I like a good conspiracy theory as well as the next guy. One of my favorites is the story of the Boy of  Bisley which purports that Queen Elizabeth I of England was really a man. The story is that the princess died in childhood and a red haired boy was substituted to avoid the King’s wrath.

Anyway, what’s intriguing about conspiracies is that there is always just enough shred of interesting fact combined with partial evidence, rumor and half truths to make the conspiracy theory believable. The same is true of prophecies that purport to tell us the future. There is always enough evidence to entice our imaginations to fill in the rest of the story and believe all of it. It’s rather like those trick pictures where you can see either the old woman or the young girl. Do you see what you want to see or do you make yourself see what you want to see?

The Catholic approach to prophecies and conspiracy theories is a common sense approach. As we do with supernatural phenomena, we neither dismiss them as impossible, nor do we swallow them hook, line and sinker.

We are called to disregard rumors and hearsay, engage our brains, gather the facts and think things through. Conspiracy theories and prophecies, like apparitions and visions and miracles, are exciting, but Catholic common sense demands that we put them in perspective and be level headed. We might have our head in the clouds, but we’re also supposed to have our feet on the ground.

A recent example is the St Malachy Prophecy. There has been a fair bit of hype about the next pope being the last pope. St Malachy was supposed to have prophesied in the mid eleventh century about 112 popes to the end of time. The problem is, the prophecy is almost certainly a forgery from the late sixteenth century written to influence a papal election at the time.

It is quite wrong to insist that the prophecy really is authentic just because you have an inclination to believe that the end times are upon us. The end times may very well be upon us, and Christ the Lord may be about to return in glory to judge the world, but it doesn’t do the faith or the witness of Catholics any good to insist that a forged “prophecy” has forecast the future and therefore it must be so.

Furthermore, it is even worse to come up with extravagant conspiracy theories that explain away the objections to the Malachy prophecy. To say that there was an inside plot in the Vatican to do away with the original manuscript or that the Vatican has an ulterior motive to dismiss and discredit the prophecy simply doesn’t cut it.

To admit that the Malachy Prophecy is a forgery or the apparitions of a certain seer are not authentic or that a certain “miracle” has a natural explanation does not mean we are cynical about all prophecies, miracles, apparitions or supernatural phenomena. We admit such things may happen, however, we always look for the natural explanation first.

This not only makes sense, but it also shows Catholics to be serious about their faith, but not crazy and unreasonable. It also presents a great witness. In the face of aggressive atheism and materialism we are not so close minded as to rule out miracles, but neither are we so open minded as to be gullible.