Here in Northern Ireland we have become used to fundamentalist Protestants like the late Reverend Ian Paisley saying that The Vatican was "the whore of Babylon" and the pope was the anti-christ.
A few years ago a friend of mine said:
"Maybe the anti-Christ is not a person. Maybe it is an institution or organisation".
This made me think and it made me ask if the Roman Catholic Church (as an institution) was the anti-Christ - and not just one man, the pope.
Personally I like Pope Francis and in my mind he is a far better pope that his predecessor - Joe Ratzinger - Pope Benedict - who in my opinion, and the opinion of others, had a very disturbing looking face and set of eyes.
But what is the anti-Christ. It is basically a Christian (or un-Christian) concept based on the interpretation of a number of passages in the New Testament. The term anti-Christ occurs five times in the Letters of Saint John and the term The Beast occurs in the Book of Revelation.
Personally I take the rather simpler and non scary movie view that anti-Christ is anything that is opposed to or against the teachings and spirit of Jesus Christ - just as Christian is either a person, or view or practice that is in keeping with the teachings and spirit of Jesus Christ. I take this view from my reading of a verse in the Gospel of Saint Luke when Jesus says: "Whoever is not with me opposes me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters".
From this I think we can ask if the Church of Rome is "with" Jesus and does it gather with him or instead does it scatter?
I can see very little resemblance between the Roman Catholic Church as it exists today and the church founded by Jesus and continued by the disciples in the first few hundred years of Christianity.
The early church was a community based church - where ALL its members worshipped in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (as Jews) and then met in each other's homes for a Eucharist that they simply called: "The Breaking of the Bread".
There were no popes, no cardinals, no archbishops, no monsignors and canons, no parish priests and curates.
As the community grew the whole community elected from among their own number some "servants" who facilitated the community and its activities. Over time these "servants" were called "presbyters" (elders or ministers) and deacons. These early church servants were both MALE and FEMALE and while the elders concentrated on preaching the message of Jesus the deacons looked after those in need - especially widows and orphans.
The TWELVE APOSTLES who died out reasonably quickly were NOT elders or deacons in individual communities - rather they had the roving mission of founding and supporting existing and new Christian communities.
In spite of what Rome says Saint Peter was NEVER the "Bishop of Rome" and Rome's contention that his bones are buried below Basilica of St Peter is nothing but wishful thinking.
Over time the early office of "elder" developed into the office of "episcopus" or "overseer". He or she, was if you like the senior or presiding elder. But they were never Lord Bishops. That term developed initially when the Bishop of Rome sold his soul to the Emperor Constantine and later still when the heads of wealthy families wanted total control of a district and wanted to be the temporal and spiritual superior of all others in the area.
In itself there was nothing wrong with the pastoral development of bishop (presiding elder) presbyter (elder) and deacon. The rot set in when these people, ignoring the message of Christ, began to see themselves as MASTERS and not SERVANTS of the community.