Many who followed (or attempted to follow) the Theology of the Body debate that ensued after Dr. David Schindler went public with concerns about the theology of his former pupil, Christopher West, following the latter’s appearance on “Nightline”, were not sure how to sift through all the arguments on both sides and come to a conclusion. Some who may have become leery of his theology or who may have leaned in that direction have since forgotten about the criticisms and changed their minds back. This is understandable considering the support and praise he receives all around us in the orthodox Catholic circles and most especially among bishops (most of whom are as unfamiliar with the content of his teaching as much as his critics are accused of being) and big-name Catholic speakers. Sheer numbers seem to influence most of us.
Even I myself begin to question whether or not my criticisms are valid. However, when I begin to think of the evidence on both sides, my mind often goes back to a few things that confirm my initial position. There are, I believe, some “red flags” that taken together sift through all the many voices and arguments and make a clear case against Dr. Janet Smith’s judgment that the theology of Christopher West is “perfectly sound”. What makes it even more convincing is that most of these have never been responded to or given substantial justification by West or any of West's most prominent defenders.
This is something I was intending to write over a year ago at the “height” of the debate. Thanks to the discussion that broke out after Kevin O’Brien wrote a series of articles on his blog, I was reminded and motivated to finally write it.
A. “Mature Purity” (including West’s doctrines of “Shameless Nakedness” and “The Pure Gaze of Love”).
1. The argument between Dr. Scott Hahn and Christopher West on the set of “Franciscan University Presents” which turned Dr. Hahn into a “closet critic” of West and his theology after West disagreed with Hahn when Hahn said the proper response if he was to see his colleague's naked wife's would be to turn his eyes away.
When Christopher West was a guest on EWTN’s “Franciscan University Presents” a few years ago, Dr. Scott Hahn, who is a regular on the program, got into an argument with him on this very issue. James Simons was in the audience when the program was recorded, and in his article in defense of West, entitled “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?”, he recounts the exchange:
“During a university TV interview of Christopher West [actually, a panel discussion on “Franciscan University Presents”] a professor [Dr. Scott Hahn] told West that if he were to see a friend’s wife [the friend being fellow panellist Dr. Regis Martin] naked, it would be his responsibility to look away. West responded, ‘No, it would be to not lust.’ [Hahn] and West took turns repeating themselves until the moderator called for a break in the program.”  Drawing upon other accounts, this exchange began when West began speaking about his doctrine of “mature purity”, whereby when we grow enough in chastity, we should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes” which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. Considering how contrary this is to the Catholic Tradition (as will be shown later), Hahn objected and told West we could never be sure we were in that state and that we would remain in that state if we gazed. During the commercial break, Hahn had some sharp words for West.
That day, Dr. Scott Hahn became a closet-critic of Christopher West and his understanding of theology of the body, and remains so to this day. In and of itself this is not telling – Hahn could be wrong and West right. But those on both sides of this debate fully flesh-out their positions and attempt to defend their own and critique the other, it becomes quite clear that Hahn represents the orthodox position while West’s position is novel and contradicts the Catholic Tradition.
2. Long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him.
James J. Simons, who by his own admission listened to West over 100 times,  provided, in the aforementioned article, an apologia for nudism. Simons argued that it is right to baptize people naked in front of an entire church so everyone can see them and it is right for women to read in church topless. He chided men for not being able to look at naked women and not lust, and chided Dr. Scott Hahn for saying that if he saw his colleague’s wife naked the proper response would be to turn his eyes away. He said we should see the naked body as simply a naked body and nothing more, and that to look away when seeing a naked body is actually an objectification of women.  Terri Kimmel, who attributes the beginning of her conversion to the listening of West’s presentation of Theology of the Body,  defended Simons’ arguments in the combox.  “Lauretta”, who has also listened to West over 100 times,  likewise defended James and professed the same “doctrine of mature purity”. 
It cannot 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, especially pages 169-172 of the original edition of Theology of the Body Explained, that they have understood him perfectly well. They have just taken his teachings, which he never fully fleshes out and which always masterfully couches in orthodoxy and connects to Magisterial documents, to their logical ends and stated explicitly what West is careful not to present publicly.
Genevieve S. Kineke, author of The Authentic Catholic Woman, which she asked Christopher West to wrote the foreword for,  seemed to begin to recognize the problems with West’s theology only when seeing its logical conclusions fleshed out by his disciples: “I am reading this with absolute astonishment, as though enough parsing of texts and clever citations are cause to abandon all common sense … ‘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”.  This article made Ms. Kineke realize something may be seriously wrong with West’s theology, and after presumably scrutinizing more carefully the debate surrounding West’s work, continues to offer objections to his errors. 
3. The work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”.
Loya is a faithful supporter of and believer in the theology of Christopher West, something West acknowledges and which seems to be mutual. 
Anyone well-grounded in the Catholic Tradition as it concerns purity and modesty will consider the erotic images on Loya’s Theology of the Body website, “Tabor Life”,  to be proof enough. The fact that the reader has to be warned at this point that clicking on the website may be an occasion of sin should be a red flag in itself.
For further confirmation, Loya’s advice in the first step of his “See-Pray-Pass On” technique for chastity provides it: “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)”. After all, “A true freedom in the Spirit, a true, lasting and integrated purity of heart comes not from ‘looking away’ from the human body. Rather it is in learning to look ‘at’ the human body with the eyes of God, with the deep soul of true Catholicism and the sacramental worldview”.  Anyone for whom this may be scandalous should be told at this point: this is not Catholic and is even more scandalous and dangerous because it is being taught by a priest whose work is recommended by Christopher West, whose word of approval is accepted without question by his most devoted disciples.
B. Overemphasis on Sex (or Sexualizing Christianity)
4. The novelty of Christopher West’s “Bedtime Prayers for Children” wherein “sexuality” and “the body” become central themes over our “personhood” and our “souls” even in one’s personal prayer.
This is the bedtime prayer Christopher West has taught his children to pray every night: “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”. 
In every sentence, “sexuality” is central. It goes from the mother’s “femininity” to the father’s “masculinity”, then to the marital bond, to procreation through sexual intercourse, then to the “bodies” of the male children and to the “bodies” of the female children, to their future “marriages” or their future as celibates (which is the only thing here not strictly sexual). None of the religious saints ever taught their spiritual children to pray with so much focus on sexuality, gender, and bodies. They focused on “persons” and “souls”. Clearly, these prayers demonstrate West’s inordinate preoccupation and even obsession with sexuality and the body. West seems to feel the need to sexualize everything, including even a child’s bedtime prayers.
5. “Song of Songs” as the favourite of all 73 books of the Bible, including the Gospels.
Ask West what his favourite book of the Bible is, and you are certain to hear, “Song of Songs”, just like the many students at Steubenville who are enthusiastic fans and disciples of West. This is usually justified by an appeal to the (false) belief that many of the Saints considered it their favourite too. Perhaps a few mystics may choose this book to be their favourite, but these were all celibates who allegorized it to a point where the focus was strictly on the “spiritual sense” of the soul’s relationship with God to the veritable exclusion of its “literal sense” of sexual qualities manifested in the body and bodily sexual union. That is why even those who West believes might have thought it to be their favourite due to the fact they wrote commentaries on it probably did not consider it their favourite but rather the most apt description of their relationship to God. Chances are they received more spiritual nourishment from the Gospels than the Song of Songs.
Origen warned that only the “spiritually mature” should read Song of Songs and also continued the Jewish admonition that it should be read by no one under the age of 30. This is why.
6. It is called the “seminary” because it is where priests are prepared to “inseminate” the Church.
West asks: “Where does a man go to train to be a priest? The seminary. What is he learning to do in the seminary? Where do we get that word, ‘seminary’? He is learning how to ‘inseminate’. Who is he learning to inseminate? The Church, with his spiritual seed”.  It is true that the word “seminary” comes from the Latin word "semen", which simply means "seed". However, this is not why "seminary" was given a name based on the word "semen". Rather, it was because vocations begin as a “seed” and need to be nurtured and grown and raised to full maturity before that vocation is ready to “blossom” and be exposed to the world in such a way that it will survive and effectively thrive. But because West is disposed to connect everything with sex or give a sexual interpretation to everything, he commits this error.
C. Hermeneutic of Discontinuity.
7. Doctors and Fathers of the Church dismissed as being wrong and accused of having “Manichaean tendencies” when it is shown they contradict West’s teachings and it being said of Popes they “just don’t get it” when shown to contradict West.
Responding to Lauretta’s statement that “the marital embrace is the highest expression of self-gift”, I quoted from St. Francis de Sales’ classic on lay spirituality, Introduction to the Devout Life and asked how what West teaches harmonizes with it: “Married people ought not to keep their affections fixed on the sensual pleasures of their vocation, but ought afterwards to wash their hearts to purify them as soon as possible, so that they may then with a calm mind devote themselves to other purer and higher activities” . I asked, “if the marital act is the ‘highest expression of self-gift’, how can St. Francis say there are ‘activities’ in the married vocation that are ‘higher’ and ‘purer’ than sexual union?”  Christopher West’s editor, Sr. Lorraine, responded: “Well, Wade, it seems to me that the quote from St Francis de Sales perhaps has a bit of the attitude of suspicion, as John Paul might call it … Even some of the saints had traces of Manichaean attitudes” . Later, when challenged on it, she defended her initial position, and added: “You can find plenty of other statements from various saints to the same effect … They too were affected by negative attitudes toward the body that have always been present to some extent. To maintain otherwise is just simply not true”.  Kevin Tierney did an excellent job of showing that in fact de Sales was not Manichaean but perfectly in line with Catholic theology and doctrine. 
Another example is that of Deacon Jim Russell, who was defending West’s doctrine of mature purity. According to Christopher West, one who achieves a state of “mature purity” should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes”, which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”.  But when it was pointed out to Deacon Jim Russell that Pius XII, in his encyclical Sacra Virginitas, stated that it was the teaching of both the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that it was better to “flee” temptations rather than fight them directly,  Deacon Jim actually said it was “apparent” that Pius XII just “didn’t quite get” it.  I also pointed out that when Pius XII mentioned that it was the teaching of the Church Fathers and Doctors, he footnoted The True Spouse of Jesus Christ by St. Alphonsus Liguori, who in the history of the Church is to moral theology what St. Thomas Aquinas was to systematic theology. In the chapter on “mortification of the eyes”, St. Alphonsus says, among other things, the following: “Gaze not upon another’s beauty; for from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up … ‘If,’ says St. Augustine, ‘our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one’ … The saints were particularly cautious not to look at persons of a different sex … Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions”  [this last excerpt contradicted Deacon Jim’s profession that men who asked for the grace to be able to “look rightly” at provocatively dressed women would receive the grace to “see purely”] . Conveniently, Deacon Jim did not respond to what St. Alphonsus said, even after he was asked twice to do so. Were he or West to be probed on this, St. Alphonsus would no doubt also have to be accused of Manichaean attitudes because his teaching clearly contradicts West’s. For his part, Deacon Jim emailed me afterwards, and, continuing to ignore what St. Alphonsus wrote, cited this quote from John Paul II: “In mature purity, man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence”. I was asked, “Wade, what do you think this means?” I replied, “Thanks to one non-contextualized quotation from John Paul II, we can not only dispense with everything that all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught with regards to custody of the eyes, but we can re-define the scriptural and patristic notion of ‘spiritual warfare’ to mean that we continue to look upon scantily-clad women rather than looking away because the latter can in no way be classified as ‘fighting temptation’”  [previously Deacon Jim said that to turn one’s eyes rather than remain looking would be “fleeing” instead of “fighting” – the latter being the a different though complementary approach that the Lord recommends to us – according to Deacon Jim] 
Commenting on this, Thomas Leith, a longtime acquaintance of mine, who previously was unfamiliar with the specifics of West's doctrine of mature purity,  stated: "If he's saying that unavoidable near occasions of sin present an opportunity to practice virtue, he's right. If he's saying this does not at least begin with keeping custody of the eyes, he wrong. Very wrong. Stupidly wrong. ... If he's advising [this] he should be stripped of his EWTN Rock Star status as Fr. Corapi was and denounced as a heretic; then every bit of media he ever produced should be consigned to the Memory Hole." 
8. St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the rosebush when experiencing temptations of the flesh and the Saints using long-standing and praiseworthy ascetic practices such as self-flagellation did so from a disordered view of the body and were lacking in their understanding of a true Catholic theology of the body.
If corroborated, this would clearly show West is misinterpreting and misunderstanding Theology of the Body. According to Steve Kellmeyer, “West has, on numerous occasions, publicly said that anyone who mortifies the flesh in this fashion [self-flagellation] does not really understand the Theology of the Body. He has mocked the saints who have undertaken physical mortifications, especially self-inflicted physical mortification, as not fully understanding the theology of the body. According to West, such individuals showed their spiritual immaturity, their failure to plumb the full richness of Christian teaching, when they did these things”.  In the past Kellmeyer has said that West cites as one example of this “misunderstanding of the Theology of the Body” the example of how St. Francis threw himself into a thorn bush when temptations against chastity flared up – something the saint has been praised for throughout the history of the Church and in the hagiography. But considering how the author of Theology of the Body himself practiced self-flagellation, West is certainly misinterpreting.
D. Personal Issues.
9. Christopher West telling young women he just met that they are “beautiful”.When Christopher West came here to Saskatoon for a Theology of the Body Conference, a meeting was arranged between him and a class of attendees from a local post-secondary institution that runs a one-year program of formation. When introducing himself to the females, West would ask their name. When the young woman would say, “I’m Jane”, West would look her in the eye and say, “Jane, you are a very beautiful woman”. He introduced himself to the next woman, and did the same thing, saying, “you’re a beautiful woman too”. Now, if I was to do that with young Catholic women I just met, I would be labeled as “creepy” and shunned and maybe even slapped out, and rightfully so. But Christopher West is allowed to get away with it because he is Christopher West. Nonetheless, the behaviour is indeed creepy and indicative of deeper problems – with him personally and with his theology and sense of modesty (which would exclude statements such as this).
As "Julia" (who I have email contact with) says in the comment box at Fr. Angelo's website: "So far, no one has ... asked the question, 'If West puts so much energy into unveiling sexuality by relentlessly promoting 'nakedness without shame', what effect does that have on his private life?' According to West, the way we think about sexuality deeply affects the way we behave. I, for one, will not be surprised to someday hear that West’s very questionable teachings have been taken to their logical conclusion and translated into seriously questionable actions. With his kind of thinking, it’s only a matter of time". 
10. West criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s ... abundant breasts”.
This is a quotation taken from Dr. Schindler's initial critique of West, which Schindler pulled from the March, 2002 edition of Crisis Magazine. I would hope that this argument and these statements by West are so prima facie wrong that it need not require commentary from me, but no doubt some defenders of West will even provide an apologia for this. When they do, I will respond at length. For now, Dr. von Hildebrand's response to this should be sufficient:
“Dietrich von Hildebrand,
who came from a privileged cultural and artistic background, and had
been acquainted with holy paintings since his earliest youth, would
never have made remarks about the size of the Holy Virgin’s bosom ... To Dietrich’s mind, this would be an act of irreverence. Her breasts
were sacred and the response to the sacred is awe and not a critical
approach to the size of ‘the blessed breasts that sucked thee’. True
religious art has always understood this ... One of the requirements of
sacred art is that the artist succeeds in creating, through visible
means, an atmosphere of sacredness. When Mary is represented, the
crucial element is that the image inspires in the viewer a feeling of
reverence; whether she is painted with ‘abundant breasts’ is totally
irrelevant—otherwise, most other icons would have to be discarded. It
suffices for the faithful believer to be inspired by a work of art; he
or she should never be titillated by it.”
So we have the following: Dr. Scott Hahn becomes a “closet critic” of Christopher West after West lays out his theology of “mature purity” and tells Dr. Hahn he is wrong to “look away” if he sees his colleague’s wife naked; a long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him; the work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”; the novelty of Christopher West’s “Bedtime Prayers for Children” wherein “sexuality” and “the body” become central themes over our “personhood” and our “souls” even in one’s personal prayer; “Song of Songs” as the favourite of all 73 books of the Bible, including the Gospels; that “seminaries” are called what they are because it is where priests are prepared to “inseminate” the Church; Doctors and Fathers of the Church are dismissed as being wrong and accused of having “Manichaean tendencies” when it is shown they contradict West’s teachings and it being said of Popes they “just don’t get it” when shown to contradict West; St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the rosebush when experiencing temptations of the flesh and the Saints using long-standing and praiseworthy ascetic practices such as self-flagellation are considered to have done so due to ignorance of a true theology of the body; West telling young women he just met that they are “beautiful” women; and saying that painting Mary flat-chested is a prudish act and that she should be physically represented as having "abundant [large] breasts".
These are not the kinds of ideas one comes up with when receiving a good formation and catechesis on modesty and purity from the rich sources of our Catholic Tradition and then reading and interpreting Theology of the Body in the light of that Tradition; rather, these are the kinds of ideas one gets when one has been formed by and has learned from the post-sexual revolution secular world and then reads Theology of the Body without first immersing themselves in the Catholic Tradition and allow that Tradition to correct and reform previous ideas and behaviours. Theology of the Body alone is not sufficient for this considering its specific focus and its limitations, which John Paul II admitted in his last Wednesday audience.
I still believe West does more good than harm as I have stated many times. He will be here in Saskatoon for "Fill These Hearts" on the same day I will be leading a retreat on "the single life", and when I was asked by the organizers of West's event if we could work together and help promote each other's events, I enthusiastically agreed - and not just for my sake but for the sake of those also who will benefit from West.
However, harm is still being done, and therefore it is important that West acknowledge his errors and correct them. Unfortunately, it appears he is certain that his misunderstandings of the theology of John Paul II, some of which are quite serious, are true to the late Holy Father. It appears he has become even more certain, buoyed as he is by the many bishops and respected Catholic speakers and theologians who enthusiastically endorse his work. I have attempted to contribute to this discussion in the hopes it would have some impact. However, I have done all I can do. There are more pressing matters, such as the completion and publication of my manuscripts, which I believe to be very timely and will be, God willing, an important contribution to the life of the Church and the world. These I must focus on instead.
1. James J. Simons: “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?” http://catholicexchange.com/2010/11/01/140186/
[Note: Catholic Exchange has since replaced it with another article. You can see the original at: http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH]
2. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/09/concupiscence-and-two-bishops.html, Comment #4
4. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #26
5. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comments #8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 26, 27, 28, 32, 45, 51, 52, 56
6. http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #61[Note: blog no longer online. Original can be found at: http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO]
7. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/12/tob-debate-summary-of-west-errors.html, Exhibit #4
9. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment # 37, 88
10. http://catholiclane.com/christopher-west-refines-his-answers-but-questions-remain/, Comment #1
15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59hZz6U9uZ0 Minutes 0:52-1.23
16. Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 39: “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”.
17. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #24
18. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #25
19. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #126
21. This was substantiated in the main body of my letter to Cardinal Rigali. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/letter-to-cardinal-rigali-regarding.html
23. http://www.freezepage.com/1328707607DFPGWWPSTS, Comment #3[I had to reproduce a snapshot of the page taken earlier because these comments were later removed by the moderator]
25. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-breast-chest-sex.html, Comment #78
27. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comments #13 and #18
28. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html, Comments #3, 8, 11
, Comment #13
31. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/a-response-to-christopher-west/, Comment #4