Is Francis a false prophet? Some Catholics claim that he is. They refer to him as “the false prophet, the forerunner of the antichrist.” However, before addressing the charge it’s important to ask a prior question—namely, is it at all possible for such a thing to happen? Could the Cardinals possibly make such a bad choice?
I raise the question because some—if not many—Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from making such an error. This belief is connected to the doctrine of infallibility—the belief that a pope is protected from making serious errors in matters of faith and morals when he speaks ex Cathedra. The reasoning is that, even if the Cardinals should elect a “bad” pope, he is still protected from promulgating erroneous doctrines.
But, as history teaches, it’s more complicated than that. For example, over the course of centuries quite a few antipopes have sat on the throne of Peter. I suspect that many Catholics are under the impression that the term “antipope” was made up by critics of Pope Francis is order to delegitimize him. Yet the Catholic Encyclopedia lists about 30 antipopes in the 2000-year history of the papacy. An antipope is a person who, though not duly elected, claims to be pope, or is proclaimed as pope while a legitimately elected pope is still in office. The claims of the antipopes were a source of great confusion in the Church. It was not always easy to resolve the competing claims of popes and antipopes, and some of the antipopes were widely accepted as true popes, and some ruled for years.
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