Last year was big for Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He started 2013 in obscurity, living in a one-bedroom flat in Buenos Aires, doing his own shopping and cooking, and riding the subway unnoticed and undisturbed. By May he was living in Rome, where he had inherited the throne of the Roman Catholic Church. By December, he was arguably the most popular and loved man on Earth, the hope of millions, and Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Bergoglio’s election as pope in March 2013 caught many by surprise. He is the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years, the first-ever pope from the Americas, and the antithesis of the ultra-traditionalist that many assumed would replace Benedict xvi. Inconspicuous and humble in appearance, Bergoglio struck many as lacking in reputation, in theological pedigree, in charisma and personality.
People were perplexed. Could such an unremarkable man lead 1.2 billion Catholics? Could he run Vatican City, known for its cliques, egos and infighting? Could this quiet, unpretentious Argentine resurrect the Catholic Church—its reputation injured by years of crisis and scandal—as a force for stability and leadership for a tumultuous and hurting world?
Students of Bible prophecy wondered further: Could Bergoglio, an outsider, a non-European, a man seemingly more interested in the poor than in politics, increase the Vatican’s power in Europe, unite the Continent, then lead the prophesied Holy Roman Empire? We questioned, does Pope Francis fulfill Bible prophecy?
We’re not even a year into his pontificate, and we already have answers. Pope Francis is having profound success. It has been so dramatic it has its own name: the Francis Effect. Across the planet, public support of the Catholic Church is increasing, in many countries dramatically so. Church attendance is up. Conversions are up. The pope is widely adored and admired, even among non-Catholics. Francis has worked wonders among the church’s lukewarm and disillusioned laity. “What makes this pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all,” wrote Time (emphasis added throughout).
The dramatic restoration of the reputation of the Catholic Church under Pope Francis was one of the most significant stories of 2013. If it continues, Francis will easily hold his own beside John Paul ii and Benedict xvi in the history books, and possibly eclipse both in impact and legacy. After all, he’s already accomplishing what neither could: He’s restoring the popularity of the Catholic Church, reviving the Vatican as a credible and respected international authority, and reestablishing Catholicism as a religion that people can once again look to, listen to and follow!
As far as Bible prophecy is concerned, it doesn’t get much more significant—or exciting.
‘Joy of the Gospel’
As the Vatican’s prestige and influence grows, the question that comes into focus is, how will Pope Francis use his power? A superficial glance suggests he is employing it selflessly and humbly, to serve mankind, especially the poor and needy. A deeper investigation, however, reveals disconcerting fruits.
Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) is the title of the pope’s November 2013 apostolic exhortation, a document that encapsulates Francis’s vision for mankind. The innocuous title and eloquent, righteous-sounding language is misleading. The message of Evangelii Gaudium is powerful and transformative, and, in the context of history and Bible prophecy, deeply concerning. John Thavis, author and Vatican expert, described the pope’s exhortation as a “remarkable and radical document, one that ranges widely and challenges complacency at every level.” Naomi O’Leary described it as the “Magna Carta for church reform” (Reuters, Nov. 26, 2013).
The exhortation covers a range of subjects, but it’s especially striking for its tough and uncompromising appraisal of the global financial system, particularly capitalism.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” the pope wrote. But “this opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny.” He condemned “income inequality,” the “culture of prosperity,” and “a financial system which rules rather than serves.” Cloaked as a defense of the poor, the missive was taken by many as a denunciation of capitalism. He said, “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
Pope Francis calls for action beyond a “simple welfare mentality,” and demands, in the words of Reuters, the “overhaul of the financial system.”
It’s easy to see why Evangelii Gaudium was widely embraced. The message sounds empathetic and altruistic. It was also superbly timed. The world is experiencing a crisis of faith in government. People throughout the Western world are frustrated and disillusioned with politicians, with businessmen, with anyone considered “elite.” An enormous number of people feel they’ve been failed by the “system.” Pope Francis’s message resonates deeply with these people, especially the poor. Also—and this is important to note—many of the pope’s criticisms are fair and accurate. Capitalism, as the fruits have proven, is deeply flawed.
Still, Pope Francis seeks some extreme changes—changes we need to investigate closely.
Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh lambasted Evangelii Gaudium as a full-frontal assault on America. “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” he said. “Unfettered capitalism? That doesn’t exist anywhere. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States.”
Such criticism didn’t faze the pope. “The Marxist ideology is wrong,” he said regarding Limbaugh’s comments in an interview with Italy’s La Stampa. “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
In Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis gives some principles of the system he says should be established. For example, he believes there is a place for politicians, but they need to be influenced by God. He writes: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons. … Why not turn to God and ask Him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.”
Make no mistake, the pope isn’t appealing to politicians to turn to the God of the Protestants or the Muslims or the Hindus. He wants world leaders to turn to the God of the Catholics—represented by none other than Pope Francis.
Throughout the document, the pope emphasizes the need for a new system that combats injustice and inequality, that defends the poor and weak, that protects the rights of humans. It all sounds appealing. But we need to think seriously about its fundamental economic and political tenets: tearing down free-market capitalism and introducing a new financial system. Yet Francis has also said that Marxism is wrong. So, what does he believe? What financial and political system does he endorse? We must know. This man is arguably the most popular man in the world, and his popularity continues to grow. With popularity comes power—power to influence, power to install, power to pursue ambition—power that could ultimately affect the global financial system!
The ‘Third Way’
Pope Francis has yet to present a detailed, overt action plan for the global economy. However, through press conferences, addresses, public statements, and especially Evangelii Gaudium, he has outlined the financial model he wants to implement.
While his plan sounds fresh and innovative, it is entirely unoriginal. In fact, it has been employed multiple times. The results have varied, from simple failure to painful and total destruction (“Catholic Corporatist States,” also “Church + State”). So, what is this system?
By the time of the defeat of French Emperor Napoleon in 1815, the last remnants of the old feudal economic system had been destroyed. Over the next century, two competing economic theories sprang up in its place. The first was Adam Smith-style capitalism, which flourished in Britain and America. The second was Karl Marx-style socialism. Whereas capitalist philosophy called for economic power to rest in the hands of the individual, socialist philosophy placed that power in the hands of the collective state. Both economic philosophies displeased the Vatican and Europe’s Catholic elite.
Pope Leo xiii was concerned by how these twin evils, as he considered them—Protestant capitalism and atheistic socialism—both marginalized the Catholic Church in state affairs. In 1891, he wrote an apostolic exhortation, Rerum Novarum (On the Conditions of Labor), that laid out a Catholic economic and social model. Leo’s model became the official social doctrine of the Catholic Church and soon gained wide acceptance as a “third way.” Pope Francis has admitted that Evangelii Gaudium is rooted in Leo xiii’s Rerum Novarum.
In many ways, Pope Leo’s new social doctrine was essentially an updated version of the medieval feudal order that had existed as far back as Justinian in the sixth century. The economic premise was the belief that equality is a cruel illusion, and that people are happiest when placed in a social and political hierarchy shaped and guided by the Roman Church.
Economically, it taught that competition is spiritually demeaning. Therefore, business, labor and the state must work together in vertically connected bodies of the economy called corporations. Each corporation, comprised of a group of Catholic leaders within a specific industry, manages the economy by setting quotas, prices and wages. The corporations regulate individual behavior to protect the social order and provide an equal standard of living for all. Abuses of power are prevented by the guidance of an ethically superior elite—individuals supposedly made moral and selfless by the teachings of the Catholic Church.
In 2010, Randall Morck and Bernard Yeung, in a paper titled “Corporatism and the Ghost of the Third Way,” explained how Catholic corporatism applies a “principle of subsidiary.” “The church safeguards souls, and must retain power over all matters it judges necessary to this end, but should leave other matters to the prince,” they wrote. “The prince retains power he deems necessary for governing his realm, but other matters subside to the corporations. These retain powers they deem necessary to setting their just wages, prices and quotas, but other matters subside to the industrialists. Industrialists retain such powers as they need to govern their businesses, but details subside to shop foremen. These charge master tradesmen with task, but leave them to get on with it, and so on down to the lowest worker …” (Capitalism and Society, Vol. 5, Iss. 3, Art. 2).
In Pope Leo’s Catholic system, the ultimate authority was Catholic dogma. The economy would be governed by the state, divided into distinct departments, or corporations, but under the moral and spiritual influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
Leo’s motive was obvious: He wanted to preserve and expand the church’s central role in society and government. In essence, he wanted a church-state relationship, with the state operating independently but under the influence of Catholic doctrine and in concert with the Vatican.
In reality, this Catholic corporatist system, this “third way,” was just Catholic-dominated feudalism for the industrial age. Unlike free-market capitalism, Leo’s system prevented individuals from establishing private enterprises outside of society’s established hierarchy. Rerum Novarum purported to defend the poor by creating a fair and equal system. But it denied the realities of human nature. Just like Marxist socialism, Catholic corporatism presumes the reliability of a moral and righteous, a “benevolent” and “compassionate,” Catholic state.
Spearhead of Radical Economic Thought
How serious is Pope Francis about promoting his “third way”?
Notice how Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, an economist and columnist for the Telegraph, reacted to Evangelii Gaudium. “Unfettered global capitalism has met its match at last,” he wrote. “Ever since Bishop Bergoglio picked St. Francis of Assisi to be his guiding inspiration and lead a ‘church for the poor,’ all his actions have been in the same direction” (January 8).
What direction? Essentially, it’s aimed at the implementation of a new global financial system. “All of a sudden the Vatican is the spearhead of radical economic thinking,” Evans-Pritchard wrote.
He noted how Pope Francis’s campaign comes during the post-2008 global financial crisis, a time when so many people are hurting and disillusioned. Dissatisfaction is everywhere. It is evident within the Occupy movements, angry trade unions, and the rise of various marginal political parties, both left and right, the world over. But while the frustration and disillusionment is ubiquitous, there is no singular, coherent, credible party or institution delivering a solution.
Enter Pope Francis!
Jorge Mario Bergoglio presents himself as the ideal solution. Personally, he is the antithesis of a corporatist elitist or greedy, self-serving politician. He appears contrite and selfless, free of prejudice and bile. He scorns gratuitous opulence and appears to have no love for wealth or materialism. Moreover, he has a plan, an alternate model, a financial system that values justice and equality for all and protects the poor. Finally, Pope Francis—the “vicar of Christ” and the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics and an ever more popular church—has the presence and power to sell his financial system to mankind.
“So the task has fallen to the Catholic Church,” noted Evans-Pritchard, “the greatest moral and mobilizing force in the world. … This economic struggle has mass appeal. It may prove to be the launching pad for a Christian revival, inevitable in some form as militant Islam prompts Westerners to look back to their own cultural roots” (ibid).
The Rising Beast
Many accept that the Bible has a lot to say about the Catholic Church. A scarce few, however, actually accept what the Bible teaches about this institution. Most have never studied, and refuse to study, passages like Isaiah 47, Daniel 7, Matthew 24 or Acts 8, all of which specifically discuss the Catholic Church. Very few understand that while the Bible reveals that the church is a great and impressive religion, it is actually a false religion, a counterfeit of God’s true religion.
Herbert Armstrong understood this truth, and he explained it often and extensively. Although he gleaned his knowledge from all over the Bible, he concentrated on Revelation 17 and 18, two chapters that discuss the Catholic Church in explicit and vivid detail.
Events discussed in these chapters revolve primarily around the time of Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. In the first few verses of Revelation 17, God gives the Apostle John a vision of a “woman sit[ting] upon a scarlet coloured beast.” The Bible uses a woman as a type of religion (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7; Ephesians 5:22-32). This woman, or religion, is impressive and extraordinarily powerful. “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, mystery, babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:4-5).
Verse 6 is especially important: “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus ….” The religion or church of Revelation 17 and 18 clearly is not the true religion of God. In fact, this great false religion exists to destroy the true church of God.
Now who or what is the seven-headed “beast” ridden by the Catholic Church? The term beast, as Mr. Armstrong taught and is thoroughly corroborated by the history of this institution, “is a symbol of a kingdom, or empire” (Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast?). Thus, symbolically, this is a prophecy about a religion guiding a secular government, or kingdom. The seven heads of the beast indicate this church-state relationship would be manifested on seven distinct occasions throughout history. Can we find such a relationship in world history? We can. It’s called the Holy Roman Empire!
History books confirm the existence of this empire. Its first manifestation was Emperor Justinian in the sixth century; its latest was the Hitler-Mussolini axis of World War ii. The woman, or religion, is the “holy” in the Holy Roman Empire. Who is she, specifically? Even a casual study of the Holy Roman Empire shows that the Catholic Church sponsored each resurrection: Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, the Habsburg dynasty, Napoleon Bonaparte—and even the Axis powers in World War ii.
After verse 10, the remainder of Revelation 17 and chapter 18 discuss the seventh and final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. This resurrection—as Mr. Armstrong explained and as prophecies in Isaiah, Daniel, Hosea, Matthew 24 and other Bible passages prove—is the now-building, German-led European conglomerate of nations. But remember, this superpower of nations is ridden—led, influenced, guided—by the Roman Catholic Church.
What is this German-led, Catholic-inspired superpower characterized by? Revelation 17:1 says this church “sitteth upon many waters.” She has a global presence. Verse 2 says she commits fornication with “the kings of the earth,” or world governments, as well as “the inhabitants of the earth,” the citizens of various countries. Verse 15 states: “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” This religion is popular in the four corners of the globe, among many peoples, nations and languages.
Can you see the fulfillment of verse 15 in the Francis Effect and the remarkable restoration of the Catholic Church’s popularity by the current pope?
It gets more riveting when you consider Revelation 18, which continues to discuss the great false religion and specifically prophesies its destruction at Christ’s return. Verse 3 says, “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.”
Notice, there’s a distinct economic and financial facet to this religion’s existence. This “woman” isn’t just socially or religiously popular; she’s exerting influence in global finance, trade and commerce. Revelation 18 indicates she’s at the center of a global financial system!
Read verses 9 through 18. They paint a vivid picture of a globalized world in which this religion is the nucleus of world trade and commerce. When you study these two chapters, you get a portrait of a world revolving around a global financial system heavily influenced, if not created, by this “woman.”
Isn’t this astonishing? The Bible prophesies that the Catholic Church will be popular among many “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues,” and that it will play a decisive role in world government. But it also prophesies specifically that it will have a decisive influence over global trade and finance. Now look again at Pope Francis, the lowly, inconspicuous cardinal from Argentina. This man and his remarkable accomplishments are leading toward the fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation 17 and 18.
How sobering, yet how exciting!