Recently, I was asked to evaluate CountdownToTheKingdom.com, and I concluded:
I consider Countdown to the Kingdom to be a website that presents a highly sensationalistic, speculative, and unlikely prophetic scenario that is put together from scattered pieces of information and interpretations that the authors favor.
Despite our disagreements, my contacts with people from Countdown have been cordial and professional, for which I gave them credit in the article.
I was heartened to see that, in his response, Mark Mallett of Countdown had words of praise for me and Catholic Answers, and he concluded, “We hope this response will continue the cordial dialogue between us and Jimmy Akin.”
I am happy to continue to dialogue in that spirit, though I remain concerned. As I wrote previously, “I do not see the authors exercising the type of critical thinking and discernment that would lend confidence to Countdown’s conclusions.”
Consider two statements from the reply:
The Timeline [on the website] is . . . self-evident that the “end of the world” is not imminent, as Mr. Akin seems to think we are saying.
Mr. Akin’s argument that a seer should only be considered believable if they are “approved” is not supported by either Scripture or Church teaching.
Neither of these is my view. Countdown promotes seers who claim that various prophetic events are imminent, but the end of the world is not one of those events. As Mr. Mallett says, their timeline makes this clear.
Similarly, I nowhere implied that a seer’s lack of Church approval means the seer is unreliable. Instead, I wrote:
Countdown has chosen not to use Church approval as the standard for deeming seers credible. How reliable is its own evaluation?
The website does not show evidence that the authors have conducted detailed investigations of the seers they recommend or, if they have, that they properly applied critical thinking to their cases and objectively weighed the evidence.
I thus indicated one can conduct independent investigations into a seer, though I find Countdown’s lacking.
By misreading what I wrote, Mr. Mallett has created a straw man and given his readers the impression he has refuted me, when he actually has refuted views that aren’t mine.
Unfortunately, a lack of careful reading and evaluation is common on Countdown—as are two additional tendencies displayed by enthusiasts of particular apparitions: the tendency to magnify the credibility and relevance of information they think supports their views and the tendency to minimize or ignore evidence that casts doubt on them.
These are exhibited in the responses to my evaluation of the extent to which Countdown’s timeline is supported by (1) Church Fathers, (2) the Magisterium, (3) Fatima, and (4) current, reliable seers.
Concerning the Fathers, Mr. Mallett disputes my claim that—in formulating its timeline—Countdown takes passages it likes from the Fathers’ divergent views on Revelation while ignoring others:
The Church Fathers most affirmatively did not “diverge widely” on their view of the proper interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Almost all of them believed firmly that it promised “the times of the kingdom” on earth, within history, during its final “millennium”—before Christ’s final coming in the flesh.
It is surprising he cites the Fathers’ understanding of the millennium, for the Fathers famously disagree on this.
In support of Countdown’s understanding, Mr. Mallett cites early sources such as the Letter of Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian on the millennium.
Yet he fails to mention that patristics scholars recognize each of these sources as supporting millenarianism—the view that there will be a physical resurrection of the righteous, after which they will reign with Christ on earth for a lengthy period before the final judgment (both the Church and Countdown reject millenarianism).
Countdown’s authors unambiguously pick and choose when they accept things they like that these sources say about the millennium and simultaneously reject things they don’t like on the same topic by the same authors! (See Barnabas 15:5, 7-8; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:32:1 [on himself], 5:33:3-4 [on Papias]; Justin, Dialogue 80-81; Tertullian, Against Marcion 3:24-25.)
Concerning the Magisterium, there is no easy way to say this, but the authors of Countdown do not appear to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a magisterial act or a Church teaching. (For a thorough treatment, see my book Teaching with Authority.)
- The Magisterium consists only of bishops teaching in union with the pope, and no statement made by a non-bishop is magisterial.
- Except for the pope, bishops speaking alone are able to issue teachings only for members of their own dioceses.
- Even when a bishop or pope speaks, he must do so in a way that authoritatively conveys a teaching for it to be an exercise of the Church’s magisterium. This is not the case when he merely expresses a hope, wish, fear, opinion, or speculation—or when he gives an interview or has a conversation.
Statements that do not fall in these categories don’t exercise the Church’s teaching authority. This includes statements by theologians, catechisms not authored by bishops, etc.
The only statements that engage the Church’s magisterium are made by men who are currently bishops (including the pope) to those they have authority over and when they declare a teaching authoritatively.
Yet in his section dealing with the Magisterium, Mr. Mallett cites, among others, statements by:
- Karol Wojtyła (not yet pope) in which he expresses an opinion in a talk outside his diocese
- Charles Arminjon (not a bishop)
- Paul VI in which he speculates in a private conversation
- Leo XIII in which he speculates
- Pius X in which he speculates
- Benedict XV in which he speculates
- Pius XI in which he speculates
- Canon George D. Smith (not a bishop)
- Louis de Montfort (not a bishop)
- Pius XII in which he speculates
- Joseph Ratzinger (not yet pope) in an interview in which he mentions a speculation of John Paul II
If Countdown thinks there are abundant Church teachings supporting its timeline, it would be because Countdown doesn’t have a clear grasp on what is and isn’t Church teaching.
Also, Countdown takes statements out of context to make them fit the timeline’s future scenario. When Benedict XV speculated in 1914 about wars arising in his day, he was talking about World War I, which had started a few months before. And when Pius XII speculated in 1944 about a hoped-for new era beginning, he was talking about the end of World War II, which concluded in Europe a few months later.
My original statement that “magisterial teachings on prophecy are minimal, and the popes have not provided teachings supporting the Countdown timeline” is true.
Countdown generates a contrary impression by citing statements made by people (a) who aren’t bishops; (b) who are bishops but aren’t pope and aren’t speaking to their subjects; or (c) who are popes but are expressing hopes, fears, or speculations rather than teachings—and by taking statements out of context and applying them to its timeline rather than the historical circumstance being addressed.
When it comes to Fatima, I stated that “the interpretation of it offered by the Magisterium holds that it dealt with events in the twentieth century, not events in our future.”
In response, Mr. Mallet cited a statement by Benedict XVI: “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.” By this, the pope merely meant that Fatima has lessons to teach us about how to live our lives. This is not the same as saying the fulfillment of its prophecies still lie in our future, and the Vatican interpretation—authored by Joseph Ratzinger—states:
Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed.
This would reject an attempt to back up future events on Countdown’s timeline using Fatima.
When it comes to current seers, I stand by my assertion that Countdown has not exercised proper critical discernment and, had it done so, it wouldn’t promote some seers it does.
Countdown’s pages on why it supports particular seers offer one-sidedly positive evaluations and ignore important evidence readers need to arrive at informed opinions.
The “Why Father Stephano Gobbi?” page makes no mention of his predictions tied to specific dates that failed to materialize or the opinions officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed about him.
I must mention the growing and unchecked flood of transcriptions, translations and publications both through print and the internet. At any rate, “seeing the delicacy of the current phase of the proceedings, any and every publication of the writings is absolutely forbidden at this time. Anyone who acts against this is disobedient and greatly harms the cause of the Servant of God (emphasis in original).
Countdown appears to violate this decree by publishing excerpts from her writings (e.g., here).
These “Why?” pages are linked on Countdown’s homepage and are thus where it directs readers to go to learn about and form opinions on these seers. Yet the pages omit important information and cautions and provide a one-sidedly positive portrayal.
Concerning approval of seers, Mr. Mallett states:
Mr. Akin further asserts that we have chosen seers who are not approved by the Church. On the contrary, nearly every seer here has some form of ecclesiastical approval to one degree or another.
When I refer to seers being approved, I mean that the competent authority has investigated and approved their apparitions under the CDF’s norms.
Almost none of the seers Countdown promotes have this approval, as illustrated by the claim that they merely have “some form of ecclesiastical approval to one degree or another.”
Like many enthusiastic supporters of unapproved apparitions, Mr. Mallett inflates the “approval” they have. Having a priest, bishop, or cardinal say nice things about a seer is not approval. Neither is putting an imprimatur on a book. (That just means it doesn’t contain doctrines the Church has declared false.) Nor does being declared a saint mean that the person’s visions have been investigated and approved.
The worst case of Countdown’s lack of critical thinking is its promotion of Fr. Michel Rodrigue.
I won’t here go into whether his bishops’ recent repudiations constitute formal condemnations, but this man is simply not credible. As I wrote, “he appears to be a fabulist who either greatly embellishes or manufactures significant elements of his life story.”
Fr. Rodrigue claims that on Christmas Eve 2009, he was saying Mass in Montreal when a woman suffered cardiac arrest and was verified as dead by doctors. Then Fr. Rodrigue miraculously raised her from the dead and sent her by ambulance to the local hospital to be checked out. The woman arrived back from the hospital before the end of Mass and came through a door that miraculously opened by itself. Upon seeing her return, the congregation applauded.
This is not credible. Anyone who goes into a hospital reporting that he even thinks he might be having a heart attack—much less someone who has just been revived from full cardiac arrest—will spend hours being tested and observed. There is no way the woman in Fr. Rodrigue’s story would get back to the church by the end of Mass.
Similarly, Fr. Rodrigue claims that, when eating in a Banff restaurant, he was infected by a Russian bio-weapon and that this was verified at a local hospital. But instead of the restaurant being closed and there being an immediate investigation by Canadian military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies, he was allowed to make a five-day road trip back to Montreal.
For the full context on Fr. Rodrigue’s non-believable tales, including audio recordings in his own voice and exact transcripts, see this episode of Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. If amazing events like these had happened, there would be extensive documentation, and there isn’t. Absent documentation, one must conclude that either Fr. Rodrigue is not capable of separating fantasy from reality or that he is telling self-aggrandizing lies.
Either way, Countdown is not showing the kind of critical thinking and discernment with its sources that would lend credibility to its timeline.