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Power Profile: Pope Francis (a Council on Foreign Relations call)

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The introduction and moderation was conducted by Katherine Marshall, Senior Fellow and Professor at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. The experts included Kurt Martens, Associate Professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America, Fr. Thomas J. Reese, Senior Analyst for National Catholic Reporter, and John Thavis, author of The Vatican Diaries. Ms. Marshall began by asking Fr. Reese about the agenda for the Pope’s visit to the U.S. Fr. Reese responded that “he is coming both as a pastor, and also as a prophet.. it is part of his job description as Pope… he comes to speak truth to power.” Mr. Thavis made it clear that the Pope was not coming to the U.S. to “lecture”, but to “learn” from the American people. However he reiterated that Francis is “not scared to cut through the red tape and make new rules”. Dr. Martens agreed that “no one is going to be happy afterwards”, referring to the Pope’s history of stirring up controversy with his unscripted remarks. Ms. Marshall then posed the question as to whether the Pope’s visit could constitute another “Cairo moment”, referring to President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt, which facilitated unprecedented cooperation between world leaders. All the experts agreed that this is a moment where the Pope can influence world events because he is so universally popular. This dynamic has not been the case since Pope John Paul II and his role in meditating between the U.S. and Communist Russia. For his part, Pope Francis has been crucial in helping normalize political relations between the United States and Cuba. All the experts speculated as to whether or not the Pope would deviate from his pre-approved scripts in his addresses to Congress, the United Nations General Assembly, or the World Meeting of Families (see his official schedule here). Mr. Thavis concluded that “anything can happen with this Pope” and that “his blunt language is part of the reason he is so popular”. The floor was then opened to questions from the audience with major topics being discussed around the future of the Church, the role of millennials, women’s ordination, and the Pope’s controversial remarks on homosexuality. Read our live tweets from the event and follow us on Twitter @deilytweet.