The Power of the Pope

For the past two thousand years, the pope has been a major player in global affairs. He is frequently called upon to act as a peace broker, a mediator, an advocate, and an influencer; and with over 1.3 billion followers around the world, the pope and his governmental arm, the Holy See, have the power to shape the future. How has the pope's power changed over time, and what is his role today?


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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Rafaela Siewert - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • Timothy Byrnes
    Third Century Chair in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and Professor of Political Science, Colgate University
  • Francis Campbell
    Vice Chancellor, University of Notre Dame Australia

Show Notes

Presidents and prime ministers are often the first to come to mind when thinking about who shapes foreign policy. But there is another resonating voice at the center of international relations: the pope. Unlike other religious leaders, the head of the Roman Catholic Church exercises a unique influence over global affairs, and in recent years, popes have helped shape the outcomes of critical inflection points in history. In this episode, Why It Matters examines the pope’s enduring influence.


More From Timothy Byrnes


The Enduring Power of the Papacy: Pope Francis and International Relations,” Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs


More From Francis Campbell


Diplomacy and Globalization in the Twenty-First Century,” Center for Political and Economic Thought, Saint Vincent College


From CFR


Steven A. Cook, “The Hard Edge of the Pope’s Moral Power


Victor Gaetan, “The Pontiff, the President, and the Planet,” Foreign Affairs


Victor Gaetan, “The Penitent Pope,” Foreign Affairs


Victor Gaetan, “Why Trump and Francis Diverge on Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Affairs


Elliott Abrams, “The Pope’s Cuba Test


Kenneth Himes and Robert McMahon, “The Pope’s Soft-Power Push


Read More


Paul Elie, “The Pope, the Patriarchs, and the Battle to Save Ukraine,” New Yorker


Nicole Winfield, “Pope’s Ukraine diplomacy a political and spiritual tightrope,” Associated Press


Wang Linbin, “China-Vatican Relations in the Xi Era,” The Diplomat


Christopher White, “Behind the frontlines of the Vatican’s Ukraine-Russia strategy,” National Catholic Reporter


Sylvia Poggioli, “How Pope Francis Became A Foreign Policy Player,” NPR


Watch and Listen 


Is the pope head of the world’s most powerful government?,” The Economist 


The Vatican’s diplomatic tightrope in Ukraine,” Inside the Vatican 


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