The Problems with Prophecies

With the resignation of Pope Benedict and a front runner named Peter, the world is buzzing with the latest end-time prophecy. This one is based on the alleged prophecies to St Malachy indicating that the next pope will be the last pope before the second coming. I’ve written about it already this week here.

What are we to make of such prophecies? Apart from this particular prophecy with its dubious origins, there is something larger going on within our culture and within the human mind.

Too often people treat prophecies like conspiracy theories: they come up with the prophecy or the conspiracy theory first, and then they make all the facts fit. If the facts don’t fit quite as neatly as they’d like, then they come up with ingenious ways to make the facts fit. They see other levels of “interpretation” they find other facts that were “hidden” or if the facts really don’t fit at all, they decide that there was a cover up, that they don’t have all the facts yet or there is some other more sinister and secret interpretation.

This is a sort of mental sickness, and those who are into conspiracy theories and prophecies are not the only ones who are guilty of it. Religious or political or ideologically driven people who take a particular world view and hold to it despite all contrary facts and every evidence of reality fall into the same trap, but then so does most everyone in one way or another to a greater or lesser extent. We believe something about the ourselves, other people or the world around us, and every fact and morsel of evidence automatically ends up supporting our belief.

Here’s an example from everyday life: Let’s say George has decided that Harry doesn’t like him. He’s heard gossip that Harry is a manipulative bully. He is told that Harry is out to get him, and that he had better watch out because Harry is very smart and cunning. Therefore when George meets Harry and Harry  smiles, gives him a hug and says, “How’re you doin’ old buddy!” George has to cope with evidence which contradicts his beliefs. He can either alter his beliefs and say, “Well, maybe I was wrong and Harry is an okay guy.” or he can say, “Why is Harry befriending me? What is he after? This must be one of his cunning ruses. He’s trying to befriend me to get something.”

Belief in conspiracy theories and prophecies are like that for many people. They provide people with a grid through which to filter all the facts–a set of shades which colors everything they see.

There are several other problems with prophecies: very often they are received in dreams and communicated in cryptic language. The cryptic language is a kind of riddle and the dream imagery is always ambiguous. The dreams and riddles can usually be interpreted in many different ways. If we take the third secret of Fatima, for example, there was a bishop in white who was walking over the bodies of the faithful up a steep hill where he was shot. Is this a literal bishop in white? Is it the Pope? Is it another bishop? Is it a literal hill and a specific future event in history or does it refer generally to persecution? The cryptic form of the prophecies and the language and imagery of dreams and visions makes the whole subject very hard to interpret accurately.

Furthermore, there is the tendency to treat prophecies as fortune telling. The proper, Biblical and Catholic understanding of prophecy is not that it is fortune telling or soothsaying. This is black magic. Read More.


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  • SteveD

    “…..with it’s dubious origins…..” Its is the possessive form of it, not it’s which is a contraction of it is. (Sorry but it’s driving me mad!)

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I usually do not make this error.

  • Mary
  • Mary If one were bound to various end times prophesies they might be screaming about wormwood, etc. I dont think this is that but they are reporting over 1000 people dead from the impact… so far. The person who titled this video cool no doubt had yet to hear of the deaths.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    not 1000 dead, 1000 injured slightly from windows that shattered from the impact

  • Mary

    Thank you, correction noted…. point is if one were unnaturally wrapped up with prophcies… they might be really unduely concerned because they are busy watching but not so much spiritually preparing. Watch, but dont fear and do stand prepared at all times. That is my philosophy.

  • Mary

    Oh and this did fall into the area where Russia stores its nuclear waste, etc. Good thing it missed that area as it did hit with the energy of an atomic bomb, so they reported anyway. Reports are often exagerated early on.

  • SteveD

    Sorry only occasionally – ‘pedants of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your friends!’

  • Tom

    Fr. Longenecker:
    Alright. You don’t like prophesies because someone may misinterpret them because they are vague. It’s your blog. But as a priest of the Catholic Church who is representing himself as a priest of the Church in your blog, you only told the readers part of the Church’s opinion on prophecies. This is a problem.
    About the St. Malachy list: it is what it is, alleged or not. It is not dogma, but it is O.K. to examine it. I would have liked it if you had been specific and objective about the Malachy prophecy itself. Why totally dismiss it and all other prophecies in general, as if they are all equal in their source and message? I happen to believe the Fatima and Malachy messages are legitimate. Therefore, am I a conspiracy nut who is unable to apply simple logic? I think you think so. These messages have added to the mystery of our faith for many. These messages are not black magic. We know that many prophecies have foretold future events, like those surrounding Christ and His virgin birth and His being the suffering servant. Unlike Protestants, the Catholic Church does not restrict legitimate, crystal clear, unmistakable prophesy to the Holy Bible. Even those Biblical prophecy messages were vague. Admit it. Our Lord does not need to meet our demanding, ever shifting high standards.
    Maybe there is a distinction between messages that are supernatural versus preternatural that you could illustrate.

  • Betsy

    I have a question…Aren’t we supposed to be on alert at all times and ask questions…Sometimes God works in mysterious ways… He gave St. Joseph a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod …
    I had a dream…I saw my child in a casket… She had just gone back to college after Christmas break. I called her never mentioning the dream…but insisted on her getting her car battery fixed and to please watch her back… I think God was getting me ready for what was to happen… Two days later, my daughter was Killed instantly, while walking on the burm of the road…being stuck by teenager, driving a pickup truck … It was said at the wake, that she had tried to jump start her car battery 3 times but to no avail …it failed to start…She tried…I tried… She was buried in the same casket, I saw in the dream..right Down to the pale pink chiffon material used as a lining … God has a plan… even though we have ours… His overrides ours…we must listen and be awake and pray !!!

  • Nancy

    I understand what Fr. Longenecker is talking about in regards to “Conspiracy Thearies,” but, to quote Dr. Blaylock-”To deny conspiracy is to deny reality.” Thank-You Fr. Longenecker for posting this informative article. As Matthew Abbott aluded to this week, with Pope Benedicts’ resignation, the mainstream media will be in FULL FORCE with every “Crack Pot” giving their view on what is to come. He also said that perhaps this is penance for Catholics during the “Lenten Season.” I believe he has a point.

  • Christie Martin

    I predict that we are all going ot die. All the rest is just details.

  • Christie Martin

    I’m better at predicting than typing, apparently. Typo!

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Fatima is approved by the church. Malachy is not. I was objective about the Malachy prophecy in my first post on the topic. They are purported to be by a bishop from the mid 1100s but nobody had ever heard of them until the 1590s and the original document has never been seen. This is being objective. The Fatima prophecies are real and approved. The Malachy prophecies are not.

  • Glenn Juday

    A fine and useful post, Fr. Longnecker. I would add that the best framework or interpretive lens to start with in considering the issues around prophecies is not the events involved. Rather, start with the concept that the role of a prophet and the purpose of a prophecy is to call the people back to covenant faithfulness. The prophetic utterance can be positive or negative, a bright future or a sentence of woe. But those elements of “foreseeing” are the logical, inevitable outcome of the envisioned response to God’s call and message through the prophet (assumption: he or she is genuine).

    Jonah did not want to prophesy to the people of Nineveh, because he could see that if they heeded the call to repentance they would in fact be spared – and he so much feared and despised them and the threat they posed to the covenant people that he did not want God to offer that mercy. But under Divine prodding, Jonah issued God’s call and the Ninevites were moved to respond. It was not a flat statement “X is going to happen.”

    So, first, any claim that a prophet has issued a prophecy requires a sign of Divine commission, however unconventional. Then it requires the that the subject matter is primarily one of restoring the proper covenant relationship between God and the people. Future events of political or cultural or historical significance necessarily must be entirely secondary, although they may in fact derive from the call. Use these criteria when confronting a claim about a prophecy, and the sensationalist stuff will blow away like chaff from the wheat.

  • Christopher


    Thank you Father Longenecker for clarifying this issue, I enjoyed your article.

    I used to like searching out different prophecies but think the problem with prophecies and the seeking of them to suit our beliefs is really a distraction from Mass, Confession and Prayer.

    I hope and Pray that the Holy Spirit gives us another good Pope.

  • Kevin Symonds

    Fr. Longenecker,

    Good morning. Before she died, I think Sr. Lucia specified the “Bishop dressed in white” was the Pope. I will be glad to locate this information for you if you would like.


  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    She said, “We had the impression he was the pope.”

  • ciao

    I’m sure there are people who gather prophecies and conspiracy theories all into one basket.
    But, I don’t agree that they are the same, nor are all conspiracies made up first and then actions found to fit. The Good Lord gave us prophesy to warn us so we can be prepared. Just like a good parent would use his experience and knowledge to warn and advise his children for their own good.
    Jesus prophesied coming events to warn us so that we would watch and be prepared, like when he said we notice the signs in nature that lead us to know that a storm is coming or the changes in seasons are coming, so we should listen to his warnings then. Being forewarned is forearmed.
    If two people agree together on something and plan to carry it out, that’s a conspiracy, so is it any different for elite groups or even governments of people who all agree on the same thing to try to carry it out? That’s a conspiracy. The signs tell us. We don’t always know the details, but humans can’t hide all their actions. Some of those actions lead to certain conclusions.
    Prophesy should be believed according to its source. Not all prophesy is true nor should all be believed right out. The Holy Spirit through the Church helps us to know if that source is credible. I don’t believe just any prophesy or any conspiracy, but test it first, compare it to known truth first.

  • Mary

    Agreed Ciao. Father Longenecker, what do you think of the prophecies of St. Hildegard? They call her saint but I believe she never made it past venerable. A truly amazing woman…

    ” : Originally Posted by Benedict XIV In keeping with laws of prudence, one must give them the assent of human belief [assensus fidei humanae], in that such revelations are probably and piously credible. Consequently it is possible to refuse to accept such revelations and to turn from them, as long as one does so with proper modesty, for good reasons, and without the intention of setting himself up as superior.

    Though an assent of Catholic faith be not due to such revelations, they, however, deserve a human assent, according to the rules of prudence, by which they are probably, and piously credible, as the revelations of Blessed Hildegarde, St Bridget, and St Catherine of Sienna”

  • Victor

    (((What are we to make of such prophecies?)))

    Without having yet read all comment here, I will only suggest that “I” honestly believe and “I’M” almost sure that GOD (Good Old Dad) knows what HE’s doing and if ya don’t believe then just check with “ONE” micro cell of me, myself and i and they’ll probably tell ya the same!

    Go Figure folks? :)


  • DJ

    I find this blog to be leaning liberal and a bit secular. Through prayer by many it can change future events or even delay them. But in the end it is inevitable, the bible is what it is and we do not fight against flesh but principalities and darkness.
    We definitely do not need liberalism in the church, there’s enough of that insanity in government.

  • Elena Maria Vidal (@emvidal)

    Dear Father,
    I have been a Catholic my whole life and a Secular Carmelite for 25 years I have never heard Catholic prophecies compared to “black magic” or “mental sickness.” Yes, some people tend to base their entire spirituality in chasing supernatural phenomena and alleged apparitions, which is not a good thing. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila both warned against such behavior since it distracts from the business of practicing virtue and embracing one’s interior purification. Some people are not inspired by supernatural phenomena, other people are. It does not make those who are inspired by studying prophecies mentally ill. The Church makes it clear that people are free to not to believe in apparitions but that does not mean that those who do should be demonized.

    Please do not be so quick to dismiss St. Malachy’s List of Popes, which many scholars have studied over the years. As a document it is of historical interest and has nothing to do with conspiracy theories. A reader sent me a book entitled La Mystérieuse prophétie des papes by Fr. René Thibaut, S.J. (Namur: Bibliothèque de la Faculté de philosophie et lettres,1951, Imprimatur: June 28, 1945, Et. Jos. Carton de Wiart) It is worth reading. Fr. Thibaut (1883-1952) was a Belgian Jesuit and scholar who made a study of the list of popes attributed to St. Malachy. Fr. Thibaut’s research reveals that there is a great deal more to the Prophecy than I had ever imagined. No, it was probably not really written by St. Malachy, although it shows signs of having Celtic origins. The infamous Nicholas Sanders, the papal legate, may have brought it to Rome from Ireland in the 16th century in the reign of Pius V. That is the theory of Fr. Thibaut. There is more about this on my blog, for those who are interested in history:

  • http://msn/ pete

    But you seem not to have notice a possibility that the last entry in Malachy may indicate a severe Chastisement ending a period of history and not the end of the world . The Church has recently stated that nothing prevents a period of Peace of unknown length to occur before the End of time, as Fatima revealed “in the end the consecration of Russia will be done, and a period of peace will be granted to the world”. Other approved prophecy indicate a severe trial in the near future (Our Lord to Barnabas in Nigeria completely approved by the Bishop of the place. prophesying how to prepare for the coming Chastisement). “My children, the great day of darness is coming. the day which many hearts anxiously await is coming now that many hearts are cold. Children, think of how many will be saved.Remember, no unrepentant sinner will survive! Wake up, my children for evangelization etc….” Precious Blood of Jesus Daily Devotional (nota bene, that in the new Church calendar the First Class Feast of the Precious Blood on July 1 was completely excized from the Missal). Maria Esperanza –thoroughly approved by the local Bishop — said before she died that something very big would occur around 2020. And as far as peace is concerned, anyone can see we are drifting towards WWIII the persecution of the Church has already begun. St. Padre Pio in response to a question about 2/3rds of the human race being destroyed said, ” No, 3/4ths!” One can see that the present line of popes might end with the next pope and another line started after Rome is destroyed (cf Vision of 3rd Fatima Secret?! released in 2000).

  • victory with Mary

    Thought to be mentally ill; Joan of Arc, St. Bernadette, The three sheppard children of Fatima, the list goes on.
    Over active imagination is one thing, however many signs can be very helpful to the sceptics, the unbeliever that says their is no God.

  • frenchcookingmama

    Please, the cloud cuckoo talk is distracting. You’re better off with prayer, the Mass, and the Holy Eucharist instead of waiting for something to happen before 2020. That’s not a healthy approach to take.

  • Dr. Eric

    St. Hildegard was Canonized and made Doctor of The Church last Autumn by Pope Benedict.


    Tom I totally agree with your comment.

    And father Dwight Longenecker I respect your opinion and it is your blog, but I disagree with your posting.

  • victory with Mary

    I agree.
    Gods will be done.
    Bless you for your attempt to aid her.
    He, the Almighty, has His plan as you mentioned.
    The trust and love you have in Him is pure.
    When you arrive ( Home ) you will be greeted by your daughter I pray, and she will be excited to walk the way of the roses with you, you having already walked the via del la Rosa.

  • Mary

    Thank you Dr. Eric, for that information. I am glad to hear that. She was a truly amazing person and I am happy to hear she was finally cannonized, and about time too! I always referred to her as St. Hildegard anyway, as I knew it was only a matter of time… :-)

  • Glenn Juday

    Again, I earnestly recommend that all Catholics do not start with and focus exclusively on prophecies as statements of secular events that are going to happen next. Instead focus on the spiritual message that is the basis of the commission that God has given to an individual to issue the prophetic message. Demonic powers can do a pretty good job of simulating the former. They are incapable of doing the later. Don’t make it any easier for them.

  • Mary

    Balance Glenn, balance not exclusion. By the way, God tells how to tell if a prophecy is from Him or not. If the prophecy occurs, it was from God. Not so difficult really. But do not listen to any prophecy to the exclusion of the rest of your Christian life and do not become afraid. God has already told us the ending you know.

    Prophecy for the sake of prophecy is foolishness. If there is a message from God it will be because the knowledge can give us some choice that can make a difference. Jesus said to watch, but we are to be prepared. He did not say close your eyes. Prophecy without preparation, that is foolishness.

  • Jacqueline

    The pharisees had their doubts, too. Those of us who are paying attention to what is happening in the political arena, are sure that we are in the last days and it would behoove everyone to repent and be ready. Then, if this passes and all returns to normal, we at least were protected from the fires of hell and know how important it is to cleanse and nourish our souls. See you in Heaven!

  • HadEnough

    How much longer is God going to stand by and watch the unborn be murdered in their mother’s wombs? Do you really think God is going to bless homosexual marriages? Heterosexual couples don’t want to marry or have children. Doctor’s throw birth control in patient’s faces! Pornography is flowing through the streets. Can you read the signs of the times?

  • Glenn Juday

    Some of us who are paying attention to what is happening in the political arena, tend to think that we are not being offered the easy (in some ways) fate of being in the last days. God often lets the stupidity and willful folly and infidelity fester as a means of bringing us to our senses. Still, indeed we can agree it would behoove everyone to repent and be ready, especially because each of us individually is facing our personal end days – at the appropriate time that God allows.

  • SteveCC

    Some musings on the St. Malachy prophecy…
    The cryptic clue for the (last?) Pope, following #111 – “The Glory of the Olive”, i.e. Pope Benedict XVI is…”In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”

    A few points on this are-
    1) “Peter the Roman” could apply to all Popes who resided in Rome since St. Peter…
    2) The one and only name precluded from being chosen by a new Pope is Peter in deference to St. Peter… after all you couldn’t really have a Pope Peter II elevated to the chair of Peter; now could you? Therefore it follows that “Peter the Roman” must somehow refer to his name and origin. Right?
    3) For some reason, the list does not precede Peter the Roman with a number (i.e. 112)… Does this mean that #112 is inferred or alternatively that there will be one or more Popes between #111 and Peter the Roman. Yet we do already seem to be into the earlier stages of tribulation spoken of by Popes JPII and BXVI…
    4) This Peter will likely be a good Pope, preceding the antipope, because it states he will feed his flock amid many tribulations… feeding the flock suggests giving nutrition rather than poison and tribulations are generally presented as precursors to the battle with the antichrist…

    …Enter the Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone. He appears to have been well supported (or favored) by Pope Benedict XVI, particularly in the wake of certain faux pas on Bertone’s part… The Cardinal appears to be both darling and chief whip of the Italian Cardinals, and a possible choice if the conclave elects another European again this time, though many suggest that this would be unlikely…

    Finally, his middle name is Peter born in a place called Romano… Tarcisio PIETRO Evasio Bertone (age 78), Born on December 2, 1934, in ROMANO Canavese (in the Province of Turin, Piedmont region of Italy)…

    So when we hear the words “Habemus Papam,” will we see Cardinal Bertone step out onto the balcony? And if so, will the St. Malachy prophecy get a final nod (and wink)?

  • Mary

    Cardinal Bertone is not the only candidate to fit that prophacy. There are several with a form of Peter in their name. Time will tell….. also, it does not say this “last” pope will be in any way evil. In fact it says he will feed the flock…so prehaps he will be a very strong and brave pope in difficult times. The strength implies someone a bit younger, in my opinion.

  • Kevin Symonds

    Yes, but I think there was a further clarification. It might have come through Bertone but I am not sure as it has been a while.


  • Harry

    The fifth prophecy that was given to Bernadette by the Lady states that Jesus Christ is the true Creator of stars and planets, and of man. All creation was made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that made. The Word was with God, means the Word is in God. The prophecy denys the authority of the Catholic Church.