On the Money

Pope Francis aims for peace, not policy: Analyst

Divinity & diplomacy

With stops in the nation's capital, the Big Apple and the City of Brotherly Love, Pope Francis made lots of political waves on his U.S. visit.

In his address to Congress, the pontiff asked the country's leaders to help solve the plight of climate change, to fight poverty and to embrace millions of undocumented immigrants.

"He's not a policymaker or an economist, but he can say what is working and what isn't working," says Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, in an interview with CNBC. "He's hoping to get politicians to work together, to make sure the economy is working for all."

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States has the fourth-largest Catholic-faith population in the world, with more than 75 million followers filling church pews.

Reese said the pope came to America as a pastor to preach compassion, and as a prophet to provoke the most powerful nation in the world to do more good with its wealth. His remarks also urged the world's largest economy to be more welcoming of immigrants and refugees.

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Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, June 17, 2015.
Capitalism is moral, and it works: Catholic priest
Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress on September 24, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Pope to Congress: Time to act on climate change, poverty

Still, that rhetoric may not be enough to rouse U.S. leaders and Catholic faithful into action.

"Although the pope is important to the church, he's not the church," says Reese. "In order for Pope Francis to be successful, he needs the bishops, clergy and the Catholic people to get on board with his views on environment and spreading the gospel."

The pope urged Congressional leaders and citizens to "summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today's many geopolitical and economic crises." Despite being critical of free markets, Pope Francis also called business "a noble vocation directed to producing wealth and improving the world."

Reese believes the pontiff is challenging the fundamental character of the nation's economy to conserve more, consume less and embrace the global community—without polarizing or dividing other countries and the people into enemies and friends.

"He doesn't have blind faith in the marketplace to solve all of our problems," says Reese.

Pope Francis
Getty Images

Only two years into the papacy, he is often called the People's Pope, whose divinity is also referred to as the "Francis effect."

Although some have been critical of his more political pronouncements, the pope enjoys the approval of more than 80 percent of Catholic Americans. Vatican watchers say that Pope Francis hopes to inspire citizens of the world to be more mindful of the issues confronting the poor and disenfranchised.

"Our moral decisions impact human beings," said Reese, who said the leader of the Catholic faith was not attempting to endorse partisan positions, but encourage dialogue. "He recognizes there's a lot of people still in poverty and he wants to be a voice for those people."

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