Doomsday prophets and end-of-times warnings have been around since the ink was dry on the first manic scribbling of the Book of Revelations and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse have been galloping to the finishing line ever since.
Only last week, as part of my research for a new book, I became aware of the prophecies of Saint Malachy, made in 1143 AD. He fairly accurately predicted each and every pope from that time until... the end of time. I was so excited to read that our current Pope Benedict XVI was the second last, and that the next one - code-named Petrus (Peter) will shepherd us all into Armageddon or at least be instrumental in drawing the final curtain on the Catholic Church.
It was also prophesised that the second last Pope would resign or abdicate to make way for the next nefarious grim reaper or false prophet or anti-christ or whatever you'd like to call him. The ultimate anti-pope. Let me reiterate that I READ THIS LAST WEEK! (on some dodgy doomsday site)
Needless to say I nearly fell off my barstool when I heard about the imminent resignation of Colonel Ratzsinger (come on it does sound like a new KFC burger). And then, to top off the spectacular launch into the end of times, and just to make sure we were all taking notice, a perfectly executed lightning barb struck the steeple of the Basilica. ON THE SAME DAY.
Now I don't know about you, but that sealed it for me. I'm stocking up on cans of baked beans, creamed corn and baby carrots. I'm taking the rosary beads off the rear vision mirror so I can begin to pray effectively for my soul.
Did you know that a previous Pope Benedict (VIII) was damned by some breakaway factions for making a significant change to the Nicene Creed (the blueprint for the church)? This led to the schism between Western Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was the work of Satan many said, heralding a new and corrupted era for the Church. May I interrupt here to say that this happened in 1014 AD! That is months away from being 1000 years ago. Anyone? Anyone? Come on. Every Bible student of the Apocalypse knows that Satan will be bound on Earth for one thousand years before letting all hell break loose.
Back to Malachy's prophecies. He was, it seems, almost as good as the late Paul the Octopus who successfully predicted the winner of each of the German National Football Team's seven matches in the 2010 FIFA World Cup as well as the outcome of the Final! He's now dead... he must have seen this coming.
With some creative rose-coloured glasses it is possible to match each Pope since 1143 AD with the Marvellous Malachy List. He described the current 111th Pope on the list as 'The Glory of the Olive' and the Benedictine Order's crest is, you guessed it, the olive branch. You have to take off your hat to a clear and obvious pointer there.
The next and last Pope is code-named '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. The End.'
That's how it finishes. Abruptly. Just - The End.
Rome (aka the Catholic Church) will be destroyed.
The question remains how this will manifest. I suspect any destruction will be self-inflicted. Benedict XVI does not leave in an angelic trumpet burst of glory. He has some dark smoky questions about paedophiliac cover-ups trailing him like the smell of dog turd underfoot. Perhaps the Vatican heavy-weights all sat around and someone said...'What's that smell?' They all looked at their soles (pun intended) and Benny's sheepish grin gave it away and they all pointed at the door. But the bottom line is they all have shit on their shoes and the faithful followers are starting to smell it and it isn't pleasant. Corruption stinks.
Christopher Hitchens wrote, that in 2001 Ratzinger circulated a confidential letter to the global community of Bishops reminding them of the great crime of reporting the rape and torture of children by the clergy. Ratzy, it seems, for at least a time, was the Grand Poobah of the Cover-up Culture Club. ('Do you really want to hurt me?' playing on the juke box in the background). Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated with utmost secrecy and silence. The threat of ex-communication hung over anyone who dared to speak out. Little wonder the Vatican has readily accepted the Pope's resignation just when the governments of the world are beginning to hold the Church accountable for that very cold, calculated and criminal wall of silence. Forget the sacrificial lamb, Benedict XVI is about to become the number one scapegoat amongst a herd of cloven-hoofed goats.
With Malachy's musings on every conspiracy theologian's lips and the divine lightning strike hitting the throne of God's earthly elect (on the day the current Pope took the unusually rare option to bail), every placard-bearing rapturous end-of-times fan will be looking at the newly elected pope as Anti-Christ no matter who he is.
It's going to be a tough job any way you look at it. Scraping all the crap from underfoot is one thing, paying out extraordinary amounts of compensation to victims of God's representatives another, but shaking off the unofficial title of the Anti-Christ - that's going to be a tough call. And if he does take the name Peter...... dear God, all hell will break loose!