From the Headline Bistro site, this response from Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and is the author of The Right to Privacy, published a few months ago by Ignatius Press:
Christopher West’s interview on ABC’s Nightline has sparked some terrific discussion on the Internet. An impressive amount of the interaction is intelligent and illuminating, even some of that which is seriously wrong. One of the better responses is that by Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers and the follow-up comments to his blog.
Here, I want to offer a brief, partial, response to Prof. David Schindler’s assessment of West’s work. The fact that Nightline got a lot wrong about West’s work is not surprising. In fact, it is surprising how much it got right. Those of us who work with the media know that potential martyrdom awaits us at the hands of an editor. West has likely been suffering a kind of crucifixion over the past week. What is puzzling is that an influential scholar chose this moment to issue a sweeping, negative critique of West in such a public forum. I have great respect for the work and thought of Schindler and realize that it must be difficult to be on the receiving end of criticisms of the work of one of their most high profile graduates. I wish, however, he had found another occasion to express his reservations about West’s work.
The fact that the dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington D.C. has issues with West’s approach should not discourage anyone from reading West’s work or attending his lectures. Schindler has serious disagreements with other reputable, orthodox theologians, including professors on staff at the John Paul II Institute. West’s extensive commentary on the Theology of the Body, Theology of the Body Explained, was reviewed for the imprimatur for the Archdiocese of Boston by Prof. May, a longtime colleague of Schindler at the John Paul II Institute, who gave it a glowing endorsement. (I also reviewed and strongly endorsed it.) Several times in his piece Schindler refers to West’s “intention” to be orthodox which could imply that he has not necessarily achieved orthodoxy. We should be clear that West’s works have been given an imprimatur, an ecclesiastical judgment that a work is completely theologically sound.
Read the entire response. Not surprisingly, Dr. Smith makes many excellent points. And I think she is correct in saying that the discussion about this controversy has been, on the whole, quite positive and helpful. Let's keep it that way, mindful of the challenges faced not just by Christopher West, but by every Catholic who seeks to shine the truth into the dark and murky corners of the world.
I should perhaps note I've not read any of West's books, but have listened to 2 or 3 of his tapes. Having read John Paul II's theology of the body (over ten years ago), I thought West did a fine job with the material, taking a rather daunting body of theological and philosophical work and presenting it within a popular format for an audience largely without much, if any, training in theology, philosophy, or the exegesis of Scripture. But I've simply not read or heard enough of West's materials to make much of an assessment, so I've followed this discussion with great interest.
Previous posts on this topic:
• David L. Schindler criticizes Christopher West's work with TOTB (May 23, 2009)
• Jimmy Akin on Hugh Heffner's achin'... (May 14, 2009)
• Going to the Source of the Christopher West Controversy (May 13, 2009)
• "The Playboy and the Pope" (May 12, 2009)
• Christopher West: "I never said Hugh Hefner is a hero, never..." (May 11, 2009)
• "Catholicism, properly understood ... is one of the sexiest of the world's religions." (May 7, 2009)