Saint Malachy is said to have written a prophetic list of future Popes. The recent Popes through Pope Benedict XVI fit the descriptive phrases used in the list well. But there is only one more Pope on the list:
“In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there shall reign Peter the Roman who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the terrible judge will judge the people.”
One common — and in my view incorrect — interpretation of this prophecy is that the Pope after Pope Benedict XVI will be the last Pope ever, and that Jesus will return for this generation. Some commentators say that Pope Francis is the last Pope. Others claim that he is an illegitimate Pope and that the true Pope will come later. They also usually conclude that the entire set of sufferings in the tribulation (the apocalypse; the end times) will necessarily occur in this generation, because there is only one more Pope on the list: Peter the Roman.
My view will disappoint many Catholics who are interested in eschatology:
* Pope Francis is a valid and holy Pope.
* There will be many more Popes in the Church after Pope Francis.
* The tribulation begins for this generation, but the tribulation is divided into two parts: the second part of the tribulation occurs in the distant future (2400’s A.D.).
* The Antichrist is not in the world today
* Jesus does not return for this generation
* “Peter the Roman” is an expression for the entire set of Popes who reign from the start of the first part of the tribulation, through the inter-tribulation period, to the second part of the tribulation. Peter the Roman is a general term for all these Popes because they are all successors of Peter and they all reign as the Bishop of Rome over the Roman Catholic Church. No single Pope is Peter the Roman.
* Rome (the 7 hilled city) will be struck with a nuclear weapon during the first part of the tribulation (during World War 3). But the city will not be completely destroyed, and it will be rebuilt. The city will again be the center of authority in the Church.
* The expression “final persecution” of the Church indicates the start of the tribulation under the first of the Peter the Roman popes: Pope Francis. But it does not imply that the entire tribulation occurs in this generation.