The Roman Catholic organization is very rich, powerful and influential. Some might think it is at its nadir in terms of power and influence and when viewed historically. But this is not so. Granted its power is different today than it was in the 19th century or even the 15th century, but in different ways it still holds a great deal of wealth and the ability to project influence. This is not equal in all places, not even in all ostensibly 'Catholic' countries.
It must be granted the Papacy has fallen when compared to the 11th through 13th centuries when it was quite literally the master of Europe toppling kings and launching massive wars.
Yet, if the Pope were a teacher or leader resting on pure doctrinal or moral authority then he would appear like a visiting guru, maybe drawing some crowds, even impressive ones. But he wouldn't be receiving the red carpet, meeting with political leaders and practically compelling them to shut down city blocks and provides armies of security etc...
The Roman Catholic organization has controlling interests in numerous large corporations and works politically through many channels, organizations and sects under its umbrella.
The Papacy is a fascinating institution to say the least and while many perceive this Pope as some kind of liberal or champion of the Left, I would argue they have misunderstood him. His presentation and style are very different from his predecessors. He's attempting to reform the bureaucracy within the Vatican. It is too early to tell if this will prove successful. But doctrinally he represents traditional positions and the same kind of social power and vision represented in his predecessors. The American Right's understanding of politics and economics have become so restricted that anything outside the pale of extreme Neoliberal Capitalism and in many cases Militaristic Imperialism is immediately decried as Marxist.
These extremes cannot continue. The Right has intellectually boxed itself in and is setting itself on a course that can only lead to political violence.
The Pope is a captivating figure to be sure but he would be nothing apart from the power of the massive organization that he reigns over. He may hug the poor and present himself as humble, but remember his claims are the most boastful and blasphemous of perhaps any on this earth. He claims to be the Vicar of Christ, His representative on Earth and to speak with His voice.
He may 'seem' Christ-like in his interactions with the people but unlike any true teacher resting on divine and moral authority he travels about with teams of armed men and his words to politicians carry a veiled threat of financial, political and social power. These statements are also applicable to Dobson, Falwell and other Christian Right leaders who have also traveled around with armed security and use money as a weapon to threaten the political status quo. What would Paul say to them? They are wholly different creatures to be sure.
While he does not wield the overt political power of some leaders, they all will pause and listen to his words. Everyone remembers Poland in the 1980's and the role of the Vatican in numerous governmental administrations, civil wars and insurgencies from Spain to Latin America and even parts of Asia and Africa. Roman Catholicism is at its very heart a Sacralist organization pursuing a vision of social monism.
Like all Sacralist theological paradigms, Rome rejects the inherent Kingdom duality presented in Scripture. Like its Dominionist allies on the Protestant front it explicitly repudiates Christ's proclamations that the Kingdom is not of this world, and that the realms of Caesar and Christ are neither compatible nor complimentary.
He is certainly more influential than the head of the UN an organization many seem far more disturbed about. The UN an object of terror to many on the Right is a wholly impotent bureaucracy and the General-Secretary is an object of scorn and ridicule.