For his own sake, Langevin needs to know he’s not in communion with his Church.

On LifeNews, Steven Ertelt spotlights Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin’s statement on the pro-abortion politics of ostensibly Catholic Democrat Congressman James Langevin:

We are so tired of hearing Catholic politicians say, as Jim Langevin does, “Although I remain personally opposed to abortion . . .” and then go on to support abortion. That pathetic excuse doesn’t fly anymore. Jim Langevin claims to be a “practicing Catholic,” but practicing Catholics do not promote the legalization of abortion which the Church clearly teaches is an “abominable crime.”

Compounding his break from the Church (which is a predictable sequence of sin), Langevin pushed back by hammering away at a wedge within the Church:

Langevin said, “The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said himself that bishops and priests — as I recall, I’m paraphrasing — need to be guides and shepherds and not disciplinarians. And so, I try and look to the wisdom of Pope Francis, and hopefully all of our theologians and priests and bishops throughout the church will hear that message.”

One might say that “cafeteria Catholicism” has moved from being a private foible to be a public presentation.  With his statement, Langevin discards not only the Church’s teaching about abortion, but also its teachings about its own structure, which gets at the heart of its claims to Truth.  He is going over the head of his own bishop, as it were, so as to dismiss his authority.

Unfortunately, Pope Francis has muddied these waters, rather than clarified them, with his extemporaneous statements:

“What should the pastor do? Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning … but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor and … he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness,” the Pope said. …

“But always condemnation, condemnation, enough with excommunication. Please let us not place any more excommunications. Poor people. They are children of God. They are outside temporarily, but they are children of God and they want, and need, our pastoral closeness. Then the pastors work things out by the Spirit of God.”

If one is intricately familiar with the nuances of the faith, then one can make sense of something like this (maybe).  The problem is that most people cannot be expected to be that familiar.  Worse, the Catholics at the center of the storm — the pro-abortion politicians — are clearly in need of instruction.

Taken as a whole, it seems the pope intends to soften the meaning and implications of excommunication.  Yes, politicians like Langevin have excommunicated themselves from the Church, but that fact should be approached with sorrow and compassion, not with heat and condemnation, lest (as Pope Francis says) the pastor, himself, becomes a politician.

To my reading, what this means for Bishop Tobin and Congressman Langevin in the light of Catholic thought is pretty clear.  For the sake of Langevin’s soul, the bishop should explain to him that he is “outside temporarily” and would be knowingly sinning if he continues to receive the Eucharist.  And for the sake of other Catholics’ souls, this can’t simply be a private instruction.  Langevin is a public figure, and this matter is in the news.  Bishop Tobin can’t possibly send a private message to every Catholic whom Langevin might corrupt, so it has to be a public statement.

But tone is important, and it should be issued in sadness, begging those out of communion to return, with an instruction for the rest of us to be compassionate and pray for them.


Featured image by Luca Signorelli.

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