.- Following several critical theological appraisals of Christopher West, Professor Janet Smith has come to the defense of the Theology of the Body speaker. Stating her “enthusiasm” for West and the Theology of the Body, she contended that his style is a response to “the sexually wounded and confused” and said many criticisms of him were “without foundation.”
Dr. Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, wrote an essay that was published on the the Knights of Columbus' site HeadlineBistro.com responding to an earlier essay by the theologian Dr. David Schindler, dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.
Schindler had criticized West’s teaching for significantly misrepresenting Pope John Paul II’s thought, describing his approach as “too much about sex and too romantic” and calling on him to subject his theology to “renewed reflection.”
Smith, in what she called a “brief, partial” reply to Schindler, noted the debate over West had been prompted by his interview with ABC Nightline which West said “sensationalized” his views.
Cautioning about the ability of media to distort stories, she said West has likely been suffering “a kind of crucifixion” over the past week. Smith questioned why Schindler chose the aftermath of the interview to issue his “sweeping, negative critique” of West.
“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,” Smith added, saying that “virtually every pioneering author and presenter” had “severe detractors in his own time.”
Referring to Catholic Answers apologist Jimmy Akin’s recent comments on West, she said it was important to remember that West’s audience is “largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture” and need an “appropriate pedagogy.”
Smith said West’s style 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,” she continued, invoking the biblical adage “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Noting that Schindler’s concerns included allegations that West had encouraged spouses to pray over genitals, Smith spoke of a sexual abuse victim who was counseled to have her husband pray over her reproductive organs to help her heal from her past trauma and to become more capable of the marital act.
Another of Schindler’s concerns was West’s reputed sanctioning of anal sex. To this, Smith replied that few know that some orthodox Catholic ethicists have “a tradition of approval of such behavior as foreplay to intercourse” so long as this approval is not confused with the condemnation of sodomy, an act which replaces marital relations. She added that priests have been trained to teach West’s position to married couples “for a very long time.”
“The principle generally invoked is that consensual actions that culminate in intercourse are morally permissible,” she said, claiming that West is perhaps more “conservative” than that tradition as he “clearly discourages the practice” in his book “Good News About Sex and Marriage.”
Smith criticized Schindler for not citing any texts to substantiate his charges, but noted that his critical approach was typical of academic disagreements in which scholars “disagree not only with our archenemies but also with our closest and dearest allies.”
Arguing that Schindler’s criticisms of West should not discourage those from reading West’s work or attending his lectures, she noted that West’s work “Theology of the Body Explained” was reviewed by Schindler’s colleague Prof. William C. May. According to Smith, May had given it a “glowing endorsement” and an imprimatur under the Archdiocese of Boston.
Professing interest in reading a “sustained critique” of West written by Schindler, she said more substantiation of Schindler’s charges and a response from West are needed to evaluate the validity of criticisms directed against West.
“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,” Smith concluded her essay. “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.”
Janet Smith's full response can be read at: http://www.headlinebistro.com/hb/en/news/janetsmithresponse.html