Prophecy has always existed in the Church in one form or another. Like all the charisms, when prophecy is authentic it is an aid to the magisterium’s role to sanctify, teach and govern. Prophecy requires the careful discernment of the Church, especially when it takes the form of an apparent special revelation from God or the foretelling of the future. Since the death of the last Apostle, prophecy belongs to the category of private revelation.
There also less extraordinary ways in which the spirit of prophecy may manifest itself, such as the influence that the charism of a religious institute may have on the historical circumstances in which it is given. This too is subject to the discernment of the Church.
The charisms are bestowed, not for the sanctification of the ones to whom they are given, but for the “edification” (the building up) of the Church. One might say that the charisms are a common good. This is why it is the magisterium’s responsibility to discern whether a charism is coherent with the deposit of faith and whether in practice it can be integrated harmoniously into the life of the Church.
St. Francis of Assisi, for example, received a prophetic grace directly from Christ with the explicit command to rebuild the Church. The magisterium had to decide whether this was an authentic charism, that is, whether in fact Francis really had the grace to rebuild the Church, or whether on the other hand he might do more harm than good.
Even when the Church acknowledges that a charism is authentic, it remains the Church’s responsibility to regulate the charism and to make sure that its exercise remains harmoniously integrated into the life of the Church. This is what St. Paul did in Corinth when he directed the Christians to moderate themselves in their exercise of the gifts of tongues and prophecy. He acknowledged that they had these gifts directly from the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, he imposed rules on the exercise of the charisms so that the Church in Corinth would not be overcome by chaos (see 1 Cor 14).
Over the course of its existence, the Church also intervened in the life of the Franciscans, whose prophetic role had already been acknowledged. The medieval orders where indeed prophetic instruments for the edification of the Church, but sometimes their members went astray. The Franciscan Spirituals of the 14th c., for example, thought that St. Francis was the great prophet of a new age of the Holy Spirit in which the Church and her sacraments would no longer be necessary. Needless to say the Church had to sort out this problem. It almost led to the Order’s suppression.
Sometimes the prophetic charism comes in even less noticeable ways, when, for example, the reasoning of learned men, is assisted in a special way to discern clearly—perhaps even more clearly than the magisterium—a particular need in the Church, or a particular problem. The Church must not despise these graces, but neither can she neglect to fulfill her obligation to discern the spirit.
For example, theologians and historians still argue over whether Savonarola was a builder or a destroyer—a prophet or a false-prophet, a precocious thinker, or maybe even a real prophet who just got all balled-up. Remember charismatic graces do not by themselves make anyone holy.
In the end, it is the ecclesial principle that remains operative: Is the alleged prophecy consistent with the deposit of faith in the judgment of the magisterium? Can it be integrated harmoniously into the life of the Church under the guidance of the magisterium?
This is not always a simple matter. Maybe in order for there to be harmony in the Church the prophet has to go so far as has to rebuke the Pope, as was the case with St. Catherine of Sienna. Sometimes harmony is not the immediate effect of true prophecy. But discernment even in this matter belongs to the magisterium, and not to the alleged prophet.
Rorate Caeli has prophesied that between 100 to 200 friars are leaving the Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate because they are being deprived of the ability to live the charism they have been given by God. Apparently RC knows something that no one else does, because the numbers just are not there. And now Roberto de Mattei suggests that 400 religious want to leave the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate for the same reasons. But the numbers aren’t there either. So is this prophecy or false prophecy? Just speculation, however irresponsible? Or what about self-fulfilling prophecy?
Political manipulation is nothing new in the Church, but this is being justified in the name of Tradition, and also—believe it or not—in the name of religious liberty. De Mattei appeals to the supremacy of conscience in this matter. De Mattei and Rorate Caeli are convinced the Church is wrong and literally hope for a grand exodus of religious from the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
This prophecy says the friars and sisters, as professed Catholic religious, have an inalienable right to choose their religion, regardless of what the magisterium says. And De Mattei admits that logically this means that these religious may have to follow their prophecy right into the arms of the SSPX.
Pat Archbold sees this coming too, and blames it on “ecclesiastical McCarthyism.” Supposedly, the source of disunity, disharmony, and potentially the loss of ecclesial communion, is the magisterium exercising its duty to discern and regulate charisms.
One of the unfortunate characteristics of false prophecy is incorrigibility. Those who falsely think God is speaking directly to them are hard to correct. When signs of this sort rise to the surface the Church becomes apprehensive. When they persist, the Church moves in. One does not need to be a prophet to predict this.