Christopher West issued his first reply to critics of his approach to teaching the Theology of the Body today, explaining that it is not a “point by point” answer and that his purpose is to focus on the “pivotal point of the conversation.” At the heart of the heated debate, West argues, is whether or not man can be sexually redeemed by God's grace in this life.
The at-times loud exchange over West's presentation of the Theology of the Body was first touched off by an appearance he made on ABC's show “Nightline” last May.
Responding to the interview, scholars who teach Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body accused West of being imprudent in presenting the late Pope's message, while others lent him their support.
For his part, Christopher West remained silent until today, when the public relations firm, The Maximus Group, released his response titled, “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question.”
West began his four-page response by thanking those who came to his defense and offered him support, including Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop Kevin Rhoades. Speaking to his critics, he thanked those who “offered thoughtful critiques of my work and helpful suggestions on how to improve it, ” adding that he has “taken them to heart.”
However, West argued that “much of the criticism that appeared after the Nightline interview significantly misrepresented what I teach.” According to the speaker, “Rumors were repeated so often that subsequent commentators simply treated dubious accusations as fact.”
Instead of answering his opponents' charges “point by point,” West explained that his comments would be focused on the “pivotal” issue raised by the debate.
“The pivotal question as I see it is this: What does the grace of redemption offer us in this life with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies?” West wrote.
Acknowledging that man must always battle with his tendency to sin, West admitted that, “In some of my earliest lectures and tapes, I confess that I did not emphasize this important point clearly enough.” But, he also stated, by focusing on this limitation, his critics are limiting the power of Christ to transform people's disordered desires.
West also tied his efforts to the New Evangelization called for by the late Pontiff, writing, “John Paul II, it seems, was precisely the herald 'anointed by the Lord' to bring the good news of liberation to our sexually enslaved world.”
“'Do not empty the Cross of its power!' 'This,' he said, 'is the cry of the new evangelization,'” he added, quoting from John Paul II. At the end of his defense, West asserted that the “fundamental message of the TOB is nothing new. In essence, it’s what the saints and mystics have been telling us for centuries about the “great mystery” of Christ’s infinite love for his Bride, the Church. Yet John Paul II has penetrated that same Mystery with new clarity, new insight, new depth – giving us a new language with which to reach the modern world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Urging Catholics to help spread the Theology of the Body, West said, “It is my hope that the Nightline interview and the spirited debate it triggered will spur us all on as Catholics to study the TOB more intently, 'receive' its contents more deeply, and share its liberating message more effectively.”
Christopher West's full response can be read here.