|The "Prophecy of the Popes" is likely a forgery.|
|St. Malachy of Armagh|
St. Malachy was the bishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland, and is credited with a reformation of the Catholic Church in Ireland. According to some authors, St. Malachy is also the author of a prophecy which has implications for the end of the world, or at least the end of the papacy.
According to the traditional account, in 1139, Malachy was summoned to Rome by Pope Innocent II. While in Rome, Malachy purportedly experienced a vision of future popes, which he recorded as a sequence of cryptic phrases. This manuscript was then deposited in the Roman Archive, and thereafter forgotten about until its rediscovery in 1590.
Proponents of the Prophecy
Arnold de Wyon
The prophecy was first published in 1595 by Arnold de Wyon, a Benedictine historian, as part of his book Lignum Vitæ. The prophecy is not mentioned in any record prior to its 1595 publication.
Supporters, such as author John Hogue, who wrote a popular book titled The Last Pope about the claims, generally argue that even if the author of the prophecies is uncertain, the predictions are still valid.
The Nostradamus connection
Some authors have suggested that the prophecy was created by Nostradamus and credited to Saint Malachy so the purported seer would not be blamed for the destruction of the papacy.
Criticism of the Prophecy
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a contemporary of Malachy. In 1139, Bernard assisted at the Second Council of the Lateran. About the same time, Bernard was visited at Clairvaux by Malachy, who was Primate of All Ireland, and a very close friendship formed between them. On a second journey to Rome in 1148, Malachy fell ill and later died at Clairvaux, reportedly in the arms of Bernard.
In his biography of Malachy, written shortly after Malachy's death, Bernard makes no mention of the prophecy.
The Catholic Encyclopedia also suggests that the prophecy is a late 16th‑century forgery.
Spanish writer and Benedictine monk father Benito Jerónimo Feijóo (who wrote on subjects such as the "Causes of Spain's Backwardness") wrote in his Teatro Crítico Universal (1724-1739), in an entry called "Purported prophecies", that the ones by Saint Malachy were a shameful forgery, claiming that they were created ad hoc during the 16th century1.
As a proof, he offers an accurate fact: that the first time the prophecy is mentioned is on a handwritten account by patriarch Alfonso Chacón (a.k.a Alphonsus Ciacconus, 1540-1599) in 1590 (this account would be later published, in 1595, by the abovementioned historian Arnold de Wyon); in this account, Chacón only comments the prophecies until the papacy of Urban VII (whose papacy only lasted September 1590, and was the current pope at the time Chacón wrote the comment). According to Feijóo, Chacón, who held a great intellectual prestige at the time, was lured to comment the prophecies by someone who wanted to help cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli (1522-1605) reach the papacy. By showing them to be accurate till Urban VII, it was expected people to believe the next ones; that way, Girolamo Simoncelli could be easily elected pope, since the prophecy after Urban VII's one tells about a pope Ex antiquitate urbis (from the antiquity of the city), a fact that seems to fit him, who was cardinal of Orvieto (literally "old city", urbs vetus), or at least better than Gregory XIV, who was elected pope after Urban VII. If it is a forgery, it appears to have been useless, since Simoncelli was not elected pope.
Feijóo's explanation is usually regarded as being the most probable proof of forgery.
Fr. Claude-François Menestrier
Jesuit father Claude-François Menestrier also claimed that the prophecies were forged in order to help the papal candidacy of Girolamo Simoncelli, offering similar reasons to those of Feijóo.
José Luis Calvo
Spanish historian José Luis Calvo points out that the prophecies seem to be very accurate till Urban VII, fitting perfectly even the antipopes, but that afterwards great efforts have to be made in order to make the prophecies fit their pope.
At best, the "Prophecy of the Popes" has a very poor provenance, and it appears likely that it is a 16th century forgery designed to support cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli's bid to become Pope.