I would submit that this is the best substantiated summary of the problems with West's theology. You can get an easier-to-read version of the summary here:
November 18, 2010
Dedication of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul
His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali, JCD
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
222 North 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1299
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Wade St. Onge. I am 33 years of age and am originally from Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada. I studied as a seminarian for the Diocese of Bismarck at Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis from 2002-2004. I met you once after our mutual friend, [name omitted], introduced us. I recently graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Theology and have worked within the Catholic educational system for a number of years.
In 2006, I was asked to teach a course in “Theology of the Body” at John Paul II Bible College in Radway, Alberta. In preparation for the course, I made use of various “secondary sources”, including those produced by Christopher West. Naturally, then, I began to follow with great interest and participate myself in the debate that arose over the internet after Dr. David L. Schindler went public with his concerns about West’s theology – some of which I shared myself.
As the debate continued over various blogs and websites, I noticed that the laypeople defending Mr. West expressed the same positions on the various issues, made the same arguments, and “used the same lingo”, so to speak. It became clear to me that those who have listened to West all seemed to have the same deficiencies or misunderstandings with regards to the Church’s teachings on purity, sexuality, and marriage. Until now, I was content to respond by continuing to debate the issues over the internet and the “blogosphere”. However, this changed on All Saints Day, when the website, “Catholic Exchange”, founded by Christopher West’s publisher, Matt Pinto of Ascension Press, ran an article by “James J. Simons” (See Attachment #1), a theology graduate from Steubenville, who has heard West over 100 times. As can be seen in the comments box (some of which I have attached), this article shocked, alarmed, and angered many readers due to the fact that it essentially advocates the heresy of “Christian naturism”. The article began with an account of an argument that the writer witnessed between Christopher West and a university professor, unnamed in the article, but actually Dr. Scott Hahn, on the set of EWTN’s “Franciscan University Presents”. When Dr. Hahn told Mr. West that the appropriate response, if he was to see another man’s wife naked, was to “turn away”, Mr. West responded that, on the contrary, the proper response was “not to lust”, thus implying that he should not look away. The extreme positions taken by Mr. Simons in this article, which I would argue is simply the logical implications of Mr. West’s theology (but which he is careful not to fully flush out in his presentations or writings).
I believe there are two main errors in Mr. West’s theology. These are:
1) West’s understanding of purity, specifically his teaching on what he calls “mature purity”.
2) West’s understanding of shame and his teaching on being “naked without shame”.
According to West, the Church’s traditional teaching that men “avoid occasions of sin” by practicing “custody of the eyes” is merely an “initial step” on the path to sanctity. (1) Since the power of Christ’s redemption enables believers to experience a “liberation from concupiscence”, men should expect to move from this “purgative way” of exercising continence to the “illuminative way” (2) whereby they are able to look upon a woman, regardless of her state of dress, with a purely loving gaze and without putting themselves in danger of lusting. (3) For men who have reached this state of “mature purity”, (4) they can look upon the naked body purely and without shame, (5) just as Adam and Eve did and just as we would be able to do in heaven.
The roots of these errors seem to stem from two theological deficiencies:
1) The lack of any real sense of “positive shame”, which although he uses the term, seems to confuse it with negative shame such that practically speaking there is no positive shame; (6)
2) An overconfidence in the ability for grace to overcome the pull of concupiscence in this life, to the point where there no longer exist any occasions of sin. (7)
In order to confirm the validity of these and other apparent errors (See Appendices) and problematic and even dangerous elements in his theology (See Appendices for examples), and in order to assist Mr. West in correcting his theology, I would humbly request that as Chairman of the Episcopal Board for the Theology of the Body Institute, he be required to answer the following questions:
1) If a man who has reached “mature purity” sees a naked woman, should he practice custody of the eyes by looking away? If so or if not, why?
2) If all men achieved “mature purity”, would “shame” still require that women wear clothing? If so or if not, why?
3) If there was a small group of people comprised of both sexes who had all reached “mature purity”, would it be appropriate for them to worship together in the nude at a private Mass? If so or if not, why?
4) If a man of “mature purity” looks upon a woman and admires the beauty of her God-given femininity, is that man guilty of lust if he experiences attraction and even physiological arousal and yet continues to look, as long as he does not “desire to possess” or “use” her through sexual contact? Is it possible to not desire to have sex with a woman and still lust? Please explain.
5) Would it be appropriate in one’s meditation to picture the married saints lovingly engaged in the marital embrace? If so or if not, why?
6) Are the images on the homepage of Fr. Thomas Loya’s Tabor Life Institute website (www.taborlife.org) appropriate? If so or if not, why?
7) For a man/woman, is the most fundamental and most important question he can ask himself is “what does it mean to be a man/woman?”, or “what does it mean to be a human being?” Why?
8) Did you compose your “bedtime prayers for children” because you believed there was something lacking in the more traditional bedtime prayers? Please explain.
9) Does John Paul II’s Theology of the Body provide a sufficient resource with which to present a complete catechesis on the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality? If so or if not, why? And if not, what should it be supplemented or buttressed with?
10) Does the chapter on “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed” (III: 39) in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life reveal any Manichaean tendencies in this Doctor of the Church? Please explain.
Thank you for your time and consideration concerning this matter. I appreciate your response.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Wade M. St. Onge
[address / phone number omitted]
His Eminence, William Cardinal Levada
(Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)
Most Reverend Pietro Sambi (Apostolic Nuncio to the United States)
Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan (President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz (Vice-President, USCCB)
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput (Former Ordinary of Mr. Christopher West)
Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades (Former Ordinary of Mr. West)
Most Rev. Joseph P. McFadden (Ordinary of Mr. West)
His Eminence, George Cardinal Pell (Episcopal Advisor, Theology of the Body Institute)
Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila (Advisor)
Most Rev. Robert J. Baker (Advisor)
Most Rev. John M. Dougherty (Advisor)
Most Rev. Victor B. Galeone (Advisor)
Most Rev. Albert C. Hughes (Advisor)
Most Rev. William E. Lori (Advisor)
Most Rev. John J. Myers (Advisor)
Most Rev. Joseph F. Naumann (Advisor)
Dr. David L. Schindler
Dr. Alice von Hildebrand
(1) Christopher West: “A Pure Way of Looking at Others”. http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=40
(2) Christopher West: “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”, Section 4 http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=129
(3) Christopher West, Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 170-171
(4) “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”, Section 3 http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=129
(5) Christopher West: “Authentic Art vs. Pornography”, Paragraph 2 http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=46
(6) Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 150-151.
(7) This can be seen in the account of the conversation Dr. David L. Schindler had with Christopher West in his initial critique, “Christopher West’s Theology of the Body” (Point #1). http://www.headlinebistro.com/hb/en/news/west_schindler2.html
See also West’s “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”, where although he confesses the Catholic teaching, goes on to take the substance out of it.
#1. Article from a Follower of West Advocating Christian Naturism
This is the article that prompted me to write this letter. It was written by James J. Simons, a Steubenville graduate who said he had “heard well over 100 [talks]” by Christopher West. (1) The university professor he does not name was actually Dr. Scott Hahn. The article was posted by “Catholic Exchange” volunteer, Steve Pokorny, who is an avid follower of Christopher West. The extreme positions taken by Mr. Simons in this article, which I would argue is simply the logical implications of Mr. West’s theology (but which he is careful not to fully flush out in his presentations or writings).
#2. Article from Mr. West and Excerpt from his Theology of the Body Explained Regarding “Mature Purity” and “Shameless Nakedness”
West’s teaching on “mature purity” and being “naked without shame” are expressed quite clearly in these sources. It is clear to see how Mr. Simons could come away with the understandings he has.
#3. Excerpt from Theology of the Body Explained Regarding “Shame”.
The roots of West’s errors concerning “mature purity” and “shameless nakedness” as well as his “vulgarity” essentially stem from his deficient understanding of “shame”. West specifically states that “positive shame” stems from “an innate need to protect the nuptial meaning of the body from the threat of lust“ [emphasis mine]. However, this is an aspect of “negative shame”, which West seems to confuse with “positive shame”. Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his classic, In Defense of Purity, from which John Paul II drew upon for his teaching on shame, taught that “positive shame” is not a “protection from lust” but rather concerns privacy and intimacy that must be protected even apart from any danger of lust. According to von Hildebrand, the “unveiling” of the body is such an intimate and personal act (like a secret) that it should be shared only with those closest to us, such as our spouses or our parents when growing up.
#4. “Custody of the Eyes” and “Mature Purity” According to Followers of West
A frequent contributor to the discussions that have taken place on various blogs regarding Theology of the Body has been a middle-aged woman named “Lauretta”. She has also stated she has listened to West over 100 times, “first in order to understand what he is saying and then in presenting them to others. We use his series for marriage prep.” (2) Lauretta has professed many of the same things Mr. Simons taught in his article.
#5. “Lust” According to West Followers and the Problem of “Subtle Impurity”
Another problem with West’s teachings, which I call “subtle impurity”, stems from his skewed definition of “lust”. This is reflected in two of his followers who have contributed to the debate – Catholic wife and mother, Terri Kimmel, and Lauretta.
(2) http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #61
Article: Should We Look Away Or Not Lust? (by James J. Simons) [November 1, 2010]
[Note: Catholic Exchange has since replaced it with another article. You can see the original at:
Response to the Simons Article
Genevieve S. Kineke is a Catholic mother who recently wrote the book, The Authentic Catholic Woman. The foreword of that book was written by Christopher West at her request. However, in response to the article by James Simons, Mrs. Kineke responded:
“I am reading this with absolute astonishment, as though enough parsing of texts and clever citations are cause to abandon all common sense. No matter how lovely your friend’s wife is, you have no right to enjoy her intimate beauty. None. ... ‘Pride goeth before a fall’ … and I believe only pride could cause a man to think he was beyond temptation in this realm, especially since he’s naturally hard-wired to act on certain stimuli — Saint Francis knew this well, and humbly heaved himself into the thorn bushes rather than taking any chances.” (1)
Mary Kochan, who is Senior Editor for Catholic Exchange, seemed to change her mind after reading the article and responses as well. Kevin Tierney, a young Catholic blogger who has written for some time about the problems he has seen in West’s teachings, wrote this regarding Catholic Exchange’s decision to publish this particular article: “I do ... think this article crosses th[e] line. A particular condemnation in past writings by Popes used to condemn a writing as ‘offensive to pious ears.’ An article promoting nudism, and claiming that John Paul II’s Theology of the Body justifies it, certainly meets that offensiveness threshold.” Mrs. Kochan chose to respond to this protest by Mr. Tierney by stating the following:
“Steve Pokorny who is a volunteer associate editor with CE [Catholic Exchange] is a supporter of CW [Christopher West], and he has the job of filling the top two sections of the LOVE channel [on Catholic Exchange] with material from his large list of TOB [Theology of the Body] writers. However, I will tell you (without naming names) that not every writer he has used has remained approved for publication on this site. ... Now Steve has a lot of leeway because he does know the subject of TOB, however ... Catholic Exchange is not endorsing the viewpoint of this article. This is not my opinion and I don’t feel compelled to defend it. ... But I think it is better for this article to be here and be brought to light and argued against so well, then for it to be isolated on some TOB site where they [supporters of Christopher West] only discuss it among themselves [italics mine]. I think that those who recognize that some kind of breakdown in modesty and moral sense is going down here are on track. Now, the question is – is that just an infection from our sex-crazed culture or is it in CW’s (et al) [Christopher West and other followers, such as Fr. Thomas Loya, Steve Pokorny, and James J. Simons] approach to TOB? I honestly don’t know.” (2)
It should be added that shortly after the comments on this article were closed, all of the articles that had previously been posted by Fr. Thomas Loya, the controversial supporter of Christopher West (and whom Christopher West thanked for his support in the beginning of his response to Dr. David L. Schindler, “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”), were removed. In internet lingo, it is referred to as an individual being “scrubbed” from a website.
1. Comment #37
2. Comments #43 and #46
Article: A Pure Way of Looking at Others Part I (by Christopher West)
Book Excerpt: Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 169-171
Book Excerpt: Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 150-151
Another frequent contributor to the Theology of the Body blog debates, a middle-aged woman named “Lauretta”, who has also stated she has listened to West over 100 times, “first in order to understand what he is saying and then in presenting them to others. We use his series for marriage prep,” (1) has been professing the same things James taught in this article and has even defended his positions.
According to Lauretta, “custody of the eyes is necessary – not to not look but to control how we look. (2) Regarding her understanding of practicing “custody of the eyes”, she states: “Now, Wade, I have stated on more than one occasion and in more than one discussion that I believe in custody of the eyes. I just don’t think that it necessarily needs to always be a turning away of the eyes but a purification of how one sees, especially under certain circumstances.” (3)
When I challenged her by giving her the Church’s traditional understanding, Lauretta responded, “I don’t know if the kind of continence I described is what has been taught by the Church, but if it isn’t I believe it is time it started being taught. We live in a culture that cannot count on the effectiveness of turning away any more”. (4)
Not only is it archaic, but “it seems to me that the whole custody of the eyes – at least looking away – is tending to keep the woman or girl at the level of object. If you turn away are you not denying her personhood and acknowledging that she is an object to be feared?” (5)
Defending James, she stated, “What was is that James said that was so wrong? Was it his discussion of going to nude beaches?” (6) According to Lauretta, there was nothing wrong with this, because this “new method of continence” that she has learned from Mr. West “will give us the ability to go to the beach, or the mall, or wherever and not have to worry every moment about where our eyes are focused. We can watch everyone on the beach with a disinterested glance and not be tempted. ... If one or two people happen to be the source of a strong attraction, the heart is trained to immediately order this attraction properly and it will not become an issue”. (7) “Mr. West is ... quite insistant [sic] that we must purify our hearts primarily through prayer and sacrifice so that we will see others in the fullness of their dignity and not have any disordered desire for them, no matter how they are dressing or acting. That seems to be promoting a higher level of virtue than looking away and complaining about how others are dressing or acting”. (8)
I do not think it can be argued that both James and Lauretta have misunderstood West in the over 100 times they listened to him. Rather, it becomes clear, when listening to and reading West, that they have understood him perfectly well. They have just “filled in the blanks”, so to speak, and have stated explicitly the logical implications of what West publicly teaches and have taken them to their logical ends.
Catholic Psychotherapist Marshall Fightlin, responding to West’s teaching in this area in his article, “Theology of the Body and Two Bishops,” (9) counters with the traditional Catholic view: “It would be a serious mistake to think that the story of the two bishops is teaching us that there is a stage of “freedom” or “victory” in the spiritual life at which custody of the eyes can be dispensed with. There the “not yet” aspect of our redemption will have been absorbed by the “already” aspect. ... While there certainly can be growth in the virtue of chastity, it is marked, not be a decreased need for custody of the eyes, but by increased ease in the habit of custody of the eyes. While initially it was laborious to avert one’s gaze, now it becomes almost second nature”.
A poster on the blog of Fr. Angelo Geiger named “Monica” mentioned two couples who are “pro-life, pro-traditional marriage Catholics who are considered to be leaders in 2 good dioceses.” The one family “who teaches ‘God’s plan’ [West’s DVD series] shared with us their graphic description of their love making which they share each morning with their 6 year old at breakfast.” The other family “who teaches it has recently taken it upon themselves to walk around the house naked and they have children 7 and under.” (10) An acquaintance shared with me that after the taping of “Franciscan University Presents” that Mr. Simons spoke of in his article, one man ran down the hallway dorm naked, and when asked what he was doing, responded, “I finally understand the Theology of the Body”, while a couple young ladies who had previously been discerning religious life decided they wanted to marry instead so they could experience “the mysticism of sex”. (11)
The anecdotal record is the strongest indicator that West’s teachings are dangerously erroneous.
(1) http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #61
(5) http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #35
(6) http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #61
(8) http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #70
(9) “Theology of the Body and Two Bishops” (M. Fightlin) http://catholicexchange.com/2010/03/10/135053/
(10) http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/where-i-am-at-right-now-with-theology-of-the-body/, Comments 14-15
(11) Private Email
There is another problem, which I would call the problem of “subtle impurity”. Those who follow West all have the same deficient definition of “lust”. In the combox of Mr. Simons’ article, Terri Kimmel, who said Mr. West’s recordings played a large role in her return to the sacraments, gave the textbook definition and explanation that West’s followers all give: “Consenting to sexual attraction isn’t lust. Lust is an intent to use someone. Sexual attraction is a physical response. How do you ‘consent’ to that anyway? That’s like saying I’m consenting to the inclination to breathe. Lust is the intent or action of using someone for sexual gratification. It goes beyond sexual attraction. It’s okay to be sexually attracted to someone.” [emphasis hers] (1)
It is common for West’s followers to believe that experiencing sexual arousal while admiring a woman’s beauty is fine as long as one does not desire in one’s mind to have sex with that woman. This is contrary to the Church’s teaching that if you begin to experience sexual pleasure from someone other than your spouse and make the decision to continue to do or to look upon whatever is giving you that pleasure, you would be consenting and thus committing sin.
When I pointed this out to Mrs. Kimmel, she responded by comparing enjoying the beauty of a woman to enjoying the beauty of nature – something Lauretta did as well. (2) Mrs. Kimmel stated: “There is the pleasure of being in the presence of something sublimely beautiful that one can legitimately enjoy. ... It’s the enjoyment and wonder of God’s amazing creation, not unlike enjoying the season’s first snowfall or interacting with nature in any other way. Sexual attraction does not equal lust. ... It’s about using someone/something for sexual pleasure”.
Here, you see that same definition used. Lauretta also seems to define “lust” this way: “What I hear being said by TOB people is that our lustful thoughts need to be redeemed, not repressed. This is done primarily by training oneself, through prayer, to see the fullness of the other person, their dignity and worth. To see them as God sees. If we strive to see that way, we then won't see a woman's body, we will see a person and if she is pleasing to the eye, will appreciate that beauty without desiring to possess it” [italics mine]. (3)
Once again, anything that does not consist of “the desire to possess” (in other words, “the desire to use them in a bodily way for sex”) is not lust.
To Mrs. Kimmel (and I could have just as well said the same to Lauretta), I replied: “Because of the power of sexual attraction and the ‘sex urge’ (as Wojtyla discussed in Love and Responsibility), one cannot simply enjoy a woman’s beauty the way he enjoys a sunset, unless it is his wife (and even then he has to be careful). God did not create the sex urge to attract us to sunsets or snowfalls. We cannot lust after the sun or snowbanks. It doesn’t take long before ‘admiring a woman’s beauty’ turns into lust, and what is more common with West’s followers, they are really ‘lusting’ even though they just ‘think’ they are ‘admiring the beauty of God’s creation’ when they ‘gaze with mature purity’ at women”.
This is in fact what Lauretta’s husband seemed to do. Lauretta shared with me that her husband struggled with lust and watching pornographic movies for decades until “we heard about Christopher West and began listening to him. ... My husband listened carefully to what he had to say and began to implement what he said. ... He also came to understand through TOB that noticing a woman and that she was attractive was not wrong, that we are designed to see and appreciate beauty especially between the sexes. He came to understand that the disorder was in the subsequent desire to possess. That was hugely freeing for him” (4)
Although I did not say this to Lauretta, it seems apparent to me that her husband may have “substituted” the satisfying of the “lust of his eyes” through this “new method of continence”. This defective definition of lust enables this. Lauretta said elsewhere: “If you are talking about arousal, that's one thing but if you are talking about being attracted to the sexual value of the woman that is another thing. Being attracted to the sexual value of someone of the opposite sex is normal. I believe it is a prerequisite for entering most seminaries from what I have heard. This was a fact that was very freeing for my husband. He was feeling so much guilt that he noticed another woman, thinking that because he was married, it was wrong” (5)
Although I did not challenge Lauretta regarding all of this, I did challenge Mrs. Kimmel. After she responded “I disagree 100 percent” to my reply and added that it was indeed possible to look and not lust, I countered with the same general critique issued by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand after West’s “Nightline” appearance last year, when I stated: “Sure it’s possible. But how often does it happen in reality? According to West, those who study TOB and put it into practice can do so on a regular basis. According to the Catholic Tradition, few of the Saints ever got to this state, and those that did still practice custody of the eyes”.
As Dr. Schindler stated, “West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible.” (6) If West was teaching that abortion was morally acceptable or that polygamy was a legitimate practice, he would be rebuffed and discredited by the Catholic faithful. But because West’s errors are so subtle, because he appears on the surface to be thoroughly orthodox and fully “Catholic”, many of the faithful unwittingly accept everything he teaches as being the truth, whereas some of what he teaches is seriously erroneous. As Schindler stated, “I have no desire to see his project fail. My intention in this and my earlier statement has been to say enough only to identify problematic tendencies, which seem to me serious.” (7) [italics mine]
A. Christopher West’s Bedtime Prayers for Children (posted by Chuck Neff)
This demonstrates, I believe, West’s inordinate focus on the body and sexuality.
[Neff]: Christopher West, perhaps the world’s leading expert on Theology of the Body, was our guest on Searching the Word the other day. He shared with us the prayer he and his wife pray every night with their children. He has given us permission to post it. Enjoy. +++
Thank You Jesus for making Mommy to be a woman. Thank You for making Daddy to be a man. Thank You for bringing Mommy and Daddy into the Sacrament of Marriage.
Thank You for bringing (insert name(s) of children here) into the world through Mommy and Daddy’s love.
Help our boys grow into strong men ready to give away their bodies in love. Help our girls grow into strong women ready to give away their bodies in love.
If they are called into the Sacrament of Marriage, please prepare them for their future spouse. If they are called to give themselves entirely to Jesus and the Church as a priest or religious, please prepare their hearts for that. Amen +++
B. Fr. Thomas Loya’s Website. A Christopher West follower and defender, the homepage of Fr. Thomas Loya contains semi-pornographic images that I believe demonstrate a lack of a true understanding of Catholic purity, modesty, and shame. http://www.taborlife.org
C. Fr. Thomas Loya, “Letter to ‘John’ – Part 1 of 2” (Originally posted on “Catholic Exchange” on February 15, 2010, but since expunged from the internet).
Alright Look at her!! That’s right, look at her!! Look at her butt, her breasts, but don’t stop there. Look at every aspect of her magnificent femininity! Take her in completely and say, “How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all!” (Psalm 103). Say it immediately. Now get your mind on something else, sailor, NOW!” Then try this same technique on something else you find beautiful—a sunset, music, a car, whatever. Launch into the three part technique. Learn to develop an entire ethos of perceiving beauty and responding to it with prayer which means responding to it sacramentally or through the priestly vocation that all baptized Christians are called to.