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The Catholic crisis, in perspective

“In spite of everything the newspapers say,” says the German theologian (and baroness) Nina-Sophie Heereman, “the future of the [Latin-rite] Church belongs to the U.S.!”

(Image: Josh Applegate | Unsplash.com)

Perspective is at least as important when reading the signs of the times as it is in landscape painting. And so, in this autumn of our Catholic discontent, I was particularly grateful to hear from an old friend, Nina-Sophie Heereman, who offered some needed perspective on the Catholic circumstance in the United States.

I first got to know Nina Heereman in Rome some 10 years ago, when she was doing Christian formation and spiritual direction with women from the University of St. Thomas, who were in the Eternal City as part of the late, great Don Briel’s Catholic Studies Program. Her story was so striking that I recounted it briefly in The End and the Beginning (the second volume of my John Paul II biography), to illustrate the late pope’s transformative impact on men and women from a variety of backgrounds. And Nina’s background was certainly intriguing.

A German baroness by birth, she had grown up in what she described as a “Catholicism hollowed out…a shell with no serious sin and therefore no state of grace [and] no encounter with Christ.” Then, after a powerful experience of the eucharistic Christ at World Youth Day-1997 in Paris, and after pondering John Paul II’s own vocational discernment after seeing him in Rome in 1998, Nina Heereman became a committed missionary disciple, taking vows as a consecrated laywoman in radical dedication to the New Evangelization.

After earning one of the world’s toughest doctoral degrees, in Sacred Scripture, she is now assistant professor of theology at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California, and it was from there that she recently wrote me:

“Against the black foil of so many negative headlines, haunting us for more than three months now, I am delighted to share the good news that for me — a German — moving to [the] San Francisco [archdiocese] feels like having fumbled through my mom’s fur coats only to find myself in Catholic Narnia! I lack the words to describe my joy at serving a truly Catholic bishop with such a clear vision for the renewal of the Church. Honestly, I had not a clue what I was signing up for. I always knew that the American Church was in much better shape than any Church in Europe, but I did not have the slightest idea that it was so much more alive. Now, granted, I might have unwittingly stumbled upon a particularly Catholic pocket of the country, but that is rather unlikely for I am in the heart of Silicon Valley, which is not…famous for its devotion to Catholic doctrine.

“….Never before — and I have lived in six important Catholic institutions so far — have I encountered a faculty that in its entirety embraces the teachings of the Catholic Church and is fully committed to teaching the same. On my first day the rector of the seminary, Father George Schutlze, said ‘We are celebrating ‘Humanae Vitae’ and then proposed a reflection on it for our faculty retreat…Archbishop Cordileone [then] came and addressed the faculty with the same words, adding that the connection between the dissent from ‘Humanae Vitae’ and the current crisis was evident. I was…hardly able to believe my own ears, that I actually heard a shepherd of the Church speak up for the truth of ‘Humanae Vitae.’ ‘I must be in Narnia and Aslan is back,’ was my only thought. As you know, being European I had never heard such clear, courageous, and prophetic words out of the mouth of a local bishop…

“In brief, I thank the Lord for having brought me here…It is so liberating to live my faith ‘out in the open.’ In spite of everything the newspapers say, the future of the [Latin-rite] Church belongs to the U.S.!”

Baroness Doctor Heereman is no naif. Multilingual, experienced in the ways of the world she is eager to help convert, an adult rescued from shallow Euro-secularism by personal friendship with Jesus Christ and now holding one of Catholicism’s most distinguished academic degrees, Nina is very much worth listening to. Especially when she bids those dispirited by today’s Catholic crisis not to fear the future, and to get on with living the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19.

That doesn’t mean backing off from essential and painful reforms in American Catholicism. Not at all. It does mean designing and implementing those reforms with evangelical intent.


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About George Weigel 191 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). Mr. Weigel received a B.A. from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore and an M.A. from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto. He is the recipient of eighteen honorary doctorates in fields including divinity, philosophy, law, and social science.

10 Comments

  1. There still is no serious sin…oh wait….there is but everyone either repents in the last five seconds, is excused for lack of perfection in the will or mind, or was turned down in first grade by their favorite girl and started in the other direction. “Many will seek to enter on that day and will not be able”…Christ Lk.13:24. Ignored by probably a majority of clergy thanks to the hope for an empty hell theory which is a development of Lk.13:24 into its opposite like Gen.9:5-6 becoming its opposite…ccc 2267. Chaos….the hermeneutic of discontinuous continuity. Weigel’s fav Pope was part of that smarter than scripture movement. I’d document it but it would make samton909 appear under a still different name.

  2. Pope Francis said everyone is an evangelist and introduced “The New Evangelism” without a cook book. Not everyone can be that tall. We cry for religious liberty, but we offer none to other faiths. That places us at a disadvantage. Marcus Grodi, a former Protestant minister, begs people to “come home”. If one looks closely the home’s roof is leaking badly. For all of its’ existence the church has rejected women clergy and base that position on the idea that Jesus had only men disciples. I feel that the Catholic Church places women as second class lay people. That again places us at a disadvantage.

    Placing a disgraced Cardinal under house arrest and penance instead of turning him over to law enforcement for his hideous crimes is absurd. That places us at a disadvantage.

    I would expect that Jesus might be mad enough with church that he may appear sooner.

    • I realize that Catholicism, for some, began in 2013. But evangelization has always been a central task of the Church—not just clergy, but also laity. This was reiterated often (often!) at the Second Vatican Council. So, for instance, Lumen Gentium states:

      Just as the sacraments of the New Law, by which the life and the apostolate of the faithful are nourished, prefigure a new heaven and a new earth, so too the laity go forth as powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for, when they courageously join to their profession of faith a life springing from faith. This evangelization, that is, this announcing of Christ by a living testimony as well as by the spoken word, takes on a specific quality and a special force in that it is carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world. … Consequently, even when preoccupied with temporal cares, the laity can and must perform a work of great value for the evangelization of the world. (LG, 35)

      Paul VI, in his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization, stated: “The whole Church therefore is called upon to evangelize, and yet within her we have different evangelizing tasks to accomplish” (66), a point repeated many times. Paul VI also states, “The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself” (15). Alas, that’s often a hard sell.

      John Paul II first introduced the term “new evangelization” early in his pontificate, in 1983. This article explains its meaning and context quite well.

      “If one looks closely the home’s roof is leaking badly. For all of its’ existence the church has rejected women clergy and base that position on the idea that Jesus had only men disciples. I feel that the Catholic Church places women as second class lay people. That again places us at a disadvantage.”

      My modest suggestion is that you spend less time with your feelings and more time with Church teaching, as well as with works that correct your woefully lacking views of both theology and history.

    • “I feel that the Catholic Church places women as second class lay people. ”

      And I am a woman, and I think (not feeeeeeeel) that you do not have the slightest clue what you’re talking about.

      Do you think (oh, excuse me, I mean “feel”) that because Our Lord did not choose to make His Mother a priest, he was announcing that she was second class?

      • Thank you, Leslie, for giving voice to women of faith; those who understand the meaning of “willed obedience” to God.

        For women of faith, could there be a more beautiful response to God’s will than that of Mary to the Angel Gabriel: “Let it happen to me as you have said.” (Jerusalem Bible translation)

  3. This isn’t a Catholic crisis. True Catholics would never blaspheme, practice idolatry, sexually abuse anyone, perform sodomy on anyone, agree with the heresies promulgated in Vatican II, pretend that sin does not exist, mock God constantly in vile and Satanic-type liturgies, allow the most vicious anti-Catholics any podium to spout their hatred of God, and teach and preach the gospel of Satan rather than Christ. This is a heretic/apostate crisis. These clergy are not Catholic. They are not serving Christ but the Devil. Their minds, hearts and souls have been hardened to the point they have no faith in Christ and desire only to take as many souls with them to Hell as possible.

  4. It should go without saying that this is not the whole story about St. Patrick’s but for naive Latin Catholics it is necessary to say it, and I say this as someone who is somewhat familiar with the seminarians, bishops, and the seminary staff. Perhaps one day someone with a different perspective can write about the actual state of American seminarians, even the ones that have a reputation for being “orthodox” (which usually means promoting some form of new Thomism.)

    • Well, if you have something to say, then say it, instead of condescending smugly to us naive Catholics. I don’t know anything about St. Patrick’s; it seems to me that if you are going to say that Nina-Sophie Heereman is wrong, you should at least provide some bssis for your statemment. Otherwise I’m left thinking it’s just those arrogant Orthodox again.

      • Leslie, you are right…These folks go overboard and condemn whatever they in their parallel church deem true. The are plenty of us “dumb” Catholic who want proof of their conspiracies theories and remain faithful to the Catholic Tradition.

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