Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Concerning Charlie Johnston by Kevin J. Symonds M.A.

For the past several months, a name has kept popping up in various Catholic news media: Charlie Johnston. Johnston alleges to receive private revelations. According to a biography that appears at the end of his articles on his web site The Next Right Step, Johnston:

... [I]s a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
The alleged revelations come from a being that Johnston identifies as his “angel” (as well as other heavenly beings) who has allegedly “trained” Johnston from an early age. He also claims that a prayer was given to him from the Archangel Gabriel entitled The Prayer of Miraculous Trust.
Johnston projects a kind, sincere and affable persona and his writings are quite easy on the eye—if not inspiring in various places. It is, in part, due to this persona that many people have taken an interest in Johnston’s writings. Some serious questions, however, arise when one looks more deeply into his materials. The present article endeavors to discuss these questions.

Johnston and the Authority of the Church
From the outset, it is important to note that Johnston claims to be obedient to the authority of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. As stated earlier, he has domicile in the Archdiocese of Denver (canon 209 1983 CIC), with all the rights and duties attendant to this position (canons 204-231).
In a comment on a separate web site, Johnston claims to have submitted twice his claims to be the recipient of private revelations to his local Ordinary, the Archbishop of Denver—currently H.E. Samuel J. Aquila (cf. canons 209, 212-213, 223). Aquila enjoys full authority and the duty as Johnston’s local Ordinary to examine the matter. According to Johnston, these submissions have received no response.
Johnston states that a “trio of priests” from the Opus Dei prelature “screens” his materials before these go to print.
Bearing these apparent facts, and mindful of my own obligation under canon law (220) to honor a person’s good reputation, let us now jump into some of the specifics of the case.

Statements and Prophecies
Many of Johnston’s statements/alleged prophecies concern an “upcoming storm.” He claims that 26 million people will die through this “storm,” which began in May of 2009 and will end in late 2017. His job, he claims, is “... to give people heart to endure the Storm that is upon us.”
The problem here is that this general “prophesy” of dire times is quite broad and not very profound. One look at world events and any fairly educated Christian can easily see that things cannot remain the way that they are. We are due for a correction, so to speak. The mixed reaction, for instance, to the video expos矇 of Planned Parenthood is, perhaps, the best demonstration of the need for correction. In addition, there is already a lot of concern over the economy and political figures (such as former senator Ron Paul) predicting a burst of the bubble.
Apocalyptical scenes also seem to be a staple in Johnston’s claims: Antichrist, refuges, government camps, and the like are elements to be found in Johnston’s writings. Let us look at each of these in turn.
“The” Antichrist and the “Spirit of” Antichrist:
Concerning the Antichrist, Johnston makes a distinction between the “spirit of” antichrist and “the” Antichrist. This is a point about which Johnston is not entirely clear as evidenced by an article he wrote in July, 2014 entitled Stalking the Antichrist (see also here and here). He says:
Based on my vision, (which I fully vetted with my priests for anything contrary to faith and morals – as I do with all substantial messages) and on what John the Evangelist says, I believe the antichrist is a spirit that infects many, and so is one spirit with many acolytes. the same as there are many Christians but only one Christ.
The question then becomes; will a single person arise who personifies the spirit of antichrist? Carrying my analogy to one logical end, since Christ left Peter and his successors as the Vicar of Christ, might the antichrist establish his own vicar with authority over his followers?
Johnston’s answer to that question is vague. He continues on to state that, “In the late ’90s I had a visitation that gave me some clues to that [above question]….” He then proceeds to talk about a man whom he calls “Menses” (because Johnston’s alleged angel referred to him as such). During the coming “great storm” this “Menses” will be greatly esteemed, but he is nothing more than an agent of Satan. To be fair, Johnston does state:
As I watch Menses slowly rise to more prominence, I wonder at times if he is not the personification of the antichrist, the vicar, as it were of that putrid spirit. But then I wonder what good could come from worrying about it. My angel tells me he will not be exposed for the betrayer and fraud he is until after it is over. It seems to me that focusing on him can only distract me from the work God has laid out for me…and that would be a subtle way of disobeying God, focusing on a battle with satan’s agent rather than being a sign of hope.
“Wondering” if “Menses” is the personification of the Antichrist is not the same as calling him such. Johnston’s speculation is doing the exact thing that he elsewhere states his readers not to do—speculate upon the identity of “Menses.” He warns in a comment on Stalking the Antichrist:
You will forgive me, Arby, but I do specifically say that he is quoted “intenationally” in my post. It is not my intention to give ANY clues as to who he is or what he does; that would only ignite the sort of speculation that I write here is dangerous and distracting. God forbid I should contribute to pulling people off focus!
Further down in another comment dated July 27, Johnston writes:
Speculation on the antichrist is rampant right now. I get weary listening to people argue over whether there will be a warning…or a rapture…or whatever. I asked someone last week who was relentlessly speculating on the matter to me (this was before I wrote the piece, Stalking the Antichrist). Finally, in frustration, I asked pointedly, “If you knew with absolute certainty who it was, how would it change anything you need to do?” He looked at me surprised and could not think of anything to say.
Finally, in a quasi-olive branch comment, Johnston writes:
If by reading what I write, it inflames your “itching ears,” then by all means don’t read me. Above all, live your duty to your family and your neighbor. Anything that obsessively interferes with this is a hindrance, and not what God intends. But contemplate something….I look at various religious forums and many engage in idle speculation over the identity of the antichrist, when he will come, whether there is just one – sometimes getting into heated, embittered battles over it. And that is just one of many subjects a lot of religious people get contentious over. I recognize the issue, spoke what I believe to be true about it and why I think so – but the heart of my message is that worry over that is a contentious vanity. I try to pull people away from that which will damage them to that which they are called to not by ignoring it – but by acknowledging the pull it can have over us – that at times it has had over me. But the acid test on all these efforts at knowledge is, if I knew with certainty what the answer was, how would I use it to make things better for those around me?  
In another consideration, if “Menses” truly is the Antichrist, then Johnston has just indirectly stated that we are close to the end of days as the Antichrist is a forerunner of many major end-of-time scenarios. How is this not going to pique people’s interests, much less cause consternation over what to do with their lives in the middle of this end times scenario? One commentator put it as follows on Johnston’s site in the comments section of Stalking the Antichrist:
Hi charlie. We are a young family with 4 kids and we wonder about long term plans. Schooling for our kids, our housing, applying for new jobs etc. We are feeling like abandoning all these because there is a sense that the world will be so different there is no point pursuing or planning any further. To what degree do we cotinue physically going about the day-to-day when we actually know soon all will change. Spiritually, we should be doing what u suggest all the time because we never know when we will be called to the Lord. My question is hard to explain… What advice can u give to parents with children or expectant mothers? Thanks.
What was Johnston’s reply to this comment? He wrote:
Yuriy, my next post will also go into some depth on that in a way that I think may be helpful. Also, go to those posts that are categorized under “Family.” It still has a few articles to go, but I started writing an extended piece on how family life is a participation in the Trinity – and the highest form of worship here. I began it about a month and a half ago then did not write anything for the month I was very sick. Now I am taking it up again. God bless you.
Whether Johnston answered the question in the next post, or even the next several posts, is a matter for debate. When one checks for the articles under the “Family” category, there is no direct answer. One post entitled God Wins indirectly addresses the matter, but is short on substance. In the post, Johnston discusses an E-mail he received from a reader that was concerned about his (the reader’s) wife. Johnston writes:
I got a very heartfelt note from a man who is upset that his wife is getting fearful from reading this site; going overboard about preparation and laying devotion on top of devotion. From some of his comments, I suspect he has not read any but a very small piece of this site. But it touches on why I agonize on putting up such posts as the previous one [Whatcha Gonna Do part one] – and the one to follow [part two], which cover some bluntly fearful things. They are needed to correct misinformation that is floating around..course adjustments, as it were. But if they are taken as the heart of what I am trying to get across, they lead the wrong way.
In other words, Johnston admits to putting “bluntly fearful things” out in the public forum, but readers are not to mistake the forest for the trees. His real message, he states is:
Now, I am not in their household and I have made no independent assessment. However, if what he says is anywhere near correct, even with a little denial, he is closer to the mark than his wife. I have repeatedly said that you should not pile devotion on top of devotion, but rather should choose a few you prefer, live them well, and make your home and life a joyful one, enjoying and relishing the little joys that are available in such abundance. If you have shrouded your home with gloom and fear, you have missed my point entirely. I have also emphasized that doing your ordinary work well and with love is a refined form of prayer…that there is a godliness in this that is noble. I know many men who are not big on religious stuff particularly, but are passionately devoted to caring for their families. I regard them as profoundly Christian men – and in some cases have privately noted them down as people who can be counted on to help many when things get ugly. Even when the Storm is fully engaged, if I need a wall repaired, I will look for the most competent tradesman, not the most ardent Christian. Living your work well and with competence IS an act of faith – and one that does not get the recognition it should.
Johnston ends the post on the following note:
I long said I do not tell these things to people to try to convince them, but to inform them so that as they come to fruition, people will recall what I said and see the hand of God in back of some otherwise scary times – and take comfort in that. You do the same. If you frantically try to convince people of things you do not need to convince them of, you cannot possibly bear effective witness because you drive them away. Above all remember this: God wins. Act now as a generous victor, not as the fearful oppressed.
In Summary
Johnston’s message here is that people who get so frantic over his alleged prophecies are “missing the point.” That “point” appears to be that our duty is simply to be faithful to our daily lives and devotions during the upcoming “storm.”
What Johnston does not address is how people can go about their daily lives and devotions when such complete and utter apocalyptic turmoil is going on in the world as he describes it. This is especially a question given another staple of Johnston’s alleged messages on refuges, and camps, which shall be discussed momentarily. In a post that offers an explanation entitled My Purpose Johnston offers the following advice to a commenter named “Debbie Dorazio:”
God bless you, Debbie. One of the reasons I speak of the “next right step” is that you have to discern each moment in the present moment. My main point is not that I have some secret plan for you – or that you can come up with a fail-safe plan, but that God will not leave you bereft…and you will have a sense of what you need to do when you need to do it. So, make a few prudent options, then trust God to gently guide you when you need to make decisions. Make all decisions while acknowledging God, and even your errors will bear fruit.
It is left to the reader to decide the wisdom of Johnston’s above remarks.
Finally, based upon Revelation 13:5 it is generally accepted that the Antichrist will reign for 3.5 years. We are 5/6 of the way through 2015 and Johnston states that an event he calls the “Rescue” will come by the end of 2017. One can only wonder whether “Menses” is truly the Antichrist, though, to be fair, Johnston does indicate in Stalking the Antichrist that “Menses” will not be discovered as a fraud until after the “Rescue” happens.
In the end, it seems as though even Johnston himself agrees that “Menses” is not the Antichrist. In a reply to a comment on his post entitled Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You, Johnston wrote:
AS for Menses, I want to re-iterate that I have NOT said he is the antichrist -and I do not believe he is. He is given over entirely to the spirit of antichrist and to satan, so he may be. In any case, he is a very bad actor who plays at being a very good actor – and will deceive many very orthodox Catholics.

Refuges & Government Relocation Centers
Concerning “refuges,” these are geographical locations to which Christians are to fly when the “great storm” gets really bad. Johnston states in an article entitled What The Next Right Step Really Means (see also here):
As you know, I have been an advocate for refuges, for people preparing to help others, to live simple solidarity, one with another. But I see religious people acting as if they think that these are going to be enclaves completely secluded from the Storm in which Jesus will be our maitre d’ and the angels and archangels will serve as our waiters and cocktail waitresses. The refuges are not places we will go to be treated like visiting satraps by the heavenly host. They are an opportunity for us to serve and live solidarity with each other as we weather the Storm. I have seen tales from visionaries who have probably seen true but can interpret nothing that further this nonsense. At one place of refuge, they told me how they had been told they will know who to let in because of a glowing Host that will appear in their foreheads and that the deer will walk right up to them and fall dead for food. I told them bluntly that while that is metaphorically true, in that they will perceive differently when they acknowledge God in all things and that it means there will be sufficient food, it is not literally true. I reminded them that God promised to deliver the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey – and He kept His promise. But when they got there, they still had to milk the cows and keep the bees – and if they had waited for the heavenly host to act as their stewards, they would have died in that very land flowing with milk and honey. In the refuges, you will work hard, have many trials, and will know hunger, though not starvation. Live it well and you will be startled at what joy you find in the midst of such hardship.
The idea of “refuges” sounds like an apocalyptical take on another discussion happening within Catholicism, namely the so-called “Benedict Option” popularized by Rod Dreher. The idea of these “apocalyptical refuges” is not specific to Johnston. The idea was published in the 1990s by alleged seer John Leary in books entitled Prepare for the Great Tribulation (a several volume collection). Thus, Johnston’s claims are nothing new though a unique feature to his writing is “clarifying” the nature of what will take place on these “refuges.”
In one post about “refuges” entitled China Rising, Refuges and More, Johnston advertises an offer up in New Hampshire who is selling plots of land to serve as a “refuge.” He writes:
I have had a few people who have large tracts of land mention they would be willing to sell it off in 50-acre parcels for use as refuges. The idea kind of flummoxed me. But what the heck, there is a couple with property in New Hampshire wanting to sell. If anyone is interested, drop me an email and I will put you directly in contact with them. I will have nothing else to do with it. But if you want to be put in touch with sellers, I will do that much. After that, you’re on your own. (And for what it’s worth, I will receive no commission, or finder’s fee or any other sort of recompense.)
Johnston disavows receiving any monies for such a transaction. One matter, however, is not clear. What is the relationship between Johnston receiving no remuneration for his assistance and his helping others profit from apocalyptic prophecies off of concerned/scared people?
Concerning “camps,” Johnston posits a very frightening scenario that is reminiscent of Nazi atrocities in World War II. In Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You (part one) he paints a rather dire “hypothetical” scenario (see also here). In part one, Johnston introduces the topic by discussing leftist politics, the Obama Administration and how one can predict what will happen by entering into the mindset of one’s opponent. He then states the goal of the discussion:
So what I am going to do is posit a scenario for establishing emergency authority in a traditionally free society that would be most effective, that would get the job done. It is not just a matter of taking control – but gaining control without triggering significant resistance…how to do it where you have gotten control before opposition can effectively rally and organize. Maximum control with minimum effort is the key to everything.
From here, Johnston enters into a discussion of a contrived “crisis” whereby people will be forced from their homes and brought to government camps/relocation centers. Those people, however, who see this for a lie will head for the hills/wilderness (literally). Most of these people, according to Johnston, will be safe because the government will allegedly not want to spend the resources finding them. He writes in Whatcha Gonna Do (part one):
In the early days, officials will be too busy processing intakes and sweeping population centers to spend more than cursory time looking for people who have actually fled. The greater power behind such things has a significant disincentive to search for such people, for they are the ones who would be most likely to foment dissent within the camps anyway – and are unlikely to be able to gather in any location in significant numbers to form a counter-balancing force with any alacrity.
Johnston then expands upon this in part two of Whatcha Gonna Do:
Stick to rural areas. It is not that anything untoward would ever happen there, but that they are too high-effort, low-return areas for modern mandarins to worry about. Capturing a few does not significantly enhance control, while requiring manpower that could be more fruitfully used elsewhere. Stay away from loudmouth braggarts on your way. There are two reasons for this: First, most are actually cowards when confronted with real adversity and; second, those who are not actual cowards usually lack judgment and will eagerly go running into ambushes and futile efforts that simply drain resources. You will inevitably form communities of people. Stick with serious, sober people.
For those who cannot flee for whatever reason or are simply caught, families will be separated (children from parents) in order to exercise a greater degree of obedience from those in the centers. The gig will be up when people realize what is truly going on and locals (especially police and armed officials) see the dangers and revolt.
There is a second part to the Whatcha Gonna Do article wherein Johnston gives survival tips for “any of you who leave your homes on foot.” He discusses the following seven areas: Animal Behavior, Threats, Water, Girding, Backpack List, Into the Wild, and Born Free. It appears as though the scenario he described in part one might not be so hypothetical.
During the course of discussing the above areas, Johnston provides free advertising for some of his preferred camping gear. In the section “Backpack List,” for instance, he recommends a “REI” store for “ultra-light weight but top quality equipment...” and provides a link to REI Co-Op. He then recommends a $300 two-man tent (from REI) as well as an adjustable hammock from Eagle Outfitters (the link he provides is to REI), and metal clips (with a link to Amazon). Lastly, Johnston provides a link to Amazon for a magnesium fire starter.
Since when do alleged visionaries and mystics offer business tips to (now) scared people? Also, note that the first Whatcha Gonna Do post was written in April, 2015 before the Stalking the Antichrist post (July 24, 2015) wherein a commentator asked Johnston on the same date what to do with their future plans.
One cannot help but wonder if Johnston is essentially telling his readers “don’t worry, be happy.” What is the consistency of such a statement when he has people preparing to (and then actually) flee for their lives and well-being into rural areas? They are in those areas to flee from “statist” control and government camps but yet they are to be “joyful” and even seek the services of trade professionals during such times? What is the reader to make of this?
On a final note for this section, Johnston states something most curious. In his Whatcha Gonna Do (part one) article, he responds to a comment on April 14, 2015 as follows:
....I have said that new order will re-emerge – and that you may see a procession of “leaders” early on before things stabilize. After they do, there will be a leader and America will be able to act as a nation. I am shown very little about the period of chaos…just to keep my head low mainly. I know some things about the new order that emerges – and expect to play some role in it in fact, but I am not allowed to discuss the details of it…many of which I do not know.
Compare the above with a statement Johnston wrote in his My Purpose article:
Trust. Do. Love. That is the sure path. To keep that reality vivid before a world in turmoil, a world falling in on itself, is what I am sent for. And when the rescue is complete, I will leave the public scene entirely except to advocate for and raise money for the raising of the great Shrine of thanksgiving for our rescue.
26 Million People Will Die
There is a question about the 26 million people statistic that Johnston states will die during this “great storm.” This “storm” began in May, 2009 according to Johnston, and will allegedly end in 2017 with a “rescue” from God.
The following table provides information from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on world population statistics:
Deaths Worldwide
World Pop.
Crude Death Rate
per 1000 population
per 1000 population
per 1000 population
per 1000 population
per 1000 population
per 1000 population
per 1000 population

Total for


6.5%  of the total deaths

For some alternative statistics from the World Bank, please click here.
Adding these numbers up, the total number of deaths worldwide just from 2009-2015 is 395,172,230. Now, take the 26 million, divide it by the 395 million and the percentage of total number of deaths from this “great storm”—just from 2009-2015 alone—would be 6.5% of the entire deaths from those six and a half years. Note as well that the projected figures for 2016 & 2017 are not included. Also, the statistic only slightly changes when one includes the fact that the storm began about halfway through 2009. Even with that year’s figure reduced to half, the end percentage is 7.0%.
Statistically speaking, 26 million people dying between 2009 and 2017 “through” this “great storm” seem like an impressive figure until one does the math. Of course, Catholics support life and these statistics are not in any way meant to discredit the value of human life. These figures are given only to show things in comparison. The figures also force us to ask why 26 million deaths over a roughly 8 year period of time are noteworthy. Is it because of the theme of persecution behind the claim?
To be fair, perhaps Johnston meant 26 million in addition to the normal crude deaths from 2009-2017? That would be more significant, though even still less than half of anticipated crude deaths in a given calendar year. Moreover, if one was to spread evenly the 26 million deaths over the 8 or so years that averages out to about an extra 3.25 million deaths. So far, the statistics show a fairly steady crude death rate from 2009-2015, and in fact show a downward decline according to the World Bank.
Given the remaining time specified by Johnston from the present to the end of 2017, perhaps he meant to say that all of these deaths would be towards the end of the specific 8-year period? This is unclear too because Johnston states that his “usual source” told him “26 million [globally] will die through the Storm” (emphasis mine) which, as we saw earlier, began in May, 2009. The seriousness of the dates and the questions they raise is not lost on Johnston.
The answers to these questions are not something about which Johnston is specific on his web site. He puts his materials out in the public forum whereupon people speculate and apparently are making life decisions based on Johnston’s word supported by pieces of contemporary events (for more recent examples of statements about such events click here and here) such as Operation Jade Helm. Johnston then tells people not to speculate on these matters, lamenting the burden of private revelation.
 Final Considerations
In a curious remark, Johnston noted in one blog post about getting priests or bishops making “some decision” on him. He wrote:
I noted in my guidelines for coordinators that you should not put pressure on either a Priest or a Bishop concerning a visit by me. As I noted, my preference is not to get them caught up on having to make some decision concerning me, but to help build them up as they proclaim the faith (emphases mine).
Is it not the place of the pastors of the Church to decide who they allow to speak within their territory? Could Johnston’s “preference” be at odds with how the Church views these matters? He wants to “help build” the pastors of the Church and this is a noble undertaking—a desire that is, objectively, in keeping with canon law (canons 209, 212, 222, 228-229).
Despite the objective noble intention, there is here a catch-22. Johnston’s offer of assistance is intricately bound up with his claims to private revelation. In the words of his biography, “The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it.” How to separate the offer of assistance from the alleged revelations—and clearly instruct the faithful on this point—is very difficult, something that requires the greatest of pastoral care by the pastors of the Church.
In matters of alleged private revelation in particular, there are norms issued sub secreto to local Ordinaries by the Holy See in 1978 (published in 2012) that can offer much assistance. What these protocols mean to Johnston, however, is unclear. He states towards the end of one article wherein he openly supports and promotes Medjugorje:
So I am glad the Vatican is establishing some guidelines to refine everything. It is its proper duty and proper authority. Those guidelines may be too strict or they may be too loose. Sadly, in this world, we often respond to one set of abuses by going too far to the other side. But either way, it is its proper responsibility and, for now, can be no more than a matter of discipline. Please do not let it become a cause for division (emphases mine).
The norms to Johnston appear to be nothing but a “matter of discipline.” Moreover, if Johnston is being correctly understood, he alludes to the norms as being established as a response to “one set of abuses by going too far to the other side.” This characterization is questionable.
Vatican journalist John Thavis writes that the Vatican only officially published the norms in 2012 because Pope Benedict XVI wanted to draw attention to the norms in the face of rising claims of private revelation (The Vatican Prophecies, 75-76). If our Pope-Emeritus’ intention were faithfully followed, there would be a deleterious effect upon the contemporary climate that allows these matters to thrive. The Holy Father’s intention is, therefore, badly mischaracterized if one considers it a mere “disciplinary” matter or as an extreme in one direction.
Finally, on a minor note, the Vatican’s norms were issued in 1978, some 37 years ago. They were already established; it is not that the Vatican “is” now establishing the norms.
In this modest review of Johnston’s writings is seen a man who appears to be a generous person. Many of the things he writes concerning faith and morals are good and inspiring. There is simplicity present within him, and Johnston’s intent comes across as wanting to help people. No malice appears to be with this intention. These things, however, are to be considered separate from his claim as to why there is need for such help. Even though Johnston has his materials vetted by his “trio of three priests” there is room for error—something that even Johnston admits.
In this day and age, the faithful must be very cautious. We live in evil times, and the words of Christ are even more important now, “[Jesus] said to them: Take heed that no man seduce you: For many will come in my name saying, I am Christ: and they will seduce many. And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6, Douay-Rheims).

This review is not intended in any way to usurp the authority of the Church when it comes to Charlie Johnston. Judgment is reserved to the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado who enjoys full authority in this matter. Insofar, however, as there is no such judgment and Johnston possesses the character of a public figure (and a growing influence), the above review is meant to spark discussion and further discernment for both lay and clerics alike.
Kevin Symonds is the author of Refractions of Light: 201 Answers on Apparitions, Visions and the Catholic Church. He obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Theology with emphasis in the classical languages from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

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