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Editor’s note: The following video shows Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, addressing Pope Benedict XVI on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013.

Did Pope Benedict XVI line up his successor and then resign to fulfill a 900-year-old prophecy that the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church would be history’s “final pope?”

The idea was posed by Tom Horn, co-author of the book “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here.”

As WND reported, Horn and his co-author, Cris Putnam, accurately predicted Benedict would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign.

Horn believes the last pope, called “Petrus Romanus” in the prophecy by Irish Archbishop St. Malachy, could be the man who is set to take over interim leadership the moment Benedict resigns Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. local time, becoming the acting Vatican head of state.

The claim centers on Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro (Peter in English) Evasio Bertone, born in Romano Canavese, Piedmont, the current secretary of state for the Vatican, who Pope Benedict XVI appointed Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church April 4, 2007.

In the period known as “sede vacante,” when there is no sitting pope, Bertone will be called upon as Camerlengo to serve as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Get “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here” at the WND Superstore

He will be in charge until the College of Cardinals attending the upcoming Papal Conclave in the Sistine Chapel select a new pope.

Did Benedict choose his successor?

Benedict XVI has made decisions that indicate Bertone could be, or at least once was, his choice for successor, Horn told WND.

Working alongside Bertone, Benedict appeared to be “stacking the deck” in Bertone’s favor Jan. 6, 2012, when he named 22 new cardinals. Most are Europeans, primarily Italians, already holding key Vatican positions.

As a result, Europeans currently number over half of all cardinal-electors, 67 out of 125. Nearly a quarter of all voters in the conclave will be Italian.

“When he appointed these new cardinals,” Horn said, “Benedict seemed to put his definitive stamp on an Italian successor, stacking the College of Cardinals, those who could be called upon to give Bertone the so-called apostolic chair of St. Peter.”

Horn said the idea was not Benedict’s alone.

Most Vatican experts attribute the large number of Italian appointments to the influence of Bertone, he said.

WND sources in Rome close to the Vatican previously suggested Benedict may have resigned in part because he wanted to have a hand, even if indirect, in influencing the selection of his successor.

The sources further argue that by selecting “Benedict” as his papal name, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, though not a priest of the Benedictine Order, sought to identify his papacy with Malachy’s prohecy that the next-to-last pope would be identified by the epithet Gloria olivae, translated as “Glory of the Olive,” knowing the Benedictine Order is associated by tradition with olives.

By setting up the College of Cardinals to elevate an Italian cardinal to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI could help fulfill the Malachy prophecy, making Cardinal Bertone – “Peter of Romano” by virtue of one of his given names and his place of birth – the “final pope.”

On Tuesday, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters at a Vatican briefing that Pope Benedict XVI would have no say in the selection of his successor, telling reporters the pope “will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of the election” for his successor.

Benedict “will not interfere in any way,” Lombardi insisted.

The Third Secret of Fatima

Horn suspects Cardinal Bertone is at the center of a Vatican cover-up to prevent the release of the complete version of what is known as the highly controversial “Third Secret of Fatima,” allegedly given by the Virgin Mary in an appearance to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, July 13, 1917.

Bertone, who turned 78 in December, had a long history with Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI.

From 1995 to 2002, Ratzinger worked with Bertone as his No. 2 at the influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican.

A few months after he was elected pope, Benedict asked Bertone to take up the position of Vatican secretary of state, the position Bertone holds to this day.

In January 2010, when Bertone reached 75, the age of retirement for Curia cardinals, he presented a letter of resignation to the pope. Benedict was adamant he needed Bertone to stay on as Vatican head of state, because he wanted to maintain “their precious collaboration,” as reported by Andrea Tornielli in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Benedict has steadfastly supported Bertone through a series of crises that have called into question Bertone’s integrity and honesty, including a money-laundering scandal involving the Vatican Bank, formerly known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or IOR. The scandal resulted in the sacking of the bank’s head, Gotti Tedeschi, a highly respected Italian economist and banker, as well as Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler, who was criminally prosecuted for confiscating and photocopying more than 1,000 pages of sensitive Vatican documents over six years that he released to an Italian journalist for publication.

In their role of directing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinals Ratzinger and Bertone released for the fist time to the public “The Third Secret of Fatima” at a press conference June 26, 2000.

In 2007, Bertone published a book, “The Last Secret of Fatima,” with a foreword authored by Benedict XVI, defending the publicly released text of “Third Secret” as the entire secret, arguing that in publishing the text, the Catholic Church had withheld nothing.

“The Third Secret of Fatima” involves a highly controversial End Times vision of an assassination attempt on a future pope that is occasioned by moral corruption and lack of faith among the clergy.

Pope John Paul II believed Our Lady of Fatima intervened to save his life in the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima.

The current controversy began when Italian journalist and television personality Antonio Socci and American attorney Christopher Ferrara began publishing the claim the Vatican had refused to publish a second part of “Third Secret” that contained the words of the Virgin as revealed to the children of Fatima.

Socci and Ferrara contend the hidden text predicts catastrophes for the Catholic Church and the world that involve End Days punishment by God, leading to Jesus Christ returning to earth for Judgment Day.

Did Benedict XVI plan to resign in 2009?

Celestine V was the last pope to resign, in 1294, after only five months in office. He was a hermit who was greatly revered for his sanctity and his miracles.

On April 28, 2009, in a visit to view Celestine’s remains in the badly damaged Santa Maria di Collemaggio after the disastrous 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, Pope Benedict XVI left the woolen pallium he wore during his papal inauguration in April 2005 on Clement’s glass casket as a gift.

To mark the 800th anniversary of Celestine’s birth, Benedict proclaimed the Celestine Year from Aug. 28, 2009, to Aug. 29, 2010.

Benedict was the only pope to visit Pope Celestine V’s tomb, a sign many have taken that he had contemplated resignation for some time before he made the announcement earlier this week.

On Dec. 13, 1294, on the Feast of Saint Lucy, Celestine V read the following statement to the cardinals who assembled to hear his news: “I, Celestine V, moved by valid reasons, that is, by humility, by desire for a better life, by a troubled conscience, troubles of body, a lack of knowledge, personal shortcomings, and so that I may then proceed to a life of greater humility, voluntarily and without compunction give up the papacy and renounce its position and dignity, burdens, and honors, with full freedom. I now instruct the Sacred College of cardinals to elect and provide, according to the cannons, a shepherd for the universal church.”

As recounted by John Sweeney in a 2012 book, “The Pope Who Quit,” Celestine V declared himself “useless,” stepped down from the papal throne and removed his ring, tiara and mantle, handing them to the cardinals who had elected him; he then sat down on the floor.

He put on the dress of the simplest of friars – the gray habit of a Celestine hermit – and secreted away from the crowd outside to return to the mountains.

What will be next for Pope Benedict XVI? Is there a spiritual connection between the hermit pope and the scholar?

Malachy’s predictions

St. Malachy, an Irish saint and the archbishop of Armagh, who lived from 1094 to 1l48, is attributed with a vision of the last 112 popes from which he created a prophetic list. He named with a descriptive epithet each pope in succession from Celestine II, who was pope from 1143-1144, to the present day.

Malachy described the last pope as “Petrus Romanus,” or “Peter the Roman,” writing: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock among many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people.”

In 1880, M. J. O’Brien, a Catholic priest, published in Dublin a book providing a “historical and critical account” of the prophecy of St. Malachy regarding the succession of the popes.

O’Brien understood that Malachy’s prophecy was declaring that in the reign of the pope identified as Petrus Romanus the end of the world would come, culminating in Jesus Christ descending to earth for Judgment Day.

O’Brien said Malachy’s vision occurred while he was in Rome for a month, visiting and praying at the Eternal City’s many historical and holy sites.

“The sight of the ruins of Pagan Rome, the tombs of the Apostles, the thought of so many thousands of martyrs, the presence of [Pope] Innocent II, who had been obligated to wander so many years in France and elsewhere on account of the anti-pope Anaclete – all this, I say, filled the mind of St. Malachy with deep and sad reflections and he was forced to cry out in the words of the old prophets: ‘Usquequo, Domine non misereberis Sion?’ – ‘How long, O Lord! wilt Thou not have mercy on Sion?’”

O’Brien continued:

And God Answered: “Until the end of the world the Church will be both militant and triumphant. Until the end of time the sufferings of my passion and the mysteries of my cross must be continued on earth, and I shall be with you until the end of the world.” And then was unfolded before the gaze of the holy bishop of Armagh the long line of illustrious pilots who were to guide the storm-tossed bark of Peter until the end.

Malachy gave his manuscript to Innocent II, born Gregorio Papareschi, who was pope from 1130 to 1143. Innocent placed the manuscript in the Vatican archives, where the document remained unknown until its discovery in 1590.

Through the past 900 years, various critics have questioned the authenticity and the accuracy of St. Malachy’s prophecy, often arguing the methods employed by some of Malachy’s interpreters in applying his epithets to certain popes have been tortuous.

In a modern 1969 version of Malachy’s prophecies, Archbishop H. E. Cardinale, the apostolic nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, wrote “it is fair to say the vast majority of Malachy’s predictions about successive Popes is amazingly accurate – always remembering that he gives only a minimum of information.”

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