Monday April 12, 2010

Christopher West Takes Sabbatical to Reflect on Approach

By Patrick B. Craine

EXTON, Pennsylvania, April 12, 2010 ( – Renowned Catholic writer and speaker Christopher West has taken a six-month sabbatical to consider his approach in presenting the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

Seeking “personal and professional renewal,” West will cease teaching and has cancelled his speaking engagements for the period. The announcement came from the Theology of the Body Institute, where West serves as a research fellow and faculty member, and indicates that the decision was mutual between West and the Institute’s board of directors.

The time away is intended to allow West “to reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body.” The announcement also indicates that West must “attend to family needs.”

While no direct reference is made to it, the sabbatical follows a controversy over an alleged lack of modesty in West’s approach that began last spring.

A number of influential theologians, including West’s former professor at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Washington, Dr. David Schindler, criticized West’s approach for an under-emphasis on man’s tendency to sin, known as concupiscence, and for a lack of reverence around weighty and sacred subjects.

In response, however, a number of prominent theologians rushed to West’s defence, including Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Michael Waldstein. Smith argued that West’s approach is good pedagogy given that most of his audience is “sexually wounded and confused” and “have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture.” West was also backed by his local bishops, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg, at the time.

After the statement from the two bishops, West issued his response in October, thanking those who offered support and criticism and offering his reflections on the nature of concupiscence. He insisted that man cannot overcome his concupiscence, but also used Pope John Paul II’s teachings on the theology of the body to argue that man is capable of achieving a “mature purity.”

In the midst of those reflections, West did admit that he had not adequately emphasized concupiscence in his earlier work: “In some of my earliest lectures and tapes, I confess that I did not emphasize this important point clearly enough. The battle with concupiscence is fierce. Even the holiest saints can still recognize the pull of concupiscence within them.”

See related coverage:

Christopher West Controversy Fuels Debate about the Problem of Modesty

Prominent Theologians Defend Christopher West and Theology of the Body

Christopher West Debate Continues: Schindler Responds to Smith and Waldstein

Christopher West’s Publisher, Matthew Pinto, Enters Debate in Defense of West

Christopher West Thanks and Responds to His Critics in Theology of the Body Debate