Prominent Theologians Defend Christopher West and Theology of the Body

Mon Jun 1, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

By Alex Bush

June 1, 2009 ( - The debate that was sparked by an interview on ABC’s Nightline with Christopher West has grown into a rare, and fascinating instance in which a point of Catholic theology that has not been completely defined is being hashed out in public by the Church’s top minds. The issue at stake is West’s interpretation of the “Theology of the Body” of John Paul II – a Catholic take on sexual theology developed by the late pope in a series of talks during his weekly Wednesday audiences between 1979 and 1984. reported last week that Dr. David Schindler from the John Paul II Institute, the institution where West received his Masters degree, publicly criticized the man who is perhaps the world’s most well-known proponent of the pope’s novel work on sexuality. Schindler criticized West not only for what he deemed to be an inappropriate use of language in discussing delicate sexual matters, but also for his take on other theological questions involved in the Theology of the Body. 

A number of West's ideas and choices of language, wrote Schindler, are "vulgar and in bad taste, not to mention sometimes bordering on the just plain silly" and "indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality."

Now, however, in response to Schindler’s criticisms, two other renowned theologians have come to the defense of the West.

Dr. Janet Smith from Sacred Heart Major Seminary, a highly respected theologian in Catholic circles, has written that Schindler’s problems with West do not “correspond” with what she has “read in West’s work or heard in his lectures.”

Smith, in response to Schindler’s concern about the lack of an appropriate modesty in West’s language, said that most of West’s audience is “sexually wounded and confused” and “have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture.”

“People need to think long and hard about the appropriate pedagogy for that group,” she said. “As West himself knows, his approach is not for everyone. An analogy that pushes the envelope may be ‘offensive’ to one person and may be just the hook that draws another person in.  West has adopted a style that appeals to a large segment of that population - and even to some who are ‘pure and innocent.’”

“It is not hard,” she continued, “to find hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who will testify that they have come to love Christ and his Church, and better understand and live the Church’s teaching about sex because of the work of Christopher West.” 

Another prominent academic, Dr. Michael Waldstein, who was a translator for John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” said that he “was surprised and taken aback by [Schindler’s] recent blanket negative statement about Christopher West in reaction to West's Nightline interview.”

“West's work is uncompromisingly in line with the Church's faith,” Waldstein said.

On the other hand, Fr. Jose Granados, also a professor at the John Paul II Institute, where West obtained his degree, has recently joined Schindler in criticizing his institution’s former pupil, saying, “We cannot respond [to the sexual revolution] with a different kind of pansexualism, with a sort of ‘Catholic sexual revolution,’ which in the end promotes a similar obsession with sex, even if ‘holy.’ ”

To all appearances, however, the discussion about West’s work, and the best interpretation of John Paul II’s contribution to Catholic theology, is only just beginning.

Related Coverage:

Christopher West Controversy Fuels Debate about the Problem of Modesty

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