Monday, June 15, 2009

Your Guide to the Theology of the Body Controversy

Earlier this month, Christopher West’s appearance on ABC’s Nightline generated controversy and debate among prominent Catholic theologians. At issue is West’s work in general, as well as the proper interpretation and presentation of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body.

Criticism of the Nightline piece mainly centered around two quotes from West attributed to him during the interview: his comparison of the late pope with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his description of the Book of the Song of Songs as the Bible’s “centerfold.”

West and the Theology of the Body Institute, of which he is senior fellow, quickly issued a statement about the Nightline interview. The statement said that while West and the TOB Institute were pleased that the show exposed more people to Pope John Paul II’s teachings, ABC “failed to provide the larger context Christopher offered in his extended interview.” “This lack of proper context has led some to misinterpret Christopher’s remarks as somehow endorsing Hefner’s views,” the statement said.

Shortly after the Nightline piece, Catholic News Agency ran a story citing statements by Catholic theologians Alice Von Hildebrand, Mary Shivanandan and Fr. Jose Granados, all of whom were critical of West’s approach and presentation of the former pope’s teachings.

CNA’s story was followed by another critical piece by Prof. David Schindler, provost and dean of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, exclusively published on Headline Bistro.

Prof. Janet Smith first responded to Schindler’s article, defending West. Smith, who holds the Father Michael McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, will also teach a course with West through the Theology of the Body Institute later this summer.

Fr. Jose Granados -- also of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, as well as coauthor of "Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II's Theology of the Body" -- has likewise issued a statement in response to West's Nightline appearance. The statement -- which has been excerpted elsewhere -- can be read in its entirety here.

Soon after, Dr. Michael Waldstein also weighed in to defend West. Waldstein, who recently translated Pope John Paul II's writings on theology of the body, now teaches at Ave Maria University in Florida.

In response to professors Smith and Waldstein, Schindler offered an in-depth explanation of his original critiques, which can be read here.

In defense of West, Ascension Press president Matthew Pinto argued that his approach to the theology of the body ought to be judged by its fruits. In addition to heading Ascension Press, which publishes West's works, Pinto was also involved in the founding of the Theology of the Body Institute, with which he still serves as a founding board member.

Most recently, Prof. Smith offered a response to Dr. Schindler, in which she argued that West has not received fair treatment from critics.

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