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The Reality of Restored Papal Authority

Pope Francis Increases Papal Power in World Affairs
by Brett Daniel Shehadey

Special Correspondent, In Homeland Security

Pope Francis formally blesses the United States with the familiar, “God Bless America.” But this time it carried more weight than usual; not only because it had the power of a pope but because it had such a powerful popular pope behind it.

Coming from what might be considered his victory in thawing U.S.-Cuba relations after a strong nudge to President Barack Obama to move in that direction, the Pope then traveled to the White House, to Congress and is now in New York at the U.N. Headquarters and the 9/11 Memorial.

The Papacy is increasing its influence in political power across the world in order to address moral concerns on the international stage and drive political state actions to greater benign outcomes. This is because there is a lack of leadership in this area as well as a third party player that could receive more respect and attention in mitigation.

The first big issue for the Vatican to tackle was perhaps the Palestinian outreach and the Vatican brokering of Israeli-Palestinian relations during Pope Benedict XVI’s outreach attempts and before Secretary of State John Kerry tried U.S. diplomacy to follow in his wake and with the help of the current Pope. But all of those attempts seemed to go nowhere; although the Palestinian authority will raise a flag at the U.N. for the first time in its history today and the General Assembly will officially recognize it as the “State of Palestine.”

There were many more controversial issues surrounding Pope Benedict XVI’s personal history with the Third Reich, the internal political struggles of the Church and the scandals of Catholic priests; all of which global public no longer hears in the media, as if all the bad and ugly of the Church was washed clean after his departure. Benedict XVI had his moments on the world stage, such as praying being the first Pope to pray inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in 2009. It was a maverick move too, as he was invited hosted by the Israeli government who felt that they were betrayed as he departed from his schedule and seemed to jump across the aisle to Muslims and Palestinians; after praying at the Western Wall and honoring terrorist victims.

Pope Benedict XVI has since resigned as Pope—an unprecedented first Pope in some five hundred years to vacate the Holy See in the year 2013; and one in only five Popes in history to do so. That same year, Pope Francis, often called “the people’s Pope” was elected by the Cardinals. Pope Francis has strongly continued Benedict XVI’s outreach and peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims. In doing so, the Papacy has gained ground with many more religious leaders in Muslim countries and this continues to be an issue of outreach and moral projection.

Pope Francis has been called the “superman Pope.” He has been a breath of fresh air for the Church. The first to be named after poor monk, St. Francis of Assisi. His latest first large-scale political act of Pope Francis was to align himself with Climate Change more and more over the years and his latest announcement, but even from the start and in the shadow of Benedict XVI, known as the “green Pope.” These positions later justified national leaders such as U.S. President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jin-ping in their efforts to reach an accord. This was again restated in a higher level of commitment today as the two world leaders met and right after the Pope stated, in regards to Washington’s level of commitment to Climate Change, that “now is time to honor it.”

Pope Francis’ next legacy move is the strong moral push and concern for governments to help political refugees; especially, those from the Syrian Civil War. He has since addressed the need for countries to keep themselves safe and run their own affairs, but his moral power has resonated on the issue and the attention he is receiving is more than it has been at other times in recent history.

Powerful outcomes for the Vatican in less than three days:

“Francis for President” cried an enthusiastic supporter in a crowd.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is Catholic, is said to have wept during Thursday’s address in Congress and just today announced his resignation.

President Obama tweeted a welcome message early in the week and said, “…we see a living example of Jesus’s teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has also been struggling with international diplomatic efforts said earlier stated, “no Pope has come at the time of the opening of the General Assembly. This is quite historic….We expect that he will send his spiritual guidance to all the member states of the United Nations…I really count on his leadership.”

Reasons for a politically recharged and empowered papacy:

1) a lack of a charismatic “secular pope” role at the U.N. forces Ban Ki-moon’s soft voice, backstage diplomacy and broken English to seek out allies that can offer it.

2) a lack of strong and independent moral Western leadership.

3) a global systematic crisis with increased hostilities and diplomatic tensions [esp. major powers]

4) increasing wave of hatred, jihad and ethno-nationalist authoritarianism

5) continuous human rights abuse and oppressive governance worldwide

6) the nature and character of the Pope himself and traits of: peace, humility, gentleness and charity.

The “Francis Effect” is in fact the “awe” phenomenon the Pope brings to societies. A rekindling simple moral spirituality and hopefulness in the everyday lives of people as well as millennials. Tweets encourage youth participation about popular events and timely issues. The “humble” Pope speaks for the people about important issues they deal with directly, including: poverty, environment, the spiritual need and God given rights. Moreover, people, especially in the developing part of the world, also crave some horizontal power outside of sovereign governments as they become more and more discontented with them. This happens even such people are not affiliated or aligned with the movement or cause itself; instead, they want to feel empowered by the charisma, persona or institution accumulating attention and speaking from power.

For all of these reasons and more, the global system is in need of strong leadership independent of the current state sovereign structure and perpetual erosion of liberal democratic governance. The Papacy fits this global public outcry for justice. The concern with the Pope as a moral figure is that while he can speak on behalf of over a billion Catholics and to some extent on behalf of the more than 2 billion Christians worldwide, he is at some difficulty connecting to the other 5 billion individuals that are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist or of the many faiths. Nevertheless, the figurehead of political Christianity can appeal both conservative values and social democratic forms of justice and state charity as well as reach hearts and minds of different faiths by using a more inclusive message.

Christian morality is something to aspire to and can resonate with a few billion more. However, it is for governmental affairs the spirit of liberalism that should find its blessing in the world of politics. The spirit of liberalism addresses not only the values divine universal laws but morality and the advocacy of reason. Where the Papacy can go too far is to intermingle Vatican overreach into sovereign national affairs. Pope Francis himself has stated that he is concerned only with the moral principles in regards to the European immigration crisis.

To the American Congress, the Pope appeared to break his own tongue-tying and supported conservative values and social democratic responsibilities true to his left of center Argentinian leanings. The Republicans heard only the traditional family empowering concepts, religious freedom and dismissed the defense of life at every stage, while the Democrats heard only the cries to social Justice and the end to the death penalty. In the end, Congress exploded in cheers and standing ovations some reporters equated to the State of the Union Addresses of American presidents.

Yet, calls of moral principles from the Vatican are rooted in liberalism of classical European and American founding fathers as universal rights and the path of individual and communal enlightenment. Thus, in truth, the actions of the Pope fall under these principles but are bound and limited by liturgy and religious doctrine as well as the personal leanings of the Popes themselves and the national environments and conditioning they grew up with. They cannot and should not act as the sole global moral arbitrator alone for all peoples.

The necessity of an independent spokesperson for human rights is not about consolidating all the power into one office, but about channeling the issues of international liberal democracy through more powerful independent stations than presently exists. The West and the world desperately need more of this but they can no longer hope to achieve this at the U.N. where Secretary General Ban eagerly awaits a pillar of moral strength to do what he has failed to do on world stage; and while the U.N. can partner with the Pope, they cannot rely on the Pope to do what is by nature of a Protestant or secular institution apart from religious political power.

Nevertheless, the Pope Francis is without question the most powerful Pope in recent history; perhaps more so than Pope John Paul II but it is too early to tell what his impact will be. He is attempting to unite peoples by not condemning the state but by a call to peace and presenting an offering of superior moral pathways they should take as good actors in world politics. His championing of the refugee cause has had a major impact in state leaders worldwide. If the Pope focuses on highlighting a sustained timely issue, he will learn he is much more effective than simple addresses to crowds or legislatures.

The world is ripe for more strongmen of peace and charity to step up on the world stage and the Pope is quickly embracing this expanded role.

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