Christopher West’s Work is “Completely Sound,” says Dr. Janet Smith

Christopher West’s interview on ABC’s Nightline has sparked some terrific discussion on the Internet. An impressive amount of the interaction is intelligent and illuminating, even some of that which is seriously wrong. One of the better responses is that by Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers and the follow-up comments to his blog.

[CE Editor’s note: This article contains several frank references to sexual matters and is for mature readers.]

Here, I want to offer a brief, partial, response to Prof. David Schindler’s assessment of West’s work. The fact that Nightline got a lot wrong about West’s work is not surprising. In fact, it is surprising how much it got right. Those of us who work with the media know that potential martyrdom awaits us at the hands of an editor. West has likely been suffering a kind of crucifixion over the past week. What is puzzling is that an influential scholar chose this moment to issue a sweeping, negative critique of West in such a public forum. I have great respect for the work and thought of Schindler and realize that it must be difficult to be on the receiving end of criticisms of the work of one of their most high profile graduates. I wish, however, he had found another occasion to express his reservations about West’s work.

I think we should be very careful in our evaluation of the work of someone who is on the front lines and who is doing pioneer work. Virtually every pioneering author and presenter has had severe detractors in his own time. Some of them have been disciplined by the Church and eventually exonerated. I would like to give examples and mention names, but I don’t want to ignite a firestorm of “how can you compare Christopher West to X, Y or Z?”!

I want to add my voice to those who are enthusiastic about the West/Theology of the Body phenomenon. I think it is important to keep in mind, as Akin does, who West’s audience is. It is largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture. People need to think long and hard about the appropriate pedagogy for that group. Yet, 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 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. Cohabiters separate, contracepters stop contracepting, and men cease looking at pornography — and that is the short list. Countless young people are now taking up the study of the Theology of the Body because of West’s work. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Schindler objects to the language used in a list of comments made by West and dismisses them as “vulgar,” “in bad taste,” and “silly.” Was Schindler careful to verify those comments and take into account the context in which they were made? Let me defend two matters mentioned by Schindler, “praying over genitals” and anal sex, that might seem peculiar if not properly understood. I hesitate to draw further attention to these subjects because I do not want to give the impression that West’s work focuses on tangential and sensational issues of sexuality. It does not. West focuses on making John Paul II’s vision of our creation as male and female accessible to the common person in the pew. But people deserve answers to their honest questions, and West is charitable in his willingness to meet people where they are.

A friend of mine who was sexually abused often finds it difficult to engage in the marital embrace (trying not to offend!). A very orthodox Catholic therapist recommended that her husband pray over her reproductive organs (being delicate here). Since he has been doing that, she has experienced some healing, and her enjoyment of the marital embrace has improved considerably. One has to ask why praying over throats is fine while praying over other parts of the body wrong or silly? It would be Manichean to suggest that some parts of the body are good (e.g., the throat) while others (e.g., the reproductive organs) are not.

I never like to talk about anal sex (sorry, I don’t know a good euphemism). As one of my friends has observed about my sensitivities regarding sexual matters, “You would censor Shakespeare!” (I would.) But the fact remains that Catholic couples in today’s world have questions about such issues. Many cannot understand why anal sex could possibly be appealing to anyone (include me and, indeed, West in that group), while others seem to find the act attractive. Certainly there isn’t any “Church teaching” about this action at a magisterial level, but few seem to know that there is a tradition of approval of such behavior as foreplay to intercourse (not to be confused with the biblical condemnation of sodomy which replaces intercourse) by orthodox Catholic ethicists. The principle generally invoked is that consensual actions that culminate in intercourse are morally permissible. People are free to challenge the “tradition” on this point, but it should be acknowledged that West is not a maverick concerning this issue. Indeed, his position is perhaps more “conservative” than that of the “tradition.” In his book Good News About Sex and Marriage, West clearly discourages the practice. Perhaps it is time for ethicists to work on the question, but what Schindler failed to mention is that West’s position is precisely (or even stricter than) what priests have been trained to teach married couples for a very long time.

In the second portion of his article, Schindler provides a list of his objections to West’s theology without citing one text to substantiate his charges. I would be very interested in seeing a more sustained presentation of Schindler’s critique. As it stands, I do not find that his concerns correspond with what I have read in West’s work or heard in his lectures. I believe a thorough discussion of the issues Schindler raises would enrich our understanding of the Theology of the Body. But for those whose lives are not spent in the academic world, a world in which minutiae can take on epic proportions, let me note that disagreements of the sort that Schindler has with West are an everyday occurrence in the world of academia. That is, we scholars disagree not only with our archenemies but also with our closest and dearest allies. And not just about small matters; Thomists disagree with other Thomists about serious issues of interpretation of Thomistic texts; Thomists and phenomenologists who both are entirely faithful to the Magisterium can have fierce disputes on all sorts of issues. Prof. William May and I once debated on the best way to defend Humanae Vitae.

My point is this: The fact that the dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington D.C. has issues with West’s approach should not discourage anyone from reading West’s work or attending his lectures. Schindler has serious disagreements with other reputable, orthodox theologians, including professors on staff at the John Paul II Institute. West’s extensive commentary on the Theology of the Body, Theology of the Body Explained, was reviewed for the nihil obstat for the Archdiocese of Boston by Prof. May, a longtime colleague of Schindler at the John Paul II Institute, who also gave it a glowing endorsement for the book jacket. (I also reviewed and strongly endorsed West’s book, Good New About Sex and Marriage.) Several times in his piece Schindler refers to West’s “intention” to be orthodox which could imply that he has not necessarily achieved orthodoxy. We should be clear that West’s works have been given an Imprimatur, an ecclesiastical judgment that a work is doctrinally sound. I share the view of others that they are completely theologically sound.

Again, I would be very interested in reading a sustained critique of West’s work by Schindler because of his own tremendous knowledge of the Theology of the Body. Yet, until he substantiates them and we have a response from West and his supporters, we will not be able to evaluate the validity of Schindler’s evaluation. West has been giving his presentations for over a decade now; he has shown spectacular docility and humility in reworking them in response to criticisms. I suspect that as a result of this recent dust-up West may want to adjust some of his approach (or he may not!), but I also am confident that onlookers will find that many of the criticisms against West are without foundation. Some are erroneous because the critics are not sufficiently acquainted with West’s work. Others are not sufficiently acquainted with John Paul II’s work. Sometimes differences are not about substance but about emphasis or semantics. When dealing with a subject as fraught with distortions and sensitivities as sexuality there are surely going to be differences between people of good will.

Scholars and graduate students will be studying and arguing over the proper interpretation of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body for centuries to come. I think West has already made a very worthy contribution to that discussion. Others are free to differ with him, but I am sure that, in the end, West’s influence will not be found to be a pernicious one. Rather, I expect we will all have an immense debt of gratitude to him.

[CE Editor’s notes: Professor Smith has revised this piece to include a more precise meaning of an imprimatur. Professor Smith is an occasional guest lecturer at the Theology of the Body Institute .

As of Monday, June 8th, Professor David Schindler has offered a rebuttal to this article by Janet Smith, as well as to Professor Waldstein, here.]

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  • ckrempec

    Thank you Janet Smith for articulating so well exactly what I’ve been thinking about this “controversy”. I wonder why we so easily allow ourselves to be divided?

  • Lucky Mom of 7

    Christopher West’s work has really spoken to my husband. My husband has had what I can only call a radical conversion in regards to his attitudes about sexuality. It has saved our marriage.

    Different strokes for different folks. Thankfully we have different perspectives on the same truth contained in TOB. It isn’t necessary that they be mutually exclusive.

  • Theophilus

    *Thanks* Janet for clarifying things. I learned TOTB from Christopher West and his materials and didn’t find anything problematic at the time, but Schindler’s comments seemed credible and gave me concern.

    Shame on Prof. Schindler for painting such a one-sided, out-of-context picture. I really feel misled and upset, and I’ll think twice before trusting anything he (Prof. Schindler) says again.

  • dlendman

    Thank you Dr. Smith. It is nice to see someone defending Christopher West in such a reasonable way. I am one of the many who can attribute a major change in my life to the Theology of the Body, and Christopher West did not play a small part in this. However, I wanted to pose a question to you about where you find that there is a tradition in the Church permitting anal sex as a valid form of fore-play? As far as I can tell, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches clearly against it in the Secunda Secundae, I think it is question 154. St. Alphonsus Liguori likewise condemns it, much more explicitly in Homo Apostolus. These are two great Doctors of the Church, and I think we should be very hesitant about dismissing their claims. This point, by the way, is the only real point of disagreement I have with Christopher West.

  • Pingback: Purify Your Bride » Blog Archive » God Bless Janet Smith()

  • ladybug

    Examine the fruits of the action, or spirit, of anal sex. There is a continuum of medical risks, even within the boundaries of a marriage bed, because the rectum was not created as an entrance. Those are some bad apples. There is also a disproportionate, intense focus on anal sex within the poronography industry. Those are some more bad apples in my opinion. There are enough bad apples in this basket to warrant scrupulous examination by the Church as bad apples do not come from a perfect God.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    The trackback link from Purify Your Bride observes about Christopher West that “[h]e does go out to the edge quite frequently but he is very concerned about not crossing lines.” I think this is poignant analysis, and it should provide all with food for thought. The reason is that theology is not doctrine. Sometimes, theology can be expressed in simple words with simple ideas, but this is probably rare. However, the notion of theology itself is remarkably simple: study God, think logically, and draw conclusions without contradicting the doctrine of the Church. This last point leaves quite a bit of roaming room, which too many seem willing to deny to theologians with whom they disagree.

    Think about that last sentence for a moment, paying particular attention to the point about disagreeing. If you disagree with the Church about doctrine, then you are heterodox, but orthodox theologians disagree all the time. Therefore, they are not disagreeing about doctrine. Failure to understand this point is the real danger here, whether you disagree with Christopher West or with those (like David Schindler) who have criticized his approach. Our inability to affirm doctrine unreservedly while arguing pointedly about theology is a significant part of the confusions in the Church today. The confusions allow heterodox theologians to dispute doctrine itself. Many times, a heterodox argument will sound much more amiable than an orthodox argument. In such cases, the former will affirm argumentative notions while disputing the undisputable in a happier tone of voice, while the latter may often assume doctrine while digging out a rougher argument.

    Please note that the problem is not the rougher tone sometimes adopted by the orthodox theologian. The problem is our own inability to argue pointedly without succumbing to hurt feelings. We would rather have our unnecessary (though perfectly acceptable) theological ideas affirmed without delving too much into doctrine than be forced to face a really good argument that simultaneously upholds doctrine. The good orthodox argument often challenges us on two levels. First, the doctrine challenges us to change our very selves because an unreserved presentation of the Truth will necessarily highlight the shortcomings in our own behavior. Second, the argument challenges our thoughts because it takes a different angle in examining and applying that same Truth. It can be daunting to face the Truth alongside a competent theologian who presents it in a way we don’t much like to hear.

    The good heterodox argument, on the other hand, commonly seeks out common argumentative ground first and then challenges Truth from that standpoint. Try examining some heterodox arguments with this idea in mind. A common one we have had to deal with is very pertinent to the subject at hand. The theologian (who could be a trained theologian or anyone else) begins by observing that the Church’s teachings on married sexuality are difficult. In one way or another, he points out his own understanding for those who struggle with this difficulty, sometimes even articulating his own general agreement with the doctrine. Then the hammer falls: the difficulty itself is sufficient reason to thoughtfully consider whether or not one should follow the doctrine.

    This is exactly the opposite of what Mr. West and Prof. Schindler are engaging in. First, Mr. West goes out to the orthodox line, including some speculations based firmly in the Truth because, well, he has gotten some questions from well-meaning but (often) uncatechized Catholics. Such questions demand and deserve answers. Mr. West’s approach to answering those questions is deeply challenging for the world because it openly (and often successfully) invites people to not only accept the Church’s teaching but to embrace it. However, in answering these questions, he may offend the sensibilities of some folks for whom these simply aren’t questions. Here is where Prof. Schindler comes in, arguing also from the strict orthodox point of view. That these arguments are heated should not surprise us.

    And we ought to demand more of the same all around.

  • tjboudreaux

    First, I would like to make the point that Schindler did cite many of the ostentatious quotes that validate West as walking the proverbial line. Here is the excerpt of Schindler’s citings :

    West’s work has involved suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love; blessing the ovaries of women in his classes; advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame; using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle; criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002); referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06); stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity; and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.

    Secondly, Schindler did give credit to West in that his work has had some good results and has helped people. I don’t think any honest forward thinking Catholic would argue otherwise.

    That does not make West free to say what he pleases without scrutiny. I think what is missing from those who defend West is that many are defending him, not based on the rebuttal of the two major issues people have with his work, but instead validate that by saying he has done so much good.

    One question that seems to be skipped over by West’s defenders is a very serious one, namely “Does his attitude towards concupiscence open up vulnerabilities in the armor of many, or even reinforce holes that were already there”?

    You see a man cannot and should not be judged just on his good works, but also on his bad works. I think that even Mr. West would agree that if the public debate that rages around his work, reveals anything that can lead people astray, then he should be willing to make corrections.

  • elkabrikir

    thanks homeschoolnfpdad.

    My own homeschoolnfpdad noted that the disordered media and homosexual activists will try to exploit perceived weakness within the Church and among the faithful. Therefore, “nfpdad’s” post is quite relevant to what’s going on. We must not fall into the trap Satan is setting for us and which the enemy uses to his benefit.

    Ten years ago this August, West spoke to a small group of catechists, in my state (about 50 of us). Despite his energized and passionate delivery when presenting the material, he was quiet and very humble in one-to-one discussions. Some people may not like his delivery, for instance my husband who thinks West is screaming at him.) But that doesn’t negate the truth of West’s content.

    The subject matter itself is sensitive by its very nature. Taken out of context, perverted minds can easily “spin” West’s points. (Just like some followers of Jesus did with John 6 and some people still do regarding consuming the Body and Blood of Christ….think cannibalistic)

    West didn’t invent any of this material. Much of his material comes form TOTB and also from the writing of Father Paul Quay (Truth an Meaning of Human Sexuality…….which the Holy Spirit put on my bookshelf long before I had never heard of Christopher West or TOTB.) West is a teacher and marketer of the truth. Janet Smith, correctly stated that he speaks to a particular audience of people who have been wounded by a perverted or incorrect understanding of the beauty of sexual intimacy. Please don’t be offended by this statement, but, he wants you to leave his presentations excited about Holy Sex.

    Believe me, Cosmo magazine would fold its cover permanently if folks were unconcerned about “good sex” and focused on “Holy Sex” which leads to pleasure not only of body, but more importantly, of one’s soul.

    Finally, Christopher West needs prayers, because there is the possibilty, as St Paul described and was concerned about, that he may save others yet lose his own soul. Also, the Forces of Darkness will attack him.

    Thanks CE for focusing on this subject which is revelent to any person who has a body.

  • I do not doubt Christopher West’s orthodoxy nor his love and fidelity to the Church. I’ve read some of his books and have heard him speak.

    The concern, and I think what Prof. Schindler was alluding to, is the way his content is presented when he is public speaking and his audience’s interpretation and understanding thereof. As a public speaker myself, I know how easy it is to get caught up in your audience. I’m also aware of the temptation to become more and more sensationalistic in order to keep the seats filled at public appearances.

    Mr. West has an important message for our time, and I give him credit for stepping out and taking the risks involved in his mission. I do worry, however, when I listen to what the young people say who have attended his seminars and then go on to teach the same to others. Many of them have missed the mark completely.

    One small example is the attitude toward contraception. An alarming number of young people I know who adhere to Mr. West’s teachings believe that we (Catholics) may contracept any time for any reason as long as we’re using natural family planning. Thus, there are young couples out there putting off having children until they’ve “made it big” in their careers, or had the chance to “travel and see the world”, to “live it up a little”. This contraceptive mentality is not what our Catholic Church teaches. I doubt this is what Mr. West believes, either, but somehow this is the way he’s coming across to his audience.

  • ckrempec

    NFP is NOT contraception.

  • Mary Kochan

    No, ckrempec, NFP is not contraception, BUT the techniques of NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality. An abuse of something does not make it wrong, but the goodness of a thing does not prevent its abuse.

  • dennisofraleigh

    Good article, but I wish Prof. Smith would have addressed West’s remarks to “Nightline” about Hef and the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s. That “revolution” let us not forget (Prof. Smith take note) was driven by the introduction of artificial contraception, particularly the “pill.” TOTB is nothing if not a total repudiation of that so-called “revolution.” Why West did not press that point home I can’t quite understand. If anything TOTB is the Holy Spirit’s launching of a “counter-revolution.” Long live the (counter)revolution!

    And Hugh Hefner(!) If any man in modern Western culture has raised “objectification” of the female body to a fine art, it is Hugh Hefner. West should have left ol’ Hef out of the discussion, and if he insisted on bringing him in, discuss the “Playboy philosophy” as one of the best examples of what happens when we attempt to separate the “body” from the “person.”
    To the quitessential “playboy” the women in his life become just part of his collection of “stuff” (nice car, bachelor pad with the latest hi-fi equipment, a well-stocked liquor cabinet, and oh yes, a shapely even-36 trophy to show off at the club). Puritanism as a cultural norm has its drawbacks, to be sure. But to imply that Hugh Hefner’s “playboy philosophy” is some kind of improvement I think gives too much credit where none is due.

  • elkabrikir

    We must not judge the motivation and rectitude of intention of a couple who uses NFP for whatever reason.

    Souls progress, progressively. Even babies are weaned gradually onto solid food.

    Some of us have more children than others and may wonder (judge) why others of you, with fewer children, have pusillanious hearts that seek fewer children than we do, while avoiding future pregnancies using NFP. We’re sure YOU have your– perceived– Grave Reasons. Not that I’m judging.

    None of us is God. Even angels can’t discern motive.

  • Mary Kochan

    Please, Dennis, click on our Theology of the Body tab at the top of the site and scroll down on the right side to see the video Christopher West talking about Hefner and the pope in CONTEXT.

  • Kathryn

    I used to subscribe to a couple of traditionalist newspapers (they type subscribed to by SSPX or PV adherants). I remember this one advertisement I would see about some very holy, very pious, very good Catholic family with some 8 (or more) kids who didn’t have enough to eat and were sleeping on the floor etc. The husband had been out of work for quite some time and guess what, another baby on the way!

    It seems to me that it cuts both ways: yes, there are people out there who are using NFP with a contraceptive mentality. But, there seem to be others who refuse to engage in any type of self-control, or perhaps I should say they justify their seeming lack of it by citing Church teaching against contraception. (Interestingly enough, one of the harshest condemnations I ever saw for this type of behavior came from the the same type of publication. Interesting.)

    Each of us ought to accept the children sent to us with gratitude, but I don’t think it unreasonable to suggest that people think/pray carefully about whether or not they want to “ask” for such a precious gift. God doesn’t normally send ’em if you don’t “ask” for them. If a couple can take in 10 kids, great. But if you they barely keep body and soul together, then maybe they might want to avoid “asking.”

  • ckrempec

    I don’t mean to open a can of worms here but I disagree with the whole “NFP with a contraceptive mentality” argument. mfenelon said “An alarming number of young people I know who adhere to Mr. West’s teachings believe that we (Catholics) may contracept any time for any reason as long as we’re using natural family planning.” My point is that regardless of the intention, NFP is NEVER contraception. Also, I don’t believe couples can practice NFP with a “contraceptive mentality” for any extended period of time. The reason I say this is that using NFP to postpone a pregnancy is challenging and requires much VIRTUE. Also, as Fr Hogan puts it in his pamphlet “The Human Body”: “With regard to individual acts, e.g., acts of conjugal love by married partners, the Church never examines a general intention. Rather, it is always the specific act and the specific intentions which accompany the specific act which weigh as evidence in the judgment. In other words, an NFP couple may have some vague general intention about postponing children for months or even years, but that does not matter. It is the specific intention which they both have when engaging in an act of love which either contributes to the virtue of the act or to its sinfulness. The specific intention of NFP is not contraceptive. Therefore, the NFP couple does not have a contraceptive mentality. This distinction between the general intention and the specific intention explains one of the effects of NFP on couples..the general intention (which might be called contraceptive) gives way to the series of specific intentions they have when they engage in the marital act. Each marital act (which is open to life) weakens the general intention until it conforms to the specific intentions accompanying each act. It is impossible to maintain a general intention towards something and continually act contrary to that general intention. Either the specific intentions will change to conform to the general or vice versa.” That is, the couple will either become more open to life in their intentions or they will give up on NFP and contracept. In my personal experience, it is difficult to abstain even with a justified reason. How could a couple continue to practice the virtues necessary to use NFP to postpone a pregnancy without a justified reason? Just my two cents.

  • elkabrikir

    Personal attacks don’t illuminate a discussion or advance an argument.

  • elkabrikir

    Back to the source of this confusion, the media and her Saints of Scum, (no personal attack intended, just an observation of their take on all subjects)

    I didn’t even watch West on TV, despite numerous emails hailing the appearance and encouraging me to, because of several reasons:

    First, I’ve read the primary sources of JP II, Father Paul Quay, and Song of Songs, including a hundreds-of-pages long exposition on it. I don’t need a few sound bites from commercial TV to learn about TOTB.

    Second, I didn’t trust the media to accurately cobble together hours of footage of a West speaking. I avoid the mass media at all costs. Maybe Christopher West should do the same, unless he has very tight editorial control over the final product. Any subject matter dealing with Truth and Church teaching must be promoted over mainstream media with grave caution. Even the popes have suffered at the hands of the media. I would like to know how they protect the Truth and their reputation.

  • I’ve now made three posts on this. Today’s is this:

    A friend said that this would blow the roof off this thing…

    I know all about TOB. I did THE course on TOB with now Cardinal Caraffa as a student at the JPII Institute for the Family at the Lateran University years ago.

    I’m now a critic. Was then too.

    Father George bloggingLOURDES
    Chaplain of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes, France

  • Charis

    I like Christopher, and I know he is sincere. But I do happen to agree with Prof. Schindler’s comments, and I do not believe from reading them that he has taken Christopher’s works out of context. In fact, he was very charitable and gave him credit for his works and good intentions. It makes me feel bad because I know how much Christopher is trying to help. I do have respect for him, but I’m uncomfortable with some of his interpretations of JP II’s TOTB.

  • Mary Kochan

    TOB is supposed to have it’s feel firmly planted on the foundation that something is written into our bodies and their parts, something that we can “read.” If that is so, then how could anyone read into parts obviously not created for sexual union, anything approaching fitness for their use in that way?

    That’s all I have to say about that.

    However, I think it is unfair to accuse CW of promoting something, just because he doesn’t assert the authority to condemn it.

    If it is magisterially condemned though, he should not withhold that knowledge from people who sincerely ask.

    But I just have to say — why would anyone need to ask, unless there was already some kind of very serious deformity in their thinking? Ok, that IS really the last thing I have to say on this.

    Carry on, all. It is illuminating — I guess (although my own instincts are to turn the lights off).

  • Mary Kochan

    ckrempec, thank you for your thoughtful response. The effect you say the practice of NFP has on couples may largely be the case, however, not everyone shares the same weaknesses and passions. It is certainly possible for there to be couples for whom the self-control needed to limit sexual relations to non-fertile periods comes easily — especially as they get older — but for whom the generosity to open their family to another child, with its attendant cramping of their lifestyle comes much harder.

  • goldilocks

    Chris West’s teaching system, of which he, unfortunately, claims is a reflection of something our late Holy Father planted, contains serious errors and, contrary to Janet Smith’s opinion, should be completely rejected by Catholics and all people who love what is good and wholesome.

    The Church commands that it is never morally permissible for individuals to conduct a sexual act without at least a good faith openness (a dormant desire) for a pregnancy. Because our God is miraculous, this applies to individuals who are restricted by science from reproducing. Chris’s system arbitrarializes the exercise of the very narrow license afforded to couples through the practice of NFP. And, no, this matter is not an “organic” Catholic teaching (indeed, there are those) that, over time, needs to be extrapolated by the Holy Spirit and the Sensus Fedelium.

    What’s more, his teaching on moral sexual activity is polluted by secular absurdity. To suggest a brand of sexuality that, by its nature, competes or attempts to compete with the procreative function through artificial replication is, in fact, pernicious.

    Chris West, Janet Smith and all such dissenters are in serious error to suggest that these matters belong to personal conscientiousness and “believer freedom.”

  • vintz

    I am not a theologian, so when I cautiously choose to disagree with Dr. Schindler, it’s with great respect to him and the pontifical institute… It seems that a lot of people have been criticizing West without really understanding his thought (or at least what I take his thought to be), or being very familiar with his work.

    I wanted to directly respond to a couple of Schindler’s comments:

    – in regards to one of the “vulgar” West quotes – “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002). Surely Schindler is familiar with Isaiah 66:11 which speaks of Jerusalem – “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, That you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!” West is simply making a connection between Mary and a beautiful Old Testament prophesy. Come to think of it, Isaiah may well have been accused of being vulgar as well…

    – in regards to West’s “misconstrued” meaning of concupiscence, Schindler says “My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.”

    This sounds to me to be the comment of a “master of suspicion”. In West’s TOB Head & Heart Immersion Course Study Guide, he quotes JPII from “Memory and Identity” when JPII says “So the illumintive stage in the interior life emerges…from the purgative stage…if we persever in following Christ our Teacher, we feel less and less burdened by the struggle against sin, and..move with ever greater freedom within the whole created world. This freedom and simplicity characterizes our relations with other human beings, including those of the opposite sex”. That’s JPII in his own words, and it sounds to me like the power of Christ to transform can’t be underestimated.

    – In regards to West’s treatment of shame and reverence, Schindler says “If we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt, he seems to think, we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness.” I think Schindler may be “misconstruing” West. If I’m understanding West correctly, he would instead say that if we could just get rid of the EFFECTS OF THE FALL, then we could look at each other rightly in our nakedness. In the garden, before sin, they were “naked without shame” after all.

    – In regards to Hefner and Puritanism, West points out the according to Hefner, he started Playboy magazine as a “response to the hypocrisy of his Puritanical upbringing”. Hefner goes on to explain that his mom literally never hugged him. The Puritanical approach to sexuality is that our bodies are bad, and that sex is dirty and tabboo. I believe that West’s ONLY point of agreeing with Hefner was that, “no, our bodies and our sexuality aren’t bad”. THAT’S IT FOLKS.

    And just as pornography was taking over in America, is it too far fetched to think that at the same time, the Holy Spirit was moving in JPII to give the church a means to fight this disease. That’s the historical connection that West sees…

    – When Schindler says, in regards to the Marian dimmension of West’s work, “In this context, we can say that West’s theology ultimately lacks a Marian dimension: not in the sense that he fails to make references to Mary, but because his work is not adequately formed, in method or content, in Mary’s archetypal feminine-human sensibility”, this might be where I disagree most personally and strongly. FUNDAMENTAL to West’s message is his emphasis of Mary’s archetypal feminine role, and how we must imitate her “receptivity” in being open to the gift of God. And it has been one of the most personally transformative concepts in my life. If I understand Schindler’s point correctly here, he just isn’t that familiar with West’s work. He’d do well to attend one of West’s immersion courses to hear it straight from the source…

    If anyone’s still reading, thanks for hearing me out. Blessings to all – to Smith, to Schindler, and to West. We’re on the same team.

  • vintz

    One more point…

    Schindler says, “West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.”

    West has an entire section in his Head & Heart Immersion study guide devoted to “The Limit of Analogy”, saying “we must be careful to maintain this substantial dissimilarity lest we move too continuously from creature to Creator….we must always respect the mysterious and infinite difference between God and his creatures….the body is only a sign, an icon of the divine mystery. We must be careful not to make of it an idol….

    and from a JPII homily, “It is obvious that the analogy of …human spousal love cannot offer an adequate and complete understanding of… the divine mystery”.

    Sounds to me like West gets it…

  • ckrempec

    Mary, I agree it is certainly possible…I would be surprised however to find a couple who spent years practicing NFP in their marriage as God intended (not just to avoid pregnancy, but to achieve it as well)to desire each other less, just because their older. Funny how God works, though. The desire is strongest during the fertile times and at age 38 I still don’t see that changing a whole lot. I’ve also noticed that when women get close to that time when their fertile years are waning they begin to desire another child MORE, knowing their chances for such a blessing are drawing to a close. I guess we all have to look at OUR weaknesses and learn how to overcome them to follow God’s Will in ALL things.

  • It had to happen. The Theology of the Body crowd, the TOB crowd, just had to support sodomy. That’s the logical conclusion of the Theology of the Body which John Paul II would never have thought would have happened (much like Descartes didn’t know what the consequences of his “Cogito ergo sum” would be.

    Here I fisk Janet Smith’s take on Christopher West’s take on what they think is the holiness of sodomy, which take, summed up, is: “It’s not for me personally, but if it gets you going, do it.” That’s rubbish. Here are my [comments] of Janet Smith’s comments:

    “A friend of mine who was sexually abused often finds it difficult to engage in the marital embrace (trying not to offend!). A very orthodox [either you are or you are not; there is no more or less…] Catholic [everyone screams that they are Catholic. Just give me the arguments…] therapist [um… therapist… and so… qualified…] recommended that her husband pray over her reproductive organs (being delicate here) [This is sick. This is what people do at a black mass. There is nothing evil about her reproductive organs. Her emotions are scarred. To pretend that it is the fault of her reproductive organs is Manichaean, you know, as in: “Reproductive organs are evil.”]. Since he has been doing that, she has experienced some healing, and her enjoyment of the marital embrace has improved considerably. One has to ask why praying over throats is fine while praying over other parts of the body wrong or silly? [One is about honoring a saint’s charity and asking for intercession regarding external maladies, the other is a projection of an emotional lack of wherewithal onto the body, which is wrongheaded and horrific in its implications and its longterm consequences.] It would be Manichean to suggest that some parts of the body are good (e.g., the throat) while others (e.g., the reproductive organs) are not. [But that is precisely what you and your buddy, Christopher West, are doing, Janet.]

    “[Janet continues:] I never like to talk about anal sex (sorry, I don’t know a good euphemism) [speaking to her readership for this comment, getting on their good side, for she is prudish, like they are, wink, wink.]. As one of my friends has observed about my sensitivities regarding sexual matters, “You would censor Shakespeare!” (I would.) [But only so that she can do worse, as we will now see.] But the fact remains that Catholic couples in today’s world have questions about such issues [So, she is now the great martyr who will condescend to the lowly and ignorant, the suffering and downtrodden, and wade into areas that her vaunted puritanism would otherwise not permit]. Many cannot understand why anal sex could possibly be appealing to anyone (include me and, indeed, West in that group), while others seem to find the act attractive. [You can vomit here. This is the consequence of the Theology of the Body par excellence. Anything goes, as long as it is phenomenologically perceived to be nice to the beholder. As Fr Z pointed out concerning the horrific artwork in Vienna, this is wrongheaded, for beauty is a consequence of truth. The next step for Theology of the Body is to support homosexual unions for those who appreciate sodomy. Sodomy is never beautiful, for it never follows the truth of who we are. If someone finds sodomy attactive, does that make it right? If someone finds homosexuality attractive, does that make it right? If someone finds child abuse attractive, does that make it right?] Certainly there isn’t any “Church teaching” about this action at a magisterial level [What a diabolical error. That’s like saying that one can have an orgy during Mass since there is no rubric against this. And anyway, there is plenty that the Church has said about the unitive and procreative ends of intercourse in marriage having to be present. Sodomy is not passionate kissing, but militates against both the unitive and procreative ends of intercourse, using the other person as a piece of meat with which there is no hope of any procreation. It doesn’t matter how momentary this is, or how “preparatory” for normal intercourse this is pretended to be. How sick. They think that at long as someone is married, anything goes… anything.], but few seem to know that there is a tradition of approval of such behavior as foreplay to intercourse [like passionate kissing? that which respects the other person? Sodomy is the consummate disrespect of another person.] (not to be confused with the biblical condemnation of sodomy which replaces intercourse [replacement isn’t necessary for sodomy to be completely wrong.]) by orthodox [in whose judgment?] Catholic [in whose judgement?] ethicists [“ethics”, like in democratically established custom trumping true morality, which is not based on custom, but on truth? To use the word “tradition” for this kind of thing is deceptive on an ecclesiological level, claiming a might makes right magisterium of the people.]. The principle generally invoked is that consensual actions that culminate in intercourse are morally permissible. [“Principle” … and therefore true with no arguments to the contrary being admissable. Look, passionate kissing, whatever respects the integrity of the other person and oneself is fine. But sodomy is absolutely wrong on every level.]. People are free to challenge the “tradition” on this point [Her condescension is insincere, for she immediately changes her mind:], but it should be acknowledged that West is not a maverick concerning this issue [In other words, he is right because she says that he is.]. Indeed, his position is perhaps more “conservative” than that of the “tradition” [She is just so out of touch with reality. This is what happens when you get rid of the primary and secondary ends of marriage, which is essential for the West/Smith Theology of the Body. So what if he is not the most horrific speaker around, does that make what he says good? Scripture and Tradition and Magisterium (the latter being read in the light of Scripture and Tradition and previous Magisterial interventions) uphold the primary (procreative) and secondary (unitive) ends of marriage, even if more recently there has been some horrific, horrific fudging or wrongheadedness in non-binding parts of some documents.]. In his book Good News About Sex and Marriage, West clearly discourages the practice [But admits it is still O.K., if you like that kind of thing. This is disordered. Pathologically sick.] Perhaps it is time for ethicists to work on the question [But only if one agrees with West and Smith, of course…], but what Schindler failed to mention is that West’s position is precisely (or even stricter than) what priests have been trained to teach married couples for a very long time. [D’ya think? I would agree about the strictness thing, but for the opposite reasons. Ever since 25 July 1968, almost no one has heard any priest or bishop teach anything about marriage from the pulpit of the local parish or local Cathedral. Instead, there has been an anything goes mentality, with the result we have today.]”

    FURTHER COMMENTS: TOB comes down to a rejection of the method of knowing that is necessary to human beings, an epistemology appropriate to those with bodies instead of those who are angels. The TOBers try to turn people into angels by saying that there is no need to abstract from sense knowledge to know that this is another man instead of another tree. Pretty ironic for those who emphasize the body, no? They say that such abstraction prohibits one knowing another in an intimate way, but this is not at all true. It just stops us from projecting ourselves onto others as if we were the only ones who existed. Not bad, that. After any abstraction is rejected, the only thing left is, you guessed it, the phenomenon of the phenomenological method. There is a tyranny of relativism that comes with this, for there can be no commandments that are shared by more than one person with a phenomenological outlook. As it is, years ago, in Rome, there is not even one Polish priest I knew who did not reject the ten commandments for phenomenological reasons. Here we have it, the tyranny of relativism, all packaged to look very Papal and Catholic, but it is simply the rape of the intellect, leading to the rape of one’s spouse or anyone else for that matter.

    The fisking in this comment is much easier to read with the proper formating which you can find on a.k.a. Father George bloggingLOURDES

  • Mary Kochan

    I would very much like to see JS or CW or somebody respond to Father George whose critique is unnecessarily harsh, unChristian in its mocking, and verges on the ad hominem. Not to mention that it looks suspiciously like it is taking a sideways swipe at JPII. In spite of those serious faults, I have left it up because it is the first attempt I have seen to offer a root and branch criticism of TOB’s phenomenological basis. (Understand this is not a subject I make it a habit to delve into). If TOB really does rest on rejection of Aristotelian/Thomistic epistemology (and I don’t know that it does and I’m not taking Fr. George’s word for it) it is in trouble over the long term however popular it may be for the short term.

    I submit that the internet sport of fisking (offering sarcastic point-by-point rebuttals) is a poor model for Catholic dialogue (Janet Smith’s charitable approach above is a much better example). I hope that responses to this post will not further degrade the tone of this conversation.

    That being said, if JS and CW can’t bring themselves to categorically reject anal sex as an authentic component of the matrimonial embrace (and I don’t know that they have not, or will not and I’m not taking Fr. George’s word on it) I think that also spells trouble for TOB — or at least their version/interpretation of it.

  • “unChristian”… wow… I’ve been fisked!

    I know about the epistemological outlook of TOB rather closely, inasmuch as this was explained to me for months on end in minute detail, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, by the founding President of the John Paul II Institute for the Family at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, namely, now, Cardinal Caraffa. I was his student. He analyzed the thought of the Angelic Doctor, especially in the Summa and De Veritate, rejecting it point after point for the reasons given above.

    If I say that John Paul II (and Caraffa) didn’t realize the consequences of his revision of epistemology, that doesn’t mean that I’m dissing him personally. Quite the contrary. Loyalty to the Pope doesn’t mean throwing aside academic discussion. If you don’t know that, you don’t know John Paul, nor Benedict. They invite(d) this.

    Guaranteed: If John Paul II knew where such an epistemology would take his theology of the body, he would have scrapped it instantly. He just couldn’t see it. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t holy. I expect him to be beatified soon.

    By the way, I am a bit ferocious when people are being put at risk of going to hell. Error has no rights, nor does error justify. The best way to respect people is to say things in a way that they will understand. You’ll see examples of this throughout the Scriptures, especially on the mouth of our Lord. If people say things that put people at spiritual risk in a very public manner, they need to have a response made to them in a way they and everyone else can understand. I’m not writing this because I don’t care, but because I’m being a priest. No nicknames either.

    Do people want priests to be priests, getting about their mandate to help people get to heaven, or do people want affirmers of whatever they are doing?

    Father George David Byers
    Chaplain of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes, France

  • Mary Kochan

    Fr. George, If I did not think you were making a substantive contribution to this discussion, I would have removed your post. I was not sarcastic with you. Nor did I belittle you or try to go point-by-point with you.

    There is simply no excuse for a priest of your stature in this field to have resorted to the attribution of motives and innuendo that appears on your post and blog.

    As for the substantive part of it, I agree the JPII would have wanted a rigorous conversation. And I welcome you to it on CE.

    Error has no rights, but people do and along with that, comes the obligation of other people to respect those rights, including the right to a good name.

  • reddog54

    I don’t know. I’ve met many TOB devotees and often they seem to be young, upwardly mobile, Catholics who are looking for a way to get more pleasure out of life and marriage. No problem, but I think maybe Dr. Smith misrepresents the general TOB devotee population when she says most of them are sexually wounded young people. Some, no doubt are, but hardly the backbone of West’s following.

    Also, I thought Mr. Schindler’s concerns were quite valid. He is quoted on lifesite:

    “However, the comments as aired are the latest in a long list of statements and actions not inconsistent with the context set by the Nightline editors.”

    Schindler writes that he has asked West whether or not he believes that sexual temptation can be completely extinguished through holiness, rather than simply subdued and controlled. West responded, according to Schindler, that “he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us.”

    According to Schindler, West appears to be saying that “if we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt … we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness.”

    However, Schindler responded that according to Christian theology, temptation “dwells ‘objectively’ in the body, and continues its ‘objective’ presence in the body throughout our life on this earth.”

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, in paragraph 405, that Original Sin has caused human nature to become wounded and is now “subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence.”

    Schindler said that, “we should expect holiness to ‘trump’ temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to ‘trump’ the reality of having to undergo death.”

    This lines up with some of the bad fruit I have personally witnessed in regard to TOB. I spoke to a fervent devotee of West’s TOB the other day and he justified divorce when the sexual intimacy in marriage does not reach the ideal described in West’s interpretation of TOB. When I mentioned to him that I felt certain JPII never meant for TOB to deny or negate the Church’s longstanding teachings on the theology of the cross, he looked at me like I was some type of archaic, Catholic neanderthal. A marital cross was just not on his radar. It wasn’t “God’s will”. Everyone should be experiencing the ideal discussed in TOB or they were failing in their marital obligation.

    The problem being that West is leaving young men and women with an idea that a heavenly ideal can, and should, be the norm for us while living here in this life. Schindler’s quote, “we should expect holiness to ‘trump’ temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to ‘trump’ the reality of having to undergo death,” speaks to the unorthodox interpretations that are coming out West, and the West TOB camp. He is right and duty-bound to address these.

    God bless and may Mother Mary protect you.


  • kelly

    As a Catholic Wife, Mother and Catholic Book store owner I would have to disagree with Janet Smith on the subject of sodomy. You can call it anal sex if you like but it is sodomy. This is pretty simple here.. you can not have children if you are participating in the act of sodomy. Its ugly and not natural. A man and a woman fit together perfect. Like a puzzle. Sodomy.. they dont. It even puts them as odds. Its like the flip side of the marriage act that God gave us. One is beautiful (from God) allows a child to come forth, the other is ugly and evil (devil) and has no benefits.

  • Mary Kochan

    reddog54, I think your comment is very perceptive regarding the unrealistic expectations.

    Fr. George might want to identify that with JPII and I think that would be an interesting discussion.

    I do take issue with the idea that that sexual damage is not pretty ubiquitous in our fornication-mad culture, though, and I wouldn’t go so far as to blame a divorce like that on CW. People who are hell bent on sinning will use any excuse.

  • goldilocks said: “Chris West, Janet Smith and all such dissenters are in serious error to suggest that these matters belong to personal conscientiousness and “believer freedom.””

    If Christopher West and Janet Smith are “dissenters”, then we’re all in trouble! I think that this statement is false and a disservice to two lay Catholics who believe in the Church’s teachings and have sought to spread them faithfully for many years.

  • mwittlans

    If you want to know what West really says about Hugh Hefner, listen to his own words: [CE Editor’s note: link changed to on site location]

  • They are being Manichaean. It’s their choice to be so. Their good name follows what they do publically. I presume they are sincere Manichaeans and identify their names with that outlook. So, it’s not for you or me to hide what they want to do with their own names.

    Janet does use literary convention rather heavily in an effort to claim the middle ground. This is simply good writing on her part. There’s no innuendo in pointing out the literary convention. It’s simply a service to any other readers. Janet would take this deciphering of convention as an expected course of affairs. I’ve seen her debate. She is rather astute. As it is, I don’t think for a second that she is trying to deceive anyone with such literary convention. She expects people to laugh at the “wink, wink” bit, which summarizes cultural attitudes. She’s then ready to make her point. No big deal. But it does need deciphering. Doing that shouldn’t excommunicate my comments from the realm of the Christian.


    Now then, about the TOB! The TOB is based on a false interpretation of Genesis 2,4–3,24, whereby people think they can get back into the garden of Eden before the Fall while still in this world. That is just so wrong. It is against everything in Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. To think that people can be rid of the effects of original sin in this world is to come up with a replacement for the Salvation brought to us by Christ, which, for all it’s mercy, does not ignore justice, which is precisely what emphasizes the mercy. People can grow, but not to the point where they have no weakness. As has been pointed out, we still die.

    It is the inverting of the ends of marriage, procreative and unitive, which pushes people to think that they can be rid of the effects of original sin. Pleasure itself becomes a sacrament of self for self. Pornography and sodomy follow with lockstep logic. One absolves oneself of weakness. One can do no wrong, for one always acts with perfect strength and reason.

    This is all so boring, a rehashing of older heresies.

    Father George bloggingLOURDES

  • stjowksp

    In my personal opinion… “anal-sex” is not of the Spirit. The practice of anal sex either for foreplay or for whatever purpose is unnatural. The intimacy between the husband and the wife is lost in this act… it is degrading for the woman and very “animal-like”. Such act is not a product of God’s purpose for the body but rather a result of concupiscence. If people who have been bruised by sexual abuse, rape or whatever has found healing in the “pure” TOB teaching, very well…but please do not be confused with the idea that it is a “do whatever” it pleases you with your spouse.. even if both of you consent to it. If you have serious issues about sex because of your abuse, the best cure for that is not praying on your genital.. it is praying for spiritual healing and assistance from the Lord to help you appreciate a tender loving sex with your spouse. The ill is not coming from the genital, it is from the mind and soul. The body is good… but you do not need to stand in front of the mirror to appreciate it.. that is what people who is not of the Spirit does. I firmly believe that Mr. West and his defenders has gone so way out of hand in interpreting JPIIs TOB. TOB is written by JPII precisely so that we have a holy understanding of our body… for the “Word became flesh’, thus sanctifying our human body… and thus we should treat it with dignity…there is no such thing as “rectitude of intention” in anal-sex. I think Mr West has gone too far… I am so sorry Ms. Jane Smith… I think you are so wrong in defending some of the issues raised about Mr. West teachings. And please, if Mr. West will continue on teaching this praying on the genitals, etc. for healing of the genital… can he please distance himself from JPII’s TOB.

  • Lucky Mom of 7

    CW states very specifically that for the marital embrace to be holy, that there be no form of Onanism. The seed must be planted in the only appropriate place. This is the qualifying distinction between licit anal sex and sodomy. Sodomy is practiced in place of sexual intercouse. Anal sex, as discussed in CW’s work, is part of foreplay. (I’m not giving my own opinion of the practice, only an analysis of my understanding of the issue in this context.)

    From what I’ve read in objections here (and I’ve not read everything, just skimmed), I think oral sex could be ruled out and deemed evil according to the same criteria. So could manual stimulation for that matter.


  • Mary Kochan

    Is that what he SAYS — or is that your interpretation of what he says or a conclusion you are drawing out of what he says?

  • Lucky Mom of 7

    I think the best answer to your question, Mary, would be to encourage reading Christopher West, other commentaries on TOB (like Gregory Popcak), JPII’s original texts (or simplified versions like I have) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the meaning of marital love. I’ve had exposure to all of them.

    My point is that West’s work is consistent with Church teaching. As someone who has done some writing myself (and I’m sure you can relate) it’s impossible to cover every contingency on every point if a writer wants to produce something that’s readable. Especially with matters of theology, background knowledge or further reading are reasonable to assume. Like all writers, I think West makes some assumptions about a certain level of “common knowledge” among readers. It’s these appropriate and understandable assumptions that critics blow out of proportion and insert motives and non-existent innuendoes.

    An Imprimatur is an Imprimatur. I’d be willing to bet that most of those who have posted in this discussion don’t even know what that means. (I know that you do, Mary.)

    Thank you for facilitating such an enlightening discussion.

  • Mary Kochan

    No, Terri, the best answer is for you to tell me whether what you wrote was what he SAID/WROTE or something you are extrapolating. You are the one who wrote it, so presumably you know the answer to this. I have read two of CW’s books for the record and did not run across mention of this in either.

    I am not asking you a theological or moral question, I am asking you for the source of your own comment.

  • Response to Lucky mom of 7

    There is no such thing as “licit anal-sex”… where did you get your interpretation of “licit anal-sex” or better yet… where did you find that there is such thing as “licit anal-sex”. An anal-sex is sodomy…period… please do not give this false teaching about this form of sexual act… same as oral sex. That is what people who are not living in a state of grace do.

    I will probably from hereon encourage the reading of JPII’s book on TOB only. Now I am starting to get afraid how JPII’s TOB is misinterpreted by some other people/authors. I also take offense in JPII being put in the same line as Hefner. I think I will be very afraid to attend any courses Mr. West offers on TOB and probably will have reservations in encouraging others. I need to research more about what CW says and teaches.

  • boudread1985

    I invite all who have concerns or have made negative comments about Christopher West’s presentation of the Theology of the Body to attend his Head and Heart Immersion Course. I have read no criticisms that correspond accurately to anything I have ever read or heard from Christopher himself. For an opinion to be valid, it must be based upon sufficient knowledge and experience. If you have neither of these regarding Christopher, I invite you to stop commenting until you do. Expressing opinion based upon hearsay or sound-bites taken out of context does justice to no one.

    I have read his books, viewed his DVD’s and attended over 90 hours of Christopher’s lectures. Never have I read or heard anything contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Never has he in any way promoted sodomy and according to my notes, in fact refers to sodomy as the “ultimate diabolical mockery of the one-flesh union.” Never has he promoted pornography or portrayed Hugh Hefner as anything but a wounded and misguided man. To say that Hugh Hefner was correct in rejecting puritanical disdain for the body is not the same thing as agreeing with Hefner’s pornographic response. Christopher is extremely careful to clarify what is from Pope John Paul II and what is from CW, repeatedly making the distinction when speaking, as well as in written documentation. Christopher has a deeply profound love and respect for JPII and the TOB; he would never intentionally misrepresent JPII or his teaching and actually prays prior to every lecture for protection against unintentionally doing just that.

    Christopher’s reverence for the Eucharist and passionate love for Christ and His Bride is evidenced every day in multiple ways throughout the week long courses he offers. I cannot adequately describe the profound beauty and humility this man possesses, nor can I sufficiently explain the greatness of his gift – the ability to take the complex and make it not only understandable, but experiential in a transformative way for the average person.

    Again, I encourage all to schedule a course and experience this yourself, but mostly I ask all to pray for Christopher West to receive the grace needed to continue his much needed work which is clearly to promote a liberating and healing message that directs all to a deeper love for Christ and His Church. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Gal 5:1

  • In my two year study on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body which ran as a 7-part series in Catholic Family News (May-November 2008) and is now available online at, I tackle the issue of the morality of anal penetration by married couple as a form of foreplay as explained by Christopher West.

    In Chapter Five of his book Good News About Sex & Marriage – Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teachings (First Edition), in response to a question on the morality of anal sex for married couples, West states “There’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse.”

    This is a false teaching and a serious moral error.

    Based on my 17 years of research for The Rite of Sodomy – Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church, which included a study of all of the Church Fathers, including Saint Peter Damian and Saint Bernardino of Siena, on the vice of sodomy, I can categorically state that the Catholic Church has always defined sodomy to include anal penetration, with or without ejaculation.

    The act of sodomy, whether carried by homosexuals or by spouses, is intrinsically evil and a perversion. A married couple who engages in anal penetration and then goes on to normal coitus has engaged in two separate acts – the first, sodomy, is a grave sin, whether or not ejaculation has occurred. Further, the physiology of anal copulation is such that it would be most difficult to prevent ejaculation.

    In West’s revised edition of Good News About Sex & Marriage, this grave moral error was not corrected. After pointing out that anal penetration is unsanitary and unaesthetic, West asserts:

    Perhaps in some abstract, objective sense, there is nothing to condemn mere penetration of the anus as absolutely and in every case immoral. But subjectively speaking… it is very difficult to justify anal penetration as a loving act of foreplay to the marital embrace. It is an act that seems to stem much more from the disorder of lust than from a genuine desire to symbolize and renew the marriage commitment.

    Now, alas, we have Janet Smith, claiming that:

    Certainly there isn’t any “Church teaching” about this action at a magisterial level, but few seem to know that there is a tradition of approval of such behavior as foreplay to intercourse (not to be confused with the biblical condemnation of sodomy which replaces intercourse) by orthodox Catholic ethicists. The principle generally invoked is that consensual actions that culminate in intercourse are morally permissible…. Perhaps it is time for ethicists to work on the question…

    What madness is this?

    Where, pray tell, is the Catholic tradition that approves of anal penetration as a forerunner to coitus to be found?

    What question is there for ethicists to work on?

    Isn’t 2000 years of Church teachings on the immorality of sodomy good enough for West or Smith?

    Do West and Smith have to be reminded that not all married couples have normal sexual desires? Indeed some are drawn into sinful acts as a prelude to intercourse including sadomasochist acts, the viewing of pornography to stimulate sexual excitement, and sodomy.

    Isn’t it time that TOB advocates like Christopher West and Janet Smith be held accountable for their erroneous and dangerous pronouncements on Catholic sexual morality and conjugal love?

    Randy Engel

  • Excellent work, Randy.

    Some might not think so.


    Sometimes some people think that simple answers are ironic and therefore mean spirited, angry instead of zealous, and that any teaching of the truth when offered with in-your-face simplicity (for those whose in-your-face error demands such straightforwardness) will surely be ignored, it being that people are too emotive in our times, too soft, too mentally weak, too lacking in discernment, too willing to have someone lead them into an all-too-convenient error, too willing to give up on chastity and modesty.

    I suppose it’s true that sodomy and oral sex and masturbation — essentially homosexual behaviors — are the American recreation for supposed heterosexuals, but that doesn’t make it right, or chaste, or modest, nor does it mean that these things should not be answered with straightforward simplicity. So many, many Americans are completely glutted with unchastity and lack of modesty, and are very much homosexually disoriented in their rationalizations, congratulating themselves with their freedom to sin, denying that there is any sin, for they are already self-redeemed, back in the Garden of Eden with a redemption of their own making, a redemption that ignores justice and, therefore, ignores mercy. Self-redemption is a license to sin in any way and say it is holy. Wild sin is not the paradise of the Garden of Eden!

    Remember Hilaire Belloc? He has some wise words in this regard, you know, about presenting the truth to those who have closed their eyes, stopped their ears and have made sure to close their hearts, those who think that they are always young and pure and ingenuous, you know, without sin:

    “To the young, the pure, and the ingenuous, irony must always appear to have a quality of something evil, and so it has, for […] it is a sword to wound. It is so directly the product or reflex of evil that, though it can never be used – nay, can hardly exist – save in the chastisement of evil, yet irony always carries with it some reflections of the bad spirit against which it was directed. […] It suggests most powerfully the evil against which it is directed, and those innocent of evil shun so terrible an instrument. […] The mere truth is vivid with ironical power. […] The mere utterance of a plain truth labouriously concealed by hypocrisy, denied by contemporary falsehood, and forgotten in the moral lethargy of the populace, takes upon itself an ironical quality more powerful than any elaboration of special ironies could have taken in the past. […] No man possessed of irony and using it has lived happily; nor has any man possessing it and using it died without having done great good to his fellows and secured a singular advantage to his own soul.”

    Hilaire Belloc, Selected Essays (2/6), ed. J.B. Morton; Penguin Books (1325): Harmondsworth – Baltimore – Mitcham 1958. See the essay “On Irony” on pages 124-127.

    Father George David Byers
    Chapelain (Sanctuaires de Notre-Dame de Lourdes)

  • rod1

    Just before the Christopher West-TOB controversy kicked off, we ran an excellent article on the very subject in our British international monthly “Christian Order.” Written by the highly respected American layman Jim Likoudis it is titled “Sexual Salvation Without Repression and Condemnation” and is now uploaded on our website at It is a clear and accurate summary critique of the dangers of the West-TOB phenomenon which I highly recommend to Catholic Exchange browsers.

    Rod Pead
    Christian Order magazine

  • dborer42

    Thank you Fr. Byers for your obvious concern for the salvation of souls. In the past year I was forced into “no-fault” divorce, and now my wife has had her petition for nullity accepted. I’ve experienced nothing but lukewarm, pro-petitioner, pro-nullity priests. I’ve heard many, many people talk about the “healing” of annulments, and the compassion of the tribunals. There is no healing for abandoned spouses and the children whose lives are torn apart by divorce. And as a respondent, I’ve experienced none of this “wonderful” “compassion.” Instead, suspicion and hostility appears to be the lot of the respondent who doesn’t just roll over and let what God joined together, be put asunder.

    Would that there were more priests speaking out boldly in defense of Church teaching, and placing the salvation of souls first in their ministry.

  • stlouisix

    For the record, I’m in complete agreement with Randy Engel for the very simple reason that to do so is to be Catholic! Many of us, including myself, did not see the early warning signs in regard to where the ‘theology of the body’ could only ultimately lead, which is a bastardization of Catholic moral teaching on the Holy Sacrament that is Marriage. That came later, for me at least, as its presentation was more closely studied for the many problems that it proffered, the biggest of which was the tremendous error of Vatican II that refused to recognize the primary purpose of the Holy Sacrament of Marriage as procreative in accord with the traditional Catholic Magisterial teaching of Casti Connubii, preferring to equate it with the unitive act.

    The foundational warning signs were shouted in this regard by those who saw that grave error for what it was and where it was going to lead from the get-go. “Caveatis” was their shout in Latin. They were not listened to. The resulting chaos of the devil is history.

    See the following taken from An Open Letter to Confused Catholics by His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

    “Marriage has always been defined by its first aim which is procreation and its secondary aim which is married love. Now, at the Council they sought to alter this definition and say there was no longer a primary aim, but that the two aims of which I speak were equivalent. It was Cardinal Suenens who proposed this change and I still remember Cardinal Brown, the Master General of the Dominicans, getting up to say, ‘Caveatis! Caveatis!–Beware! Beware! If we accept this definition we go against all the tradition of the Church and we pervert the meaning of marriage. We do not have the right to modify the Church’s traditional definitions.’”

    Sodomy remains sodomy, regardless of when, where, and how it’s practiced. It is Mortal sin, PERIOD! The Church’s moral teaching has never changed on that point. How could it and remain Catholic! The fact that there are those purported Catholics who are attempting to do so through the bogus TOB speaks to their skewing of the faith into something unrecognizable as Catholic!

    Randy Engel’s insightful critique of TOB, recognizing it for the major problem that it is in deceiving those not familiar with the aforementioned Church Magisterial teaching that somehow it is unquestionably Catholic, which is a bald-faced lie, is to be commended.

    I was always taught that our bodies were Temples of the Holy Ghost, gifts from God, i.e., we’re not the landlords of our bodies but rather the tenants. Of late, the proponents of TOB don’t seem to get that seminal point in essentially turning God into a pornographer in their warped presentation of what was one of His most sacred gifts to mankind.

    Doesn’t the devil do enough of that?

    I want to thank Randy Engel and all those in agreement with her for their courageous witness to the one true faith.

    God bless you all!

    Instaurare Omnia in Christo!

    Gary L. Morella

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