Author and speaker Christopher West has ended his six-month sabbatical, saying he has come to see “a need for greater balance in my life.” He reported that he will address critics of his interpretation of John Paul II’s theology of the body, adding that some have been helpful while others continue to “misunderstand or misrepresent” his work.
“I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all those who made sacrifices to afford my family and me this time, and to all who lifted me up in prayer and offered written letters of encouragement and support,” West said in a statement on his website.
According to West, taking time for “deep, prayerful examination” and giving attention to his professional, personal and family needs have helped him understand “that we must never boast of anything except the cross of Christ.”
“Among other things, I have come to see a need for greater balance in my life. All who have been impacted by my lack of balance have been beautiful witnesses to me of God's tender patience and mercy,” West continued. “I cannot thank you enough.”
He said that after time with his family, spiritual direction and spiritual study, he is returning with “insights” he will share in an extended series of articles.
“These articles will also address the criticisms my work has received,” West explained. “My critics have helped me a great deal to refine my work over the years, and prayerful reflection during my sabbatical has shown me even more ways in which they have offered constructive feedback and advice.”
However, he said some critics “continue either to misunderstand or misrepresent my work in substantial and serious ways.” He pledged to do his best to address these criticisms “with love and gratitude.”
His statement concluded with a request for prayers.
Controversy over West’s approach to the theology of the body intensified after a May 2009 interview with ABC News in which West said he thought both John Paul II and Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner had rescued sex from prudish Victorian morality.
Critics of West include philosopher Alice von Hildebrand, who claimed his approach ignores the “tremendous dangers” of concupiscence, and theologian David Schindler, who said West’s views can encourage a “dangerous imprudence.”
Chastity speaker Dawn Eden also critiqued West in a master’s thesis which argued that West risks sexualizing Christianity rather than Christianizing sexuality. Eden said in a September 8 e-mail to CNA that one of her main criticisms is West's account of the development of the virtue of chastity. The danger of West's approach, she explained, is that it denies the power of the Sacrament of Marriage to turn the imperfect virtue of continence into the perfect virtue of marital chastity. Instead, West claims that perfect marital chastity is a prerequisite for marriage, which, says Eden, is not what the Church believes.
West’s defenders include philosopher Janet Smith, who said his approach is a response to “the sexually wounded and confused” and has helped encourage repentance among those who view pornography, live together before marriage or practice contraception within marriage. In her view some critics of West are not fair to him.
Ave Maria University theology professor Michael Waldstein, who helped translate Pope John Paul II’s work, has claimed that critics have made “sweeping accusations” against a position West does not in fact advocate.