Vatican official urges calm in theology of the body debates

Bishop Jean Laffitte Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family 2 CNA Vatican Catholic News 11 11 11 Bishop Jean Laffitte

Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said it is important for scholars of Pope John Paul II’s teachings on human sexuality not over emphasize their points of disagreement.

“We should not develop too much the disputes,” Bishop Laffitte told CNA Nov. 11.

Recently several voices—including Bishop Laffitte—expressed concern that some scholars may be overemphasizing the sexual aspect of Blessed John Paul II’s widely known “theology of the body.” The late Pope developed his insights into human sexuality and love in a series of 133 talks given between 1979 and 1984.

“It is true that when you have such a thought of John Paul II then it is huge—600 pages, 133 catechesis on human love—so I think it is possible to forget one element, even an important thought,” Bishop Laffitte said.

The bishop took part in an international three-day conference on the topic which concluded Nov. 11 at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University.

“I think it’s been an excellent conference,” said Dr. Janet Smith, Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, to CNA.

“I love the international dimension both among speakers and the audience and I think it gives us an opportunity to see how the theology of the body is studied worldwide,” Smith said, adding that “the more people who study it, the more great riches the theology of the body we will discover.”

She said that, for her, the conference once again highlighted the “multitude of angles from which we can study the theology of the body,” as “it is going to be decades if not centuries,” before Pope John Paul II’s thought in this area is fully understood and developed.

Speakers over the 3 days included Monsignor Savio Hon Tai-Fari of the Pontifical Council for the Evangelization of Peoples; Dr. Rocco Buttiglione, Vice-President of the Italian Parliament’s House of Deputies; Professor Michael Waldstein of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida; and Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A common theme over throughout was the part which the theology of the body can play in the Church’s new evangelization of the western world. Smith believes that role can be significant as “it speaks very directly to a particular problem of our age which is sexual confusion.”

She believes it helps introduce people to salvation history, a life of mystical prayer as well as healing their “sexual wounds.” The fact that “one work is doing all of these things is spectacular” she said.

Bishop Laffitte added that “the theology of the body is something very modern and it can help many, many people to get reconciled with the idea of human love, sexuality, human body, masculinity and femininity and so on.”

He believes young people—especially when preparing for marriage—are particularly drawn to a vision of human sexuality by which “the communion between a man and a woman can be perceived as an image of the divine communion between the divine persons.”

The conference did not focus on the current debate among experts on how to best present John Paul II's teaching on human sexuality. Controversy over the issue can be traced to Christopher West's 2009 interview on 60 Minutes when he compared the late Pope to playboy founder Hugh Hefner. In response to the program, West said that ABC tried to make his points understandable but sensationalized and misrepresented his views.

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