“God loves the ordinary. So do I, and so should you. That’s just a simple fact.”
That’s how Charlie Johnston began a presentation in Birmingham, Ala., last summer. Then he went on to recount conversations he has allegedly had since he was a young boy with his guardian angel about a grave crisis that will happen in his lifetime — a crisis he says has already begun.
“We are given these things as sort of mileposts, so that when they come to pass, we see the hand of God in them — and that, really, is what I do. I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything except to acknowledge God, take the next right step and be a sign of hope to those around them,” said Johnston of his unusual message.
“I am here to inform people because they’ll remember it. It is kind of memorable, when somebody tells you, ‘An angel told me this.’ … When those things happen, they’ll see the hand of God behind it; and instead of panicking, instead of becoming part of the chaos, they’ll be part of helping other people.”
According to his blog, The Next Right Step, Johnston is a political consultant and a former radio host and newspaper editor. Through his blog and speaking engagements, he has garnered a considerable audience around the United States — so much so that Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, the bishop who oversees the archdiocese where Johnston lives, received enough inquiries that he decided to launch a preliminary investigation into the content of Johnston’s writings and presentations.
The Archdiocese of Denver released a statement on March 7 concerning the alleged visionary. It contained a warning from Archbishop Aquila for Catholics “to exercise prudence and caution in regards to Mr. Charlie Johnston’s alleged divine visions and messages.” The statement also announced that Johnston would not be approved as a speaker in the Archdiocese of Denver.
“Mr. Johnston claims to have received both visions and messages from the Blessed Mother, the archangel Gabriel and other saints since he was young,” the report explained. “According to Mr. Johnston, the purpose of these visits was to train him to serve as a messenger for God and strengthen the faithful, particularly during a time of economic and moral upheaval, which he refers to as ‘The Storm.’
“Johnston insists in writing and during his talks that the ‘prophetic’ parts of his message are not essential and should not be the focus of those who follow him. However, it appears that those same predictions are what attract new followers to his message and give them a sense of urgency and zeal.”
Archbishop Aquila noted in the report that there is a danger for people in terms of putting “greater faith in a prediction than in Christ’s words and promises.”
Reaction to Archdiocese’s Report
On the day the report was released, Johnston interpreted it on his blog as “permission” to continue, claiming the archbishop simply was exercising prudence.
To those who took the statement as an instruction to “turn off the lights,” Johnston responded, “I am enjoying letting the sourpusses expose themselves for lacking the most basic knowledge of ‘Churchspeak.’” He pointed to Bishop René Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas, as publicly congratulating him for a positive outcome. When contacted by the Register, the 92-year-old bishop, who retired in 1997, said that his support is for Johnston’s “zealous witness to the Catholic faith” but “not with regard to his private revelations.”
David Uebbing, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver, told the Register, “The official statement of the archbishop stands on its own, apart from Mr. Johnston’s interpretation, and should be considered in its entirety.” He explained, “The archdiocese does not allow the propagation of messages or visions without certitude that they are from God, which requires a much longer process involving analysis by experts from outside the archdiocese.”
Johnston continues to write extensively on his blog. His repeated theme — “acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope” — is mixed with prophecy and personal reflections. Johnston’s predictions include warnings of civil war worldwide, cancellation of the U.S. presidential election in November 2016 and a claim that President Barack Obama will not finish his second term. Last year, he also wrote a two-part series on his blog detailing survival instruction on how to respond if the U.S. government were to begin rounding up conservative Christians and other citizens into detention camps. According to Johnston, God has appointed him to guide Americans through this turmoil to a rescue that will come in late 2017, when the Immaculate Heart of Mary visibly saves the world.
Having an Effect
Although Johnston continues to generate speaking events, the ban in his own archdiocese is having an effect. In March, Relevant Radio canceled an interview with Johnston. A spokesperson for the station explained, “Relevant Radio supports and abides by the prudent decision of the Archdiocese of Denver.”
Last fall, former EWTN radio host and current Immaculate Heart Radio host Patrick Madrid interviewed Johnston in response to his popularity, but stated in an interview with the Register that he would not do so again. “As Archbishop Aquila has so wisely advised, the danger is that people can get off course,” he said, referring to any of the faithful who, by following unapproved, alleged apparitions, seers, etc., can veer off course spiritually and theologically.
The report has also influenced bishops across the country. Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., commented that bishops pay attention to one another. “I would not allow this person to speak on any religious subject in the Diocese of Bismarck, since it is clear that his activities in Denver and elsewhere have caused confusion among the Catholic faithful,” he told the Register.
In the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., Bishop Thomas Paprocki told the Register, “Since Mr. Johnston will not be approved as a speaker in the Archdiocese of Denver, neither will he be approved as a speaker in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. The faithful should seek their security in Jesus Christ, the sacraments and the Scriptures.”
Caution to the Faithful
Michael O’Neill, author and creator of MiracleHunter.com, who often talks about visionaries on his radio program, pointed out that the Archdiocese of Denver statement is not a condemnation and does not prohibit the faithful from following Johnston.
“It does not assess whether or not it is a supernatural event, but instead urges caution, in order that the faithful might keep their focus on an authentic practice of the faith, keeping the words and works of Jesus Christ, as given to us by sacred Scripture and Tradition, as the center of our faith,” he told the Register.
Nonetheless, O’Neill acknowledged that, given the plethora of beautiful devotions already present in the Catholic faith, it seems sensible to treat such claims with an appropriate level of cautious skepticism. He added, “Such prophecy does, however, provide a good backdrop for being ready and keeping our souls in the state of grace, for ‘you know neither the day nor the hour’ (Matthew 25:13).”
Kevin O’Brien, blogger and founder of Theater of the World Inc., has warned Catholics against following Johnston, calling his predictions “patent nonsense” that give him “a cult status among gullible Catholics.”
Last summer, after “hearing about Johnston from all corners of Catholicism,” O’Brien investigated and wrote about his findings. He pointed out several failed prophecies and gave evidence, using Johnston’s Facebook posts, that his claim to have walked 3,200 miles across the country was false. O’Brien said in his blog that his concern is that Johnston’s followers are falling prey to a morbid curiosity and a desire for more than what we have, “which is the presence of Jesus Christ himself and his Spirit and access to his Father as adopted children.”
EWTN host Father Mitch Pacwa was present at a 2015 talk by Johnston that was widely circulated on the Internet. Some viewers have taken Father Pacwa’s presence at the talk as an implicit endorsement of Johnston. But Father Pacwa explained to the Register that he had attended the talk only out of curiosity and has never endorsed Johnston.
Father Pacwa said that he too has great concern for the state of the world, but stressed, “Our goal must be to be faithful to our blessed Lord and to call our people to be faithful to Our Lord, his Gospel and his Church, no matter what a visionary might say or not.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.
Editors' note: The Header and Subhead were changed to reflect more accurately the Archdiocese of Denver's position on Charlie Johnston.
Also a clarification has been made on the nature of Johnston's writings about Christians and other citizens being rounded up in detention camps.
Readers have pointed out that those two blog posts were not related to a prediction but were Johnston's personal reflections.