Lutherans Make Room for Atheist Minister

Rev. Who Denied God Exists Back in Pulpit

from Associated Press

TAARBAEK, Denmark - A Danish Lutheran minister who publicly denied the existence of God said Sunday he was glad to be back in the pulpit, but refused to speak about the case that led to his brief suspension last year.

Rev. Thorkild Grosboell was showered with flowers, hugs and kisses after holding a service in a church in this village eight miles north of Copenhagen.

"It was great, great," Grosboell said after the service, but refused to speak to reporters about the case, which he described in his sermon as "nonsense."

The country's Evangelical Lutheran Church suspended him in June 2004 because he said in an interview that "there is no heavenly God." Earlier this month, he was reinstated after renewing his vows, but will remain under the supervision of a bishop.

Some 250 people filled the small, 140-year-old, red-brick church and then gathered on a nearby lawn for a drink to celebrate the popular minister's return.

In Denmark, where Lutheran ministers are employed by the state and only the government can fire them or take them to court, the church requested Grosboell be placed before a disciplinary labor court for doubting eternal life and the resurrection.

The government refused, saying he should be given another chance to explain himself to Jan Lindhardt, a regional bishop who has been one of his few defenders. Lindhardt has said that although he disagrees with Grosboell's views there should be room for him in Denmark's state church.

On May 20, Grosboell renewed his clerical vows before Lindhardt, but said his views about God remain unchanged.

Psst: Devils Don't Really Exist, So Hush

Devils Steaming Over Criticism of Name

from Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. - What chance do the New Jersey Devils give a proposal that would give the pro hockey franchise a less demonic name? Think hell freezing over.

"I can assure you the Devils name will never change, and I think there are more important things to be thinking about than something that will never happen," team CEO Lou Lamoriello said. "It's who we are and what we want to be."

State Assemblyman Craig Stanley is taking issue with a satanic symbol representing the state's National Hockey League team, which has won three Stanley Cup championships.

"This is an age where symbolism is very important," said Stanley, a Baptist deacon whose resolution to rename the team is to be introduced in the Assembly next month. A new name would be chosen in a statewide competition.

Stanley's legislative district includes parts of Newark, where the Devils are scheduled to move into a $310 million, 18,000-seat downtown arena in September 2007, from the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford.

"I've always cringed when people say they're going to see the Devils," said Stanley. "The merchandise, the paraphernalia is based on the actual demonic devil. Personally, it causes a little bit of an issue with me."

The team's mascot is red, cartoonish figure with horns and a goatee.

However, the team's name, chosen in a 1982 fan contest, comes from the mythical Jersey Devil, not the Christian symbol of the antichrist, according to Weird N.J., a travel guide to the state's most offbeat attractions.

The mythical Jersey Devil — with bat-like wings, a forked tail and oversized claws — was said to terrorize Pine Barrens dwellers in the 18th-century after being born the 13th child to poor South Jerseyans and morphing into a dinosaur-like beast.

Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey agrees that the name should stay as is. Team owner Jeff Vanderbeek gave the proposal a less-than-enthusiastic reception.

"He's hellbent on keeping the Devils name," Stanley said.


So God Hates Fags and Fag-Lovers

Religion: The root of all evil.

Church Ousts Minister for Supporting Gays

from PlanetOut / Associated Press

ELKINS, W.Va. - The congregation of Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church has voted to fire its minister after he wrote a newspaper story supporting homosexuals.

"Gay and lesbian Christians are no different than the rest of us," the Rev. Jeff Falter wrote in a Feb. 26 article in the Inter-Mountain of Elkins. "They deserve full equality in the church and in society, for they are my brothers and sisters, people for whom Christ died."

That passage led members to vote 100-72 last Sunday to request that the Presbytery of West Virginia - the regional governing body - dissolve the church's pastoral relationship with Falter effective next Wednesday.


What Would Jesus Drive?

Jesus Christ Battling for His Name in US

from AFP

WASHINGTON - Jesus Christ is having trouble convincing US courts to let him keep his name.

It's not the Messiah who is facing this problem, of course, but an American small business owner who, some 15 years ago, adopted the name of the Christian God's son.

The man, born Peter Robert Phillips Jr., started his legal battle in 2003 when authorities in West Virginia refuses to put his godly name on the property he bought in the southern state.

While his new name was on his passport, driver's license, and social security card, the local authorities asked him for official proof of his name change.

So Jesus went to a district court in Washington, where he currently lives and where he has now been fighting a two-year battle to use his Biblical name.

"The judge wrote a lengthy opinion citing scriptures, the Bible and so on, to show that taking the name of Jesus Christ is blasphemy and therefore by extrapolation will cause violent reaction," Jesus Christ's attorney, Afshin Pishewar, said Tuesday.

The US capital "permits a common law name change at will. You can change your name as long as it's not for a fraudulent purpose," Pishewar said.

An appeals court overturned the judge in late April, and a new hearing should take place in the next two months, the attorney said.

"We've been remanded for a second coming," he said. "We look forward to the hearing so we can have redemption."

Jesus Christ, described by his attorney as a "devout" Christian, adopted the name to "express his respect and love for his religion."

But the white haired man in his 50s, who drives a bus for mentally handicapped people, is a "private man" and would not speak with reporters, Pishewar said.

"Jesus is not speaking to the press at this time," he said.


Islanders Terrorized by Sodomizing Gremlin!

Belief in Sex-Mad Demon Tests Nerves

from Reuters

CHAKE CHAKE, Tanzania - Mohammed Juma starts to sweat and fidget as he recalls his rape by Popo Bawa, the most feared spirit-monster of the Zanzibar spice islands.

"We believe reading the Koran is our only defense, nothing else," says the 41-year-old driver and father of four. "But Popo Bawa is real, and well prepared."

Vacationers on the Indian Ocean islands tend to smile dismissively at accounts in guidebooks of the bat-like ogre said to prey on men, women and children. But for superstitious Zanzibaris a visit from the sodomizing gremlin is no joke.

Although no one ever has seen it, belief in the monster and his unnatural lust is so strong that entire villages will sleep out of doors for protection: Popo Bawa (Swahili for Bat's Wing) prefers to attack behind closed doors at night.

In huts set amid rustling groves of jackfruit and mangoes on Zanzibar's Pemba island, victims told Reuters in interviews that they detected a bad smell, became cold and went into a trance in the moments before they felt the creature's inhuman strength.

Some attacks were heralded by the sound of giant wings and claws rattling and scraping on huts' tin roofs. Others cringed in terror at what sounded like a car engine ticking over.

"We heard a rustling on the roof," recalls Asha Saleh, in her late 50s, in Machomanne village near Pemba's main town of Chake Chake. "I felt someone fondling me. I felt very cold. I felt weak," she said, recalling the attack some 35 years ago.

"I couldn't call out for help to my husband who was lying asleep beside me. Popo Bawa is strong: He really presses down on you. And it took such a long time: One hour! Eventually I lost consciousness. And I was one of many who were attacked."

Successive waves of colonizers and traders - Arabs, Portuguese, Hindus, Chinese, Britons, Persians and Africans - left behind a multinational array of legends on Zanzibar.

Accordingly, many dismiss Popo Bawa as another of the satanic stories swapped over the centuries by migratory Indian Ocean peoples as they moved back and forth on the tides from Indonesia to the Comoros, from Madagascar to the Maldives.

Zanzibar's distinctive past as an Arab-run slave market prompted some academics to speculate that the story of Popo Bawa emerged from a collective race memory of the horrors of slavery.

But Popo Bawa is unlike the many goblins believed by the islanders to populate the tall grasses that ring their huts.

Many on the islands are adept at exorcisms, placing charms at the base of fig trees or sacrificing goats to avert evil or draw favor from the spirit world.

So experienced are the isles' traditional healers that they draw visitors from the Gulf and east Africa, with the successful amassing riches and prestige.

But no placatory offering or witch doctor can deflect Popo Bawa when he has made his mind up to strike, islanders say.

The monster favors Pemba, the poorer and more backward of the archipelago's twin islands despite being home to the clove plantations that provide the mainstay of Zanzibar's economy.

He also becomes active at election time: a habit that is testing nerves ahead of polls due in October.

His last major visitation was during elections in 1995, when Juma says he endured his terrifying ordeal, although some reported his presence again in 2000 and in 2001.

Pemba's population are staunch opposition supporters. Many accuse the ruling party of Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa of neglecting the island since 1964, when Zanzibar merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

But Juma says Popo Bawa is apolitical even though electoral emotions seem to summon him from the beyond. "He can strike even if the opposition wins the elections," he said.

The driver vows to do his utmost to avoid what happened to him back in 1995 as he sat alone late one evening.

"Many were afraid and were sleeping outside. But I was confident and was alone in my room. I was reading the Koran for protection. After about 20 minutes I started feeling sleepy. I heard something falling on the roof. I continued reciting. I started feeling something in the room.

"I felt my mouth becoming bigger and bigger. I started losing my ability to form words. My feeling was that my lower lip had stretched to my lap. I felt weak in my body. I became very sweaty. My experience was like that of a neighbor of mine who said his head seemed to grow to an enormous size."

Popo Bawa gets annoyed if villagers deny his existence - a fact to which Khamis Juma Hamad says he can testify.

Hamad, a retired village chief now aged 75, said that in 1971 Popo Bawa spoke to terrified villagers on Pemba through a girl possessed by the monster.

"I am Popo Bawa," said the girl, called Fatuma, speaking in the unnaturally deep voice of a man. "You have challenged my existence so I have come to prove I am here."

Seconds later, he says, the villagers heard the sound of a car revving and a rustle on a nearby roof - signs of Popo Bawa. "The people felt cold, almost paralyzed. They were terrified."


All Praise to Brad Pitt!

Scientology Losing Ground to New Fictionology

from The Onion

LOS ANGELES — According to a report released Monday by the American Institute of Religions, the Church of Scientology, once one of the fastest-growing religious organizations in the U.S., is steadily losing members to the much newer religion Fictionology.

"Unlike Scientology, which is based on empirically verifiable scientific tenets, Fictionology's central principles are essentially fairy tales with no connection to reality," the AIR report read. "In short, Fictionology offers its followers a mythical belief system free from the cumbersome scientific method to which Scientology is hidebound."

Created in 2003 by self-proclaimed messiah Bud Don Ellroy, Fictionology's principles were first outlined in the self-help paperback Imaginetics: The New Pipe-Dream Of Modern Mental Make-Believe.

Fictionology's central belief, that any imaginary construct can be incorporated into the church's ever-growing set of official doctrines, continues to gain popularity. Believers in Santa Claus, his elves, or the Tooth Fairy are permitted — even encouraged — to view them as deities. Even corporate mascots like the Kool-Aid Man are valid objects of Fictionological worship.

"My personal savior is Batman," said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Greg Jurgenson. "My wife chooses to follow the teachings of the Gilmore Girls. Of course, we are still beginners. Some advanced-level Fictionologists have total knowledge of every lifetime they have ever lived for the last 80 trillion years."

"Sure, it's total bullshit," Jurgenson added. "But that's Fictionology. Praise Batman!"

While the Church of Fictionology acknowledges that its purported worldwide membership of 450 billion is an invented number, the AIR report estimates that as many as 70 percent of the church's followers are former Scientologists.

Church of Scientology public-relations spokesman Al Kurz said he was "shocked" when he learned that Fictionology is approaching the popularity of his religion.

"Scientology is rooted in strict scientific principles, such as the measurement of engrams in the brain by the E-Meter," Kurz said. "Scientology uses strictly scientific methodologies to undo the damage done 75 million years ago by the Galactic Confederation's evil warlord Xenu—we offer our preclear followers procedures to erase overts in the reactive mind. Conversely, Fictionology is essentially just a bunch of make-believe nonsense."

Hollywood actor David McSavage, who converted to Fictionology last year, attempted to explain.

"Scientology can only offer data, such as how an Operating Thetan can control matter, energy, space, and time with pure thought alone," McSavage said. "But truly spiritual people don't care about data, especially those seeking an escape from very real physical, mental, or emotional problems."

McSavage added, "As a Fictionologist, I live in a world of pretend. It's liberating."

A tax-exempt organization, the Church of Fictionology stands poised to become a great moneymaking power if it continues to grow at its current rate — a situation Kurz called "outrageous."

"In recruiting new members, Fictionology preys on the gullible with fanciful stories and simple-minded solutions," Kurz said. "Fictionology is depriving legitimate churches of the revenue they need to carry out charitable works worldwide — important charitable works like clearing the planet of body-thetan implants."

Expect a Bush Court Appointment

Pastor Accused of Running Out Dems Quits

from Associated Press

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. - A Baptist pastor accused of threatening to banish from his church anyone who didn't vote for President Bush has himself chosen to depart, leaving in his wake a divided community and a cultural chasm.

The Rev. Chan Chandler, 33, walked out of the church he had led for three years Tuesday night after delivering a brief statement of resignation. With him went many of the young congregants he had attracted to the modest brick church on the outskirts of this small mountain town in western North Carolina.

In leaving, Chandler did not apologize for the controversy that made him a national lightning rod — the claims by some church members that they were told to leave if they voted for Democratic nominee John Kerry.

"For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family," Chandler said. "I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family."

The dispute that engulfed East Waynesville Baptist Church in recent months would have sounded familiar to many an American congregation: Aging congregation brings in dynamic young preacher to turn things around. New pastor attracts young members who push for change in traditional ways of doing things. Battle ensues.

Members said the troubles had been simmering since last fall, when Chandler endorsed Bush and denounced Kerry from the pulpit — saying those who planned to vote for the Democrat should "repent or resign."

Tensions escalated last week, when several members said Chandler called a meeting of the church's board of deacons and declared his intention for East Waynesville to become a politically active church. Anyone who did not like that direction was free to leave, Chandler said — a statement that caused nine members to walk out.

Many of those who opposed Chandler's leadership said they agreed with the pastor's positions on abortion and other hot-button religious topics, but disliked linking those beliefs to specific political positions and candidates.

As Chandler and his wife drove out of the church's parking lot followed by a police escort, about 40 of his supporters walked out as well, with many saying they were resigning their memberships.

"I'm not going to serve with the ungodly," an angry Misty Turner declared.


Air Force Christians Persecute Nonbelievers

Air Force Probes Religious Bias Charges at Academy

from CNN

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Air Force said Tuesday it will appoint a task force to investigate allegations of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy.

Among the items to be reviewed will be Air Force policy and guidance concerning religious respect and tolerance at the academy, said acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael Dominguez.

Some 55 complaints of religious discrimination have been filed going back to 2001, prompting school officials to require that all 9,000 cadets and faculty and staff members take a 50-minute course on religious sensitivity, academy officials said.

In addition, a report last week by a Washington-based religious liberty group accused cadets and staff members of creating a climate that discriminated against non-Christians at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"We have concluded that both the specific violations and the promotion of a culture of official religious intolerance are pervasive, systematic and evident at the very highest levels of the academy's command structure," said the report from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The group, which according to its Web site is a nonpartisan, nonsectarian organization founded in 1947 to defend the principle of religious freedom, said its investigation and report were based on "numerous complaints from a variety of sources."

Among the allegations are that cadets are frequently pressured to attend chapel and take religious instruction, particularly in the evangelical Christian faith; that prayer is a part of mandatory events at the academy; and that in at least one case a teacher ordered students to pray before beginning their final examination.

The report said it found that non-Christian cadets are subjected to "proselytization or religious harassment" by more senior cadets; and that cadets of other religions are subject to discrimination, such as being denied passes off-campus to attend religious services.

The report said that in at least two cases "highly qualified individuals were dissuaded from attending the academy...after learning of the official culture of religious intolerance and hostility toward those who do not subscribe to and practice evangelical Christianity.

"When the Air Force is denied the service of the country's best and brightest young people because they feel excluded from the academy by religious intolerance, the armed forces and the nation as a whole are weakened," the report said.

The Air Force said its investigating task force will comprise Air Force officials, including a representative of the general counsel's office and a chaplain. The team is expected to report to the academy in about a week.

The task force is expected to examine academy commanders who may "enhance or detract from a climate that respects both the free exercise of religion and the establishment clauses of the First Amendment," according to an Air Force statement.

The investigation follows a sexual assault scandal that rocked the academy in 2003.

More than 90 percent of the academy's students identify themselves as Christians - 60 percent Protestant and 30 percent Catholic.

About 1 percent are Jewish and the rest is made up of Mormons, Hindus and Buddhists, among others, according to academy officials.

Complaints ranging from anti-Semitic slurs to teachers preaching in class were mounting with the school's chaplain last summer, according to school officials.

In one case, students promoted the Mel Gibson movie Passion of the Christ by plastering hundreds of movie posters in the cafeteria. Students also used their school e-mail accounts to promote the movie, prompting the superintendent of the school to clarify that students could not use government e-mail to promote their religion.

In another instance, the commandant of the academy, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, a born-again-Christian, drew fire from at least one student who said the general put God in front of the Constitution in a speech to students.

The student who filed the complaint noted that as a member of the military one first swears allegiance to the Constitution and then to God.

Officials said none of the complaints appeared to have involved physical attacks and none were reported at the time they occurred.

Officials said most of the incidents were either verbal or actions that insulted another religion.

None of the complaints involved broken laws or violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but officials said that several students have been counseled for their actions.

No punishments have been handed down for religious intolerance issues, but one case is being investigated by the Air Force inspector general and they could not comment on it, academy officials said.

The Air Force has said that a survey of cadets in 2004 uncovered "perceptions of religious bias."

Of the more than 3,500 cadets who responded, more than 50 percent agreed that religious slurs and jokes are used.

Conversely, just fewer than 50 percent reported they "never" heard demeaning comments.

Nearly 50 percent of non-Christian cadets surveyed said classmates have a low tolerance for those who do not "follow a religion" or "believe in a divine being."


When Nuns Attack!

The year is 2028. Earth is at war. Following their successful colonization of the planet, during the period history has dubbed "The Nun Landing", these once peaceful visitors made known their true intentions.

First came The Invasion in Nun Lander...

Their first act of war: The detonation of their secret weapon, Pope John Paul II. The blast wiped out mush of southern Europe, and a shadow of interstellar hostility fell across the globe...

Nearly three decades of war were to follow. Now we find ourselves at the turning of the tide...

And now comes The War in Nun Gunner!

A great army has amassed on the Nun Homeworld - an army the likes of which has never been imagined. They are coming. May God have pity on our souls...

Get That Nun!


Backwards-Ass Still Science Kansas

Evolution on Trial as Kansas Debates Adam vs Darwin

from Reuters

TOPEKA, Kan - Evolution is going on trial in Kansas.

Eighty years after a famed courtroom battle in Tennessee pitted religious beliefs about the origins of life against the theories of British scientist Charles Darwin, Kansas is holding its own hearings on what school children should be taught about how life on Earth began.

The Kansas Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin on Thursday in the capitol Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.

Many prominent U.S. scientific groups have denounced the debate as founded on fallacy and have promised to boycott the hearings, which opponents say are part of a larger nationwide effort by religious interests to gain control over government.

"I feel like I'm in a time warp here," said Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray who has agreed to defend evolution as valid science. "To debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round. It is an absurd proposition."

Irigonegaray's opponent will be attorney John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, a Kansas organization that argues the Earth was created through intentional design rather than random organism evolution.

The group is one of many that have been formed over the last several years to challenge the validity of evolutionary concepts and seek to open the schoolroom door to ideas that humans and other living creatures are too intricately designed to have come about randomly.

While many call themselves creationists, who believe that God was the ultimate designer of all life, they are stopping short of saying creationism should be taught in schools.

"We're not against evolution," said Calvert. "But there is a lot of evidence that suggests that life is the product of intelligence. I think it is inappropriate for the state to prejudge the question whether we are the product of design or just an occurrence."

Debates over evolution are currently being waged in more than a dozen states, including Texas where one bill would allowing for creationism to be taught alongside evolution.

Kansas has been grappling with the issue for years, garnering worldwide attention in 1999 when the state school board voted to downplay evolution in science classes.

Subsequent elections altered the membership of the school board and led to renewed backing for evolution instruction in 2001. But elections last year gave religious conservatives a 6-4 majority and the board is now finalizing new science standards, which will guide teachers about how and what to teach students.

School board member Sue Gamble, who describes herself as a moderate, said she will not attend the hearings, which she calls "a farce." She said the argument over evolution is part of a larger agenda by Christian conservatives to gradually alter the legal and social landscape in the United States.

"I think it is a desire by a minority... to establish a theocracy, both within Kansas and growing to a national level," Gamble said.

US Funds Bible Class As 'School'

FFRF Sues Department of Education over Alaska Bible College

from Freedom From Religion Foundation

The national Freedom From Religion Foundation, a freethought association working to keep church and state separate, filed a federal lawsuit on April 21 against the Department of Education's massive federal funding of Alaska Christian College in Soldotna, Alaska.

The 3-year-old unaccredited "college" is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska. It offers no academic classes, such as math or English, or degrees. It enrolls only 37 students who wish to "brush up on their Biblical knowledge," go into the ministry, or "learn what it means to become a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ."

The lawsuit is challenging the most recent allotment of federal dollars to the school, $435,000 allocated in the 2005 omnibus funding bill passed in late November, at the request of Alaska's only House member, Rep. Don Young. Half of the bible school's funding to date has been public, with the school receiving more than $1 million in aid, amounting to an unprecedented $20,000 per student.

Its website identifies the school as "a Bible centered college," where students "study and apply God's Word" and "serve Christ." In website advice to students about supplies to bring, "Bible" is at the top of the list.

Alaska Christian College is the only unaccredited, nondegree school in the nation that got money in 2004 from the federal Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

The Juneau Empire editorialized (Dec. 28, 2004) against the "astonishing amount of public money [lavished] on a tiny, brand-new religious school."

"Alaska's congressional delegation might just as well have put a $1 million check in the church collection plate," the newspaper editorialized.

First-year students who complete the program receive a "Certificate of Biblical Studies." Returning students "partnering with the neighboring community school" can receive a "Certificate of Biblical and General Studies." The school has only applied for accreditation with a biblical association, for which it would not be eligible before 2007.

In a notice last July when the college sought "a new full-time director of admissions," Alaska Christian College president said: "The job has two main responsibilities. Recruit 30 students each year and love them when they arrive."

The school appears to be missionarizing Native Alaskans. Ninety percent of its student population is Native.

Malachy Or Malarky? Pope Marks End of Days

Doomsayers Say Benedict Fits World End Prophecy

from Reuters

ROME - Pope Benedict's ascent to the papacy took a conclave of 115 cardinals, four rounds of voting and followed a lifetime of service to the Vatican.

But ask Internet doomsayers eyeing a 12th century Catholic prophecy and they'll tell you it was all stitched up more than eight centuries ago and that judgment day is nigh.

The prophecy - widely dismissed by scholars as a hoax - is attributed to St. Malachy, an Irish archbishop recognized by members of the Church for his ability to read the future.

Benedict, believers say, fits the description of the second-to-last pope listed under the prophecy before the Last Judgement, when the bible says God separates the wicked from the righteous at the end of time.

"The Old Testament states: 'believe his prophets and you will prosper' - so believe it. We are close to the return of the Judge of the nations. Christ is coming," wrote one Internet post by the Rev. Pat Reynolds.

"Thank God for the witness of St. Malachy."

St. Malachy was said to have had a vision during a trip to Rome around 1139 of the remaining 112 Popes. The new pope would be number 111 on that list, and is described in a text attributed to St. Malachy as the "Glory of the Olive."

To connect Benedict, a pale, bookish German, to anything olive takes some imagination. But Malachy-watchers point to the choice of the name Benedict - an allusion to the Order of Saint Benedict, a branch of which is known as the Olivetans.

"When (he) chose the name Benedict XVI, this was seen as fulfilling the prophecy for this pope," wrote one entry on www.wikipedia.org.

Benedict said that he chose the name partly in honor of Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), calling him a "courageous prophet of peace." Benedict dedicated his papacy to "the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples."

"Perhaps Benedict XVI will be a peacemaker in the Church or in the world, and thus carry the olive branch," speculated www.catholic-pages.com.

Another site, www.bibleprobe.com, went even further, showing a picture of Benedict holding olive branches in March during Palm Sunday celebrations.

"Is this the Pope of Peace (olive)?" it asked in the caption.

Critics widely dismiss the Malachy prophecy as a forgery and possible propaganda meant to influence a 16th century conclave. Doses of skepticism even appear on the most energetic Malachy web pages.

But believers point out similarities between the prophecy's descriptions and past pontificates.

Pope John Paul II, number 110, was described in the prophecy as "de labore solis" - or "of the labor of the sun."

He was born on May 18, 1920, the same day as a solar eclipse. The pontiff was buried on April 8, 2005 - the same day as a partial eclipse, visible in the Americas.

More pressing for doomsayers are the prophecy's references to the last Pope on the list, Peter the Roman, who will lead the Church before "the formidable judge will judge his people."

Since Benedict is already 78 years old, they say Peter the Roman must be coming soon, and with him, the end of the world.

"His reign will only last a few years at most. This signals that we are living in what may be the end of days as we know it," said one Web Site entry by someone calling himself SmartBob.