Could Pope Benedict XVI, who recently announced that he plans to retire at the end of February (making him the first pope to resign in nearly a thousand years), be the last ever legitimate pope?
That's what some people have been saying. And they have been saying it since the 12th century.
The first Catholic Saint from Ireland, Saint Malachy, wrote a series of mystical verses in the twelth century, each of which corresponds to one of the popes from then until now. He wrote 112 verses in total, and the last one described a false prophet, an image of Satan, who would preside over the destruction of the church immediately preceding the final judgement. Since then his writing have been associated with other apocalyptic ideas, with Christian mystics through the ages claiming that the 'last pope' would deceive the world into following the anti-christ.
Pope number 111 - Benedict XVI - would be the last legitimate pope according to the writings of Saint Malachy. Malachy described him as the "Glory of the Olive'. Some have said that this corresponds to the olive branches on the coat of arms belonging to Benedict's monastic order - the Benedictines.
Here is the verse describing the next pope:
“In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit [i.e., as bishop].
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 terrible judge will judge his people.
The authors of a book on this subject published last year predicting the resignation of pope Benedict XVI - an event which has shocked the rest of the world ( Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here )
Another papal figure associated with conspiracy theories, the anti-christ and the end times is the 'black pope'. The black pope is a name given to the leader of the Jesuit movement (because of their black robes, and their shadowy behind the scenes power in the church). Many conspiracy theorists down the years have associated the Jesuits with a global conspiracy of elites to rule the world. The idea is that the Jesuits have been trying to get one of their own into the papacy as part of their plans for world domination, and that the rise of the 'black pope' to power would be a sign that the end times have come.
Interestingly the next pope may be a 'black pope' - but not in the way that these conspiracy theorists meant. At least one of the 'bookies favourites' to succeed Benedict XVI is a black African.