting down.
Each of Malachy's verses is pretty vague and open to interpretation. Pope #110, Pope John Paul II, has this bit of prose describing him: "From the labour of the sun." When that Pope was elected, people retrofitted the prophesy to fit him, saying the Pope had been born during a solar eclipse (he was buried on the day of a solar eclipse as well). Pope #111 is called "Glory of the olive," and so everybody decided that this fit Benedict XVI because he chose the name of Saint Benedict, whose shield has an olive branch. It's all stuff like that, searching for ways to make the prophecy fit a large field of existing facts, retrofitting the short verses.
The last Pope gets a little more text, though. Here's what Malachy supposedly had to say:
In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit
112 Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations;
when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people.
I like the finality.
Obviously for those within the Church this is a time of extreme persecution. There are rumors that Benedict is retiring because of the ever-growing sex abuse scandals that have undermined the Holy See. Obviously to you and me this isn't persecution but rather an attempt at justice, but you have to look at the prophecy through institutional eyes.
Some believe that this Pope will help usher in the age of the Antichrist, that he will declare a false messiah as the second coming of Christ. If a more liberal-minded Pope gets elected (ie, he's not anti-woman, anti-freedom and anti-gay), expect lots of crazy people to start going on and on about how any reforms are the work of the Antichrist.
If the new Pope takes the name Peter, expect people to just shit themselves. The new Pope could also be a black guy - and his first name is Peter! He isn't a Roman, though; Peter Turkson is a Ghanian Cardinal who is considered a front-runner for the job. It would be pretty exciting to get a black Pope, someone who finally reflects the Church's growing power in non-white areas of the world, but a black Pope named Peter is just endless fodder for end of the world theorists.
Just when you thought getting past 2012 was going to get us past doomsday...
The good news is that if Peter Turkson gets the gig he's sort of young, so we might have twenty solid years before Rome is laid waste and the Antichrist rises.