Prophecy of the popes

By Lauren Colegrove

Catholic News Service

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Medallion of future pope to be placed in slot next to retired Pope Benedict XVI.
An empty slot indicates where a medallion of the future pope will be placed next to retired Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor Blessed John Paul II in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. The upper basilica walls contain medallions of all 265 popes (CNS photo/ Paul Haring).

VATICAN CITY– While many people are making conjectures about the future in order to anticipate who will be the next pope, others are looking back to the writings of a 12th century Irish bishop to see if the prediction has already been made.

Saint Malachy O’Morgair, whose biography was written by his contemporary St. Bernard of Clairvaux, became a priest and eventual archbishop in Ireland during the early 1100s. Described as a strong promoter of morality and religious zeal, Malachy is said to have had “the spirit of prophecy” and has had numerous miracles attributed to him, including the healing of the son of a Scottish king.

In 1139 Malachy traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Innocent II, and according to writer Abbe Cucherat it is there that he had his visions of the papal prophecies. Legend has it that the pope was given the writings of Malachy’s revelations and placed the record in the Vatican archives, where it was “discovered” four centuries later by Benedictine historian Arnold de Wyon.

The prophecy describes 112 popes and antipopes in cryptic verses, beginning with the phrase “from a castle of the Tiber” which is attributed to the birthplace of Pope Celestine II. Verse 111 depicts the “glory of the olive,” which is usually connected to Pope Benedict XVI since his papal name refers to the founder of the Benedictine Order, which has a monastic branch called the Olivetans.

The end of the prophecy portrays “Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people.”

Because of the placement of the last few lines of text, interpreters of the prophecy are uncertain whether there are supposed to be other popes between the “prophecy of the olive” and the reign of “Peter the Roman,” and analyses of the text widely vary. Although no pope has been called by the  name Peter since the time of the disciples, there is speculation that the prophecy could be referring to Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who gained the nickname “Peter the Roman” because of his studies in Rome.

Because St. Bernard’s biography of Malachy does not mention the specific prophecy and there is no documentation of it prior to its publication in 1595, many historians believe that the prophecy is a forgery from the late 16th century. Some people claim that the prophecy was created in order to influence a 16th century conclave, while others believe that even if Malachy did not write the prophecy the predictions are still compelling.

While the authenticity of the “Prophecy of the Popes” may be uncertain, it is undeniable that centuries later the trend of predicting who will be next in the long line of successors of Peter has not lost its appeal.

Lauren Colegrove is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.

Venezuelan president changed nation, had rocky relations with bishops

By Ezra Fieser

Catholic News Service

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — Hugo Chavez, a socialist president who transformed Venezuela while acting as chief protagonist in what was one of the worst Catholic Church-government relationships in Latin America, died March 5. He was 58.

Chavez died of complications from a respiratory infection nearly two years and four surgeries after his cancer diagnosis was made public. He flew to Cuba for his fourth surgery in early December and developed post-surgical complications, including bleeding and a lung infection, doctors said.

Images of  Venezuelan President Hug Chavez held up at a recent rally in Caracas. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Images of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held up at a recent rally in Caracas. (CNS photo/Reuters)

On April 5, 2012, Holy Thursday, shortly before his third surgery for cancer, Chavez attended a Catholic Mass in Barinas, the state in western Venezuela where he was born and where his brother, Adan Chavez Frias, is now governor. Wearing a rosary and dressed in a blue and white tracksuit, Chavez pleaded for his life.

“I ask God to give me life, however painful. I can carry 100 crosses, your crown of thorns, but don’t take me yet. I still have things to do,” he said, according to press reports.

Catholic leaders spoke of Chavez’s relationship with the church and his legacy for Venezuelans.

“The people of Venezuela held him up, considered him a public leader that they felt a connection to; someone they were close with,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate of Caracas, secretary-general of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference. There was “great hope for his recovery and that he would serve his third term.”

Chavez, a former military lieutenant colonel, gained attention as leader of a failed coup in 1992. In 2000 he was elected president. He was due to be inaugurated for his third six-year term Jan. 10, but because of his illness he was never sworn in.

During his 13 years in office, he placed price caps on products sold by multinational companies and food basics. Chavez’s critics, including many church leaders, said his programs were inefficient and indoctrinated poor Venezuelans in socialist philosophy.

Those programs won him political popularity among the poor, but with food basics, like milk and sugar, in short supply, the cost of some products rising with runaway inflation, and a high crime rate, his support within the poor neighborhoods waned.

The roughly 90,000 mostly poor, mostly Catholic Venezuelans that live in Carcacas’ 23 de Enero neighborhood have mixed feelings about Chavez’s legacy, said Franciscan Father Angel Antonio Tornero, pastor at Cristo Rey Parish.

“There have been many improvements to infrastructure and the community. The prices of food are lower. Chavez has support from many for the work that his government has done,” Father Tornero said. “But there are contradictions. There are shortages of food, and many people feel like the government ignores their needs.”

Tornero said the government has slashed funding to Catholic schools in the barrio, leaving them in a “financial crisis.”

Church leaders said the church’s relationship with the president was complicated, if not at times downright nasty.

“There were years that were difficult, tense,” said Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate. “There were attacks and strong responses. … But I feel that there was a calming in the past year.”

He said that in the second half of 2012, the bishops’ conference held two meetings with top Chavez government officials, including Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom Chavez tapped as his successor.

In July, Chavez called the conference and suggested he was open to a face-to-face meeting, which would have been the first in at least six years, Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate said.

Chavez first won election in 1998, promising a Cuban-influenced socialist “Bolivarian revolution.” He used the nation’s oil resources and a ballooning national debt to fund social programs that cut the South American country’s poverty rate.

Initially, the relationship between Chavez and church leaders seemed warm. But it did not take long for things to sour.

Church leaders lent support to a short-lived coup that overthrew Chavez for 48 hours in 2002, saying he was abusing power and eroding democratic institutions. They kept up their criticism and, several years later, some Chavez supporters said that, with the hierarchy’s almost obsessive opposition to the president, the bishops had distanced themselves from poor Venezuelans.

One community activist told Catholic News Service: “I agree there should be criticisms” of the government, “but constructive criticism that unites instead of separating.”

The war of words continued, with successive Venezuelan Catholic leaders criticizing the president, who returned the criticism.

More recently, Chavez had suggested he was willing to mend relations with church leaders. In a July interview with Venezuelan state-owned television, he said, “hopefully we can manage to establish a good relationship with the Catholic hierarchy and to work together for the country.

“The church can contribute much along with the government in the fight against poverty, misery and crime,” he said.

Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate said that Chavez had “opened the door” to improved relations.

“I’m not saying we have had fluid relations with the government, but there has been improvement,” he said.

Born July 28, 1954, as the second of seven children of schoolteachers, Chavez was raised by his grandmother, a devout Catholic. He was an altar boy at his local church in a rural village in Barinas. As a child, he reportedly had always thought that he would become a priest.

As an adult, has described himself as a “Christian” whose policies are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

He used religion to win support from religious groups that helped elect him president in three consecutive elections.

“You have to take into account the evangelical card, which is his support base,” Nikolas Kozloff, author of “Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S.,” said in an email several months before the president’s death. “Chavez has his own brand of Christian socialism, and he plays up the Christ martyr complex in his rhetoric.”

Cardinal Mahony says Vatican told him to attend conclave

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Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, waits for the start of Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

UPDATED WITH VATICAN REACTION

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Cardinal Roger M. Mahony expressed “amazement” at calls that he withdraw from the upcoming papal conclave because of his record on clergy sex abuse, and said that the Vatican, acting through its ambassador to the United States, had instructed him to take part in the election of the next pope.

“I’m here because the Holy Father appointed me a cardinal in 1991, and the primary job of a cardinal, the number one job, is actually the election of a new pope should a vacancy occur,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service Feb. 28, two days after arriving in Rome.

“Without my even having to inquire, the nuncio in Washington phoned me a week or so ago and said, ‘I have had word from the highest folks in the Vatican: you are to come to Rome and you are to participate in the conclave’,” the cardinal said.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, replied to a request for comment that the cardinal’s statement “can be understood in light of the communique of the Secretariat of State that insisted on the importance of not giving in to external pressures that might limit the freedom of the electors and the conclave.”

The communique in question, issued Feb. 23, defended the electors’ freedom as a “guarantee of a choice … based on evaluations addressed solely for the good of the church,” and condemned attempts to influence the papal election “through public opinion that is often based on judgements that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the church is living.”

Advocates for sex-abuse victims have urged Cardinal Mahony, 77, to abstain from voting in the election of a successor to Pope Benedict XVI because of evidence that he mishandled cases of pedophile priests during his time as archbishop of Los Angeles.

Acting under court order Jan. 31, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles released thousands of pages of personnel files which suggest that Cardinal Mahony, who retired as archbishop in 2011, worked to protect accused priests from criminal investigation beginning in the 1980s.

The cardinal’s successor, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, cited the files when he announced that Cardinal Mahony would “no longer have any administrative or public duties” in the archdiocese. Archbishop Gomez later added that the cardinal remains a bishop in “good standing,” with “full rights to celebrate the holy sacraments of the church and to minister to the faithful without restriction.”

Cardinal Mahony said he was “amazed” at the controversy over the Los Angeles files, claiming that the salient information about sex abuse in them could be found in a 22-page report available on the archdiocese’s website since 2004.

“There are some new things in the files that came out, but as far as I know I don’t find anything in there disqualifying,” he said.

The cardinal said that criticisms of his record on sex abuse unfairly applied latter-day standards to what was normal practice at the time.

“People say, ‘well, why didn’t you call the police?’ In those days no one reported these things to the police, usually at the request of families,” he said. “What I did in those years was consistent with what everybody did, in the Boy Scouts, in public schools, private schools, across the country.”

Cardinal Mahony arrived in Rome the day after Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, 74, announced he would not participate in the conclave because he did not want media attention focused on him, following reports that three priests and a former priest had accused him of “inappropriate conduct” with them going back to the 1980s.

(On March 3, Cardinal O’Brien publicly asked forgiveness for “times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal,” and announced that he would “play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”)

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