Allow me to agree with Pope Francis that Holy Church owes the world some “outreach.” Of our 266 popes (plus or minus), I mention that one in particular because he has had more to say about politics than, possibly, all the rest combined. His views on social class, income distribution, imperialism, colonialism, general oppression, environmental issues, anthropogenic climate, immigration controls, and many other topics not traditionally considered to be any of the Church’s business, are broadcast constantly. Moreover, his neglect of her primary mission — the salvation of souls through propagation of the faith — has underlined this revolutionary contrast.

I am not a Church historian, but in my understanding her former political engagements were more strictly towards her own practical ends — chiefly the defence of her own independence — and seldom if ever involved the institutional equivalent of “virtue signalling.” In her earlier centuries she sometimes found herself ruling — chiefly when the profane authorities had run away from e.g. pagan Norsemen or invading Mussulmans at the frontiers of Europe; and within the modest sphere of the Papal States. She played the initial organizing rôle in essentially defensive Crusades against Cathars and Caliphs, and yet, she was ever eager to leave details of policy to free and self-supporting agents in the field. They would know much better what they were dealing with.

The principle of subsidiarity (making decisions at the lowest possible level) is among the gifts of Christianity to the world, though it has seldom been well-received. Those with power who embrace it will usually make exceptions for themselves. The Church herself has sometimes ignored her own principle, and the contrary one of micromanaging from Central is easily promoted when local agencies fail. The contrary behaviour — a central power devolving because it has failed — is relatively unknown. Those with power are loathe to relinquish it, as Scripture itself teaches; and human lust, greed, and arrogance make predictable hash of the best-laid schemes.

That is why the Church must preserve some aloofness from “secular” affairs. She must do so in order to remain the Church, rather than a faction. She takes sides, but as spectator not player. (In some historical moments, as referee.) Her occasional attempts to waltz or wade in, never end well; never ever, so far as I can see. (I will write another day in defence of integralism.)

Now, I love to defend a pope, whenever it is possible, and it must be said in Pope Francis’ case that he hasn’t tried to form a political party, or seize power in any civil realm. The worst that could be said is that he favours the wrong sides. He is a big fan of vast, centralized, bureaucratic organizations, which never achieve anything, or at least, never anything good.

The alternative is to use the moral suasion of a central institution founded by Jesus Christ to change people’s attitudes. The “social teaching” of the Church through the ages was to this end. It was, when it advanced any political cause, not to a political end, but for the sake of removing obstacles to holiness. It served the restoration of the natural moral order, itself instituted by God, and positively requiring human freedom. It (the social teaching) and she (the Church) favoured good, truth, and beauty, which necessarily involves opposition to what is bad, false, and ugly. But the way forward is not by diktat but through the genius of human goodwill.

The Church articulates what we already know in our heart of hearts, having been wired for it from conception. We supply the action, starting with our prayers. (Note: that Prayer is not an evasion but an action.) And by our witness to the Truth, we also provide … a regular supply of martyrs.