Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg have issued a statement affirming their “strong support” for the “important work” of the Theology of the Body Institute, saying its founder Christopher West has a “charism” to popularize the work of Pope John Paul II.
The cardinal, who is Archbishop of Philadelphia, is chairman of the institute’s episcopal advisory board. Bishop Rhoades heads the diocese that West lives in.
Their August 10 statement, released on September 17, reported that West is in communication with them as his local ordinaries and has their blessing.
“We are convinced that John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a treasure for the Church, indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time,” the two prelates wrote.
"Yet, its scholarly language needs to be 'translated' into more accessible categories if the average person is to benefit from it,” they continued. "To do this is the specific mission of the Theology of the Body Institute, and we believe that Christopher West, the Institute's popular lecturer and spokesman, has been given a particular charism to carry out this mission."
Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades said the Theology of the Body Institute’s programs, courses and materials show “strong fidelity” to the teaching of the Church and to the thought of Pope John Paul II.
Referring to “recent discussions,” the two bishops said they were happy to express their “full confidence” in West, saying he continues to show “Great responsibility and openness” in listening to and considering observations and reflections on his work.
West’s May interview with ABC, which he claimed “sensationalized” his views, sparked a controversy about the truth and the propriety of West’s approach to teaching Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Theologian David S. Schindler was critical of West, saying he sometimes shows a “dangerous imprudence.” Writer Alice von Hildebrand charged that West’s presentations are irreverent and insensitive to the “tremendous dangers” of concupiscence.
West was defended by other Catholic thinkers like Janet Smith, who said criticisms were unfair and based on “out of context” examples. In Smith’s view, West’s work is a response to “the sexually wounded and confused.”
Christopher West, writing in a brief Friday entry on his Twitter page, thanked Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades for their support.