Pope Francis is considered the moral authority for over 2 billion people worldwide. Structurally it is because of his position as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Relationally it is because of the way he lives out what he talks about, or in churchy nomenclature, he practices what he preaches.
There are some who say the pope, let alone any clergy have any right to speak to issues that impact anything beyond personal piety and individual moral behavior. They would limit moral authority to the so-called private sphere, but moral behavior is not simply a concern in our private lives.
When Volkswagen cheats on its emissions tests to get a pass from the government, that’s a moral concern on a public level. When a food company executive knowingly allows a product to go on sale that is infected with salmonella, and other executives are in collusion, that is a matter of public concern: nine people died as a result.
The church is called to speak with moral authority about things that matter: human dignity, care of God’s creation, justice for the oppressed, economic fairness. Moral authority is only granted to people and institutions that practice what they preach. The organizing principle upon which our work is built is the teachings of Jesus.
I am sure that Pope Francis and I have different notions of where our moral authority comes from. He has centuries of doctrine, written and approved upon which to lean on. For me, the commandment to love God and to love my neighbor as myself is sufficient. I wonder, from where and from who do you draw your moral authority?