Tim Quigley • Jun 5, 2009 - 4:31 pm

Dr. Healy,

Please allow me to clarify my point from the other night regarding CW’s use of the words prudish and puritanical. Because it was getting late the other night, I didn’t want to be too long-winded in my question.

A difficulty that I’ve had with CW’s approach in talks that I’ve heard is that he often begins with those “buzzwords” and clearly states that most Christians are prudish and puritanical. He’ll say it was because of those traits in the culture that “led” Hefner to start Playboy. He’ll also say that it is because of our prudishness that there is a loin cloth on the crucifix. Europeans are not prudish, he states, that’s why there is a naked Jesus on their crucifixes. (Although I never saw one when I lived there)

So he speaks about our prudishness, but during this 3 day mission at my church, he never clearly defined what was prudish and what would be considered modesty or discretion.  This lack of “setting boundaries” led, in a sense, to a license to use whatever language in the name of the Theology of the Body.  If one objected to how one was talking due to the lack of modesty or discretion, one was labeled as prudish. Follow threads talking about TOB and you’ll see that word used very often.

In this mission I spoke of, in particular, I saw the “fruit” of his talks, of those who now felt they had a license to be more open. After the talks, people were much more “loose” with their language and such. One example I remember is standing outside after the talk and saying to my wife we needed to go home, someone I barely knew said “Oh yeah,I know what you’re going to do” and gave me a nudge. Although I implied nothing of that, it showed how sex seemed to lose its sacredness and was now reduced to the common. CW does talk about the sacredness of sex so I don’t fault him for that but again I felt the root problem is people coming out of his talks not having a clear understanding of what is modesty and discretion and what is prudish. I believe he puts FAR too much emphasis on his “prudish and puritanical” message.

Another example I know of is from my son who went to a young adults group. The talk was always about TOB (from CW’s material) and my son would tell me how unguarded the discussions were. Again, it seemed as if “anything goes” as long as we are talking about TOB. This was far from a deep theological discussion but more of a license to speak about whatever one wanted. My son, of course, was called prudish but to no surprise a young lady was soon pregnant out of wedlock.  Boundaries were needed but they were thrown out in the name of prudishness.

Lastly, regarding my comment about the CW’s use of the quote from Love and Responsibility. I do agree there is a place to use that quote such as at a conference the other night. That conference, however, was clearly about sexuality. This church mission was about TOB and many didn’t know what all that entailed. Sex was really the only topic- starting off with talking about how prudish we are as a whole. There were children in the crowd. Parents brought them to a church mission without knowing sex was to be the only topic, in essence. And that quote was totally unnecessary, in my opinion. Its purpose seemed to be more for shock value and to say “Look, see the Pope is not prudish!” as he (CW) got very animated. So I agree it can be used in a proper context but that wasn’t one of them.

With that said, I did enjoy CW’s talk the other night for the most part. It was a welcome change to how I’ve heard him speak in the past. He was much more clear in his presentation and avoided some of the “shocking” things I’ve heard him say in the past that are unnecessary. I hope he continues to be that way. I also enjoyed your presentation very much.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 5, 2009 - 7:43 pm

Thanks for a very thoughtful post, Tim, which followed an important question the other night that got too little attention because of the lateness of the hour.  I think you’ve nailed THE point of tension between Christopher West and his critics.  I think this whole public blow up will bear a lot of fruit if we can make progress toward each other right here.  I mean, that if we can be patient and bear with each other and hear each other out in dealing with the problem of prudence, we all stand to gain.

UPDATE: I wrote “prudence” but I meant prudishness.

Michael J. Healy • Jun 5, 2009 - 8:37 pm

Dear Tim,
Thanks for your insightful comments and examples.  I agree that we need a better definition of prudishness so as not to imply that all “reservation” about the sexual sphere goes back to this.  So your question was well-placed on Wednesday.
However, open talk in a seminar does not necessarily lead to intrusive comments like the stranger who addressed you and your wife after Chris’ talk.  I think he just showed he had a problem, perhaps revealed on the occasion of Chris’ talk but already there previously, not just because of Chris’ talk.
Further, deeply-reverent students schooled in the Von Hildebrandian approach to love and sex have also managed to have babies out of wedlock.  I don’t think dismissing prudishness, or open talk about sex, is the heart of the problem here.  Would that it were that easy!  Still, as I said above in another reply, we do have to be careful to express ourselves in language and in attitude in such a way as to do justice to the awesome mystery and to the depth and intimacy of the sexual sphere.  Some, and more than just one or two, seem to think Chris could improve here.  May he ponder it in prayer.

Tim Quigley • Jun 5, 2009 - 11:08 pm

I am glad people, like Clay, have been helped by West.  There is no doubt some good that has come from his talks. But I’d like to respond to some comments made from Clay and Dr. Healy.  Clay wrote “As Dr. Smith said most of the people that Mr West is addressing are those who have been wounded deeply by sex.” Maybe there was a specific context to that quote we’re unaware of but I think it’s safe to say there are many who are wounded one way or another.  Dr. Healy wrote in response to my comment “open talk in a seminar does not necessarily lead to intrusive comments like the stranger who addressed you and your wife after Chris’ talk.  I think he just showed he had a problem, perhaps revealed on the occasion of Chris’ talk…”

If in fact, many who attend his seminars or listen to his talks are “wounded”, isn’t it safe to assume open talk without clear and understandable boundaries about what’s prudish and what’s modest will lead to those kinds of comments? I am not denying the “problem” is already there.  It just seems all the more necessary to be careful in what is said and in the avoidance of what is not said.

I remember West saying, referring to JP II’s statement, that what’s wrong with pornography isn’t that it shows too much but that it shows too little.  That’s sort of the problem I’ve seen in West’s delivery in the past. He talks too much about how we are prudish and too little about modesty and discretion. Considering the people he’s talking to he needs to improve in that area.

Michael J. Healy • Jun 6, 2009 - 1:34 am

Dear Tim,
I can agree in general with the point you make about our care in how we speak, perhaps especially before a “wounded” group; yet, as Janet Smith and others have said, we still need to meet them where they are if we are to begin to bring them along toward fullness.  This is going to be a fine line to walk and speakers may err on either side of it: too restrained and you may never reach your audience, too free and you may offend.  I’m not sure how to fully resolve such a dilemma on general terms, except to say each speaker has to decide where to draw his line.  You clearly take exception to where Chris’ draws his, others think he’s on the mark.

Other than that, two quick points.  One, speakers cannot always be held responsible for what those in the audience later come out with.  If some crude fellow, after my line from my Von Hildebrand talk on the power of sex as a physical act, turned to his wife later that night and said “let’s do some thrusting,” I would think this totally inadequate, reductionistic, and insulting (depending on whether it was said comically or with a twinkle in his eye, etc.)—but I would not agree to take responsibility on my part for his out-of-context use the word or description, since I was using it precisely to illustrate the mistake and the danger of the physical swamping the spiritual.

Second, I believe the quote about pornography is incomplete.  The full quote is much more clever, illustrative, educational and ironic in its turn of phrase: “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much ABOUT THE HUMAN PERSON but that it shows too little.”  Why? Because it only shows the man or woman as a sex object and precisely not as a person.  Without that key central phrase, the truncated quote is misleading and invites misinterpretation, unless it is clear in the context of a broader presentation what is meant and the shorter quote is used then for shock value or to make people think through it.  But if you just missed the importance of that phrase and thus left it out as non-essential, that would not be fair to Chris or to JPII.

Tim Quigley • Jun 6, 2009 - 11:06 am

Dr. Healy,

“Without that key central phrase, the truncated quote is misleading and invites misinterpretation, unless it is clear in the context of a broader presentation what is meant and the shorter quote is used then for shock value or to make people think through it.  But if you just missed the importance of that phrase and thus left it out as non-essential, that would not be fair to Chris or to JPII.”  I agree the truncated quote is somewhat misleading and invites misinterpretation.  That’s why if one uses it in a seminar, as West did (I never heard the full quote), then one should be sure to give a full, clear explanation. First impressions are lasting so if one uses a truncated version for shock value it rests on the speaker to clear up the probable and expected misunderstandings that would come from that. Wouldn’t you agree? Even the full quote would need adequately explained to a general audience- maybe not to philosophy majors.

On this point of pornography and the use, or misuse, of this quote, I left his talk at my church not understanding why pornography is wrong from his point of view. I already held it as a conviction but he didn’t make it understandable from his presentation. What he said was confusing. I spoke about it with my wife and other friends in attendance and no one was able to explain why it was wrong in light of what he said that night. Hence, again, my problem was his lack of clarity. Was it an “off” night or is it a pattern? I don’t know? But I don’t think the fault was in those of us listening.

Thanks for the opportunity to hear you speak the other night. It is my sincere prayer that Chris listens to the criticisms people have of his content and delivery and then, in turn, becomes even more effective in his presentations. His presentation the other night was much improved from talks I’ve heard before. Ironically, he was the least “racy” I’ve ever heard him considering especially it was a night about sexuality. And lastly, I disagree with his assertion that TOB is JPII’s greatest legacy of his papacy. That would have to go to the Catechism, for sure.  If only more Catholics studied their catechisms…

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 11:56 am

Put me down as someone who thinks John Paul’s personalism, including perhaps especially his theology of the body, but extending well beyond it, was his greatest gift to the Church.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 12:17 pm

Another smallish point, Tim, from someone who has some sympathy with your general concern.
I don’t know whether it’s right and fair to put so much of the burden of communication on the one doing the teaching.  Sometimes a teacher is clear, but from the very newness of his teaching to his hearers, he is misunderstood.

I think hearers—especially of a Catholic presenter who is as highly regarded generally as CW is—have a certain responsibility to assume good faith on his part, and to work to understand him rightly.

The quote you referred to seems to me a good case in point.  While I suppose it’s abstractly open to misunderstanding, to me it seems hard to believe that a Catholic of good will (toward CW) could take it to mean that he advocates for more nakedness.

Michael J. Healy • Jun 6, 2009 - 12:45 pm

Dear Tim,
I think Katie’s reply here is sufficient.

Tim Quigley • Jun 6, 2009 - 2:40 pm

Dear Katie,

I don’t see it as an argument about whether or not people assume with good faith. I still see it as a lack of clear teaching on his part which can lead to misunderstandings even to people of good will. Given that the consensus is we are “wounded” in this area by and large, and there is a “newness of his teaching”, it would seem especially important to be very clear on one’s message. How much of it falls on his shoulders we probably disagree on.

As a teacher of the faith, I strive to teach systematically and organically. One must build a foundation and build upon it as well as be aware of one’s audience. It can be tough, no doubt. But his “foundation” from talks I’ve been to is to start with how prudish we are as Christians. And from there he peppers his talk with sexual references, ie the Paschal candle as a phallic symbol or the quote from Love & Responsibility that I still say was completely unnecessary. Its main purpose was to shock (“If the Pope talks like that…”). Again I say,it is fair to assume many will not (and have not) know(n) how to process his information.

It would be better if we just heard this seminar I am speaking of, actually two of them. From there we could base our judgments on something more concrete and less vague. My prayer is that he future talks resemble more of the one the other night.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 3:42 pm

But Tim, suppose CW isn’t about trying to teach the faith systematically?  He’s not, after all, a catechist.  Rather, he’s on a particular mission to spread JP II’s message about sexuality to seriously messed up generation.  If that’s his aim, then being clear will be only one of several concerns.  He’ll also be concerned with being engaging, for instance.  Saying startling things can be a powerful and thoroughly legitimate pedagogical tool.  It’s especially good for shaking people out of complacency. It’s a way of pressing them to realize that their own assumptions may be off; that they have more investigating to do.

If he’s convinced that residual puritanism is a serious problem among Christians, he’ll make a point of showing how it’s out of keeping with the fulness of our faith, with tradition, and with the published words of the Pope. 

Many may not know how to process it, but clearly many do.  Look at what he’s accomplished.

Another point: If the conjugal union is an icon of the Holy Trinity, why should we be disturbed by the thought that the Easter candle might be a phallic symbol?

Tim Quigley • Jun 6, 2009 - 4:59 pm

It seems I am being removed from further notifications so I’ll just say in closing, Katie, that it is true that there are other concerns such as being engaging and shaking people out of complacency. Amen sister! But one can hardly say being clear is only one of several concerns. It seems clear to me it holds a primacy, much like liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean little without first the right to life.

And, by the way, I have seen what he’s accomplished. May the Holy Spirit guide us in our understanding of what is good and true and may we brought to everlasting life.  God bless.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 5:23 pm

“Being removed from further notifications?”  I’m confused.  If something has given you the impression that you are anything but very welcome here, Tim, I am sorry.  I greatly appreciate your contributions—especially because they represent the thoughts of many who wouldn’t be able to express them with such clarity and charity.

Bill Drennen • Jun 9, 2009 - 9:44 am

Katie, Here is where my extreme skepticism of evangelical fundamentalism comes in. All too often this type of evangelism creates Christians with roots about as deep as the weeds that spring up in my garden.

I’m frankly not impressed with the numbers of those drawn to all these type of seminars. I’ll wait and see how many lasting marriages result or if the birth rate out of wedlock comes down etc.

My experience is that massive alter calls have little impact on lasting changed lives. Therefore I believe it is important to present the gospel truths in all their completeness accurately right from the start with no shortcuts.


Bill Drennen • Jun 9, 2009 - 9:59 am

Katie, I think that the phallic symbol idea is ludicrous to be blunt and the connection to the icon of the Trinity is a ridiculous stretch!

Here is a great example of the veiled feminine sexuality that is lacking. This icon of conjugal union is one of extreme holiness and should be treated with a similar respect that the holy of holies is, not meant to be front a center in front of the congregation. Then the privacy becomes distorted into pornography. Certainly there was no intention by using the easter candle to remind the congregation of male arousal. This is not faithful to JPII’s teaching where the man makes of himself a gift to the service of the modesty of the female rather then rejoicing in his own maleness.


Katie van Schaijik • Jun 9, 2009 - 10:02 am

Bill, I’m sorry if I misunderstood your original point about evangelists by reading it too hastily. 
My own sense is this: the evangelist’s task is different from the philosopher’s and theologian’s, but also organically linked to them. He announces the good news; he calls people out of darkness and into light; he tells them where they can find grace and truth. 

If he were to suggest that what he presents is all there is to it, then he’d be wrong.  That’s where many fundamentalists go off, I think.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 9, 2009 - 10:11 am

Bill, why would a phallic symbol have to be taken as a symbol of male sexual triumphalism?!  Why can it not be seen a sign of creative love and fatherhood?  That’s how I see it.

Don’t forget: a symbol IS a kind of veil.  Nothing pornographic whatsoever in SYMBOLS of human sexuality. That would only be the case if sex were in itself not good.  So I say again that if the conjugal union is worthy to be taken as an image of the Holy Trinity, then why should we object to a phallic symbol as pointing to creative fatherhood?

UPDATE:  Consider for instance, that the innocence of children is entirely protected in the use of such a symbol.

Bill Drennen • Jun 10, 2009 - 4:32 pm

Its not good in isolation.

I think when male sexuality is emphasized over female that distortion results. Male is more obvious and female is veiled. If the male is presented alone or not in submission to the female then it is often not in right order. I think if the symbol does not show this proper use and is just by itself then it is already distorted. The central teaching of TOTB is the idea of the gift. Sexuality must always be seen in relationship to show this.

Beyond all this, the analogy to the Trinity of the conjugal union is only a very imperfect image showing only a glimpse of one perspective of the whole truth. The pascal candle is a symbol of a much deeper reality then our human sexuality. It’s all too Freudian to read sex into everything in such a way. This is why I’m skeptical that sex was either the original sin or the ultimate expression of the Trinity.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 10, 2009 - 4:57 pm

Bill, for the record, I personally never thought of the Easter candle as a phallic symbol.  Nor am I attached to the notion.  My claim is only that in view of the Catholic understanding of the conjugal union as an icon of the Holy Trinity, as bound up with God’s plans of love for the world, as fundamentally good and as the awe-inspiring mystery by which new persons come into being, we should find nothing disturbing in the notion of the Easter candle being seen by some as a phallic symbol.  We are not against phallic symbols.
I think you go too far when you say that “the analogy to the Trinity of the conjugal union is only a very imperfect image showing only a glimpse of one perspective of the whole truth.”  Though no human image of the Trinity is complete by itself, JP II (among others) considered it the most perfect earthly icon.  Consider the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs, which saints and mystics throughout ecclesial history have treated as revealing the essence of God’s love; St. Paul refers to marriage as bespeaking Christ’s love for the Church. It is the “locus” of God’s creative power and our procreation in the world. It has been elevated to the level of a sacrament…

Freud was wrong (grossly wrong) in viewing sex as a mere animalic drive.  He was not wrong in discovering its depth and power and centrality in human life.

Lauretta • Jun 11, 2009 - 2:07 am

This has been an extremely interesting conversation that you have all been having the past several days.  I had read the original article by Dr. Healy but not any of the comments.  To add to the comments about the phallic symbol of the Easter candle, that is not a Christopher West construct.  Google it and you will see that it is even mentioned in some books on the liturgy—I don’t know if they are good books or not but they do talk about it.  Also, the Vatican website has an article that mentions the Baptismal font as a womb—is that the feminine that someone thought was missing from the symbol?  I agree with Katie that the symbol doesn’t have to be a negative thing—a phallic symbol can be one of giving life, fertility, as the womb is one of safety, nurturing, receiving life.

Concerning the issue of modesty, I tend to agree with Christopher West about the need for us to all examine why we have issues with certain things being mentioned, etc.  I have been having a conversation with two or three people—I presume they are men—on another blog who have been talking about the need for extreme modesty in dress—dresses below the knee, etc—and in language.  Interestingly they go on to say that the Church says that in marriage if a husband asks for marital intimacy, the wife is obliged to acquiesce except for a few very limited circumstances.  This has to do with the “marriage debt”.  Spacing children and emotional exhaustion are not acceptable reasons.  To me that is using modesty as a cover for some pretty distorted understandings of marriage and sexuality, much as the original Puritans did. 

I understand that people can and do misunderstand TOB when it is presented in somewhat of an earthy way but that is not necessarily because anything wrong is said but that their perception is already skewed and they are reading their skewed understanding into what was said, as Katie indicated earlier.  Also, for those who have been immersed in the world, as so many people are these days, the way in which Christopher talks is extremely restrained!  I hear young women(my nieces and their friends) using the F word all of the time and talking in ways that you would not even imagine if you are an older person as I am.  I truly believe that if one were to talk in too pure or restrained manner to these young people about these issues, they would tune you out since it is so far from their world.  And there is value in saying things that get people’s attention since it causes them to sit up and pay attention when they might have otherwise not heard what you have to say!

I also don’t understand why quoting from Love and Responsibility is a bad thing if it is used as an example to clarify a teaching or to show that the Pope didn’t have a problem with speaking in a certain way.  It would be interesting to know how the Pope spoke with all of the young people in Poland when he was a young priest and bishop.  We might be shocked!

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 11, 2009 - 3:45 am

Lauretta, thank you for your kind words.  About the marriage debt: Michael Healy and Josef Seifert and I have been discussing this question in a couple of separate posts at the Linde.  (Look for the tag “conjugal rights”.)  I am glad you’ve mentioned these examples of Catholic men defending this de-personalizing misunderstanding of its meaning.  If they are married, I feel sorry for their wives.  If they are priests or teachers, I feel sorry for the couples they influence.

Matthew Pinto • Jun 16, 2009 - 6:03 pm

Tim, one quick point: I’m almost certain that quote about pornography comes from JPII himself. West just echoes the point to show that pornography does not reveal enough about the “entire person”, a person’s innate dignity and beauty.

Steve • Jun 6, 2009 - 9:05 am

What an outstanding analysis!

In the spirit of Kierkegaard and West, let me just say that Chris West is Arius! By that I mean, a subtle heretic whose theology looks good on the surface, who makes up little ditties that please the populace but which are really just a means of spreading a false and misleading theology.

He suckers in people who should know better, like the prof who wrote this blog piece, just as Arius suckered in several bishops.

The idea that sodomy or sodomitical practices are acceptable is a purely post-Vatican II construct, created in the same spirit that brought Bernard Haring to say abortion was not really a sin anymore. There is no warrant in tradition to say that sodomy can be defended either as a consummated act or as foreplay. But that doesn’t stop West or his Kierkegaardian sycophant, Healy!

And let’s not forget that Germaine Grisez is, himself, theologically suspect because he explicitly denies a teaching of the Church, i.e., he denies that there exists a hierarchy of goods! So, like modernism, synthesis of all heresies, Chris West’s TOB is a bandwagon that all the theological nutcases seem to be jumping on!

Than you, Kierkegaard!

And thank you, Dr. Healy, for providing a wonderful philosophical support for all of us who really dislike West’s distortion of John Paul II and the teachings of the Catholic Church! Again, an OUTSTANDING essay!

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 3:53 pm

Steve, this forum is for civil discourse not rude ranting.  If you have an argument, make it.  If you just want to rage and abuse others, take it somewhere else.

Steve • Jun 6, 2009 - 4:48 pm


Michael J. Healy • Jun 6, 2009 - 11:51 am

Dear Steve,
Thanks for the sarcasm, but I’m afraid you are displaying your own ignorance.  Are Janet Smith and Michael Waldstein also to be lumped with Grisez, West, and myself as suckering, deceiving heretics?  Janet Smith mentions the same facts that I do about incomplete anal-genital contacts (while noting that both she and West find such acts completely unappealing, not to be recommended, and rather to be cautioned against, as do I); she also mentions that West’s books have received the Nihil Obstat after being reviewed by no less that Bill May.  Is he also a heretic?  If so, then we are rapidly running out of good theologians.

Concerning the object of your ire here, it is certainly true that any orgasm, or even unjustifiable risk of orgasm, outside normal intercourse would be a grave sin against chastity.  Everyone mentioned above fully agrees with this, so it is hardly parallel to denying the sin of abortion.

Concerning such contacts as incomplete, preparatory acts, let me quote extensively from Frs. Ford and Kelly (both impeccably orthodox and writing in the late 50’s and early 60’s for seminarians, again with nihil obstat and imprimatur from Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, at a time when there was certainly no “fudging” in the granting of an imprimatur):

“Practices such as these are repugnant and shocking to a great many people, and intolerable to some, but their morality cannot be decided on the basis of emotional reactions which, though normal, are apparently not universal. People differ very widely in their estimates of what is shameful or disgusting in sexual matters, these differences being the result of differing cultural backgrounds, family attitudes, sexual education, natural temperament, and other factors.”  They go on to say that while no one should ever “speak as though there were no objections to these practices from the viewpoint of the Christian law,” neither is it justified to make “any universal a priori judgment as to sinful or inordinate hedonism” here, though these are the dangers. Further, of course, it would always be a grave sin against charity and justice to try to force such acts on an unwilling partner; they are not part of the marital debitum.  It seems to me that all the authors mentioned above, including West, fit solidly within these guidelines. 

Now this is not to deny that in the past even such incomplete acts have been condemned as intrinsically wrong by some theologians—and if you think so too, you also have support within the Catholic tradition.  But this is a question which has not been finally decided and closed—compared to the question of artificial contraception for instance.  And as Ford and Kelly say (before Vatican II, before the massive rejection of Church teaching on sexuality), “most theologians today” would not describe them as always intrinsically wrong, but simply as dangerous and to be cautioned about.  This is a fine distinction, but one that theologians have to make.  However, as Janet Smith says, we really should not take up any more space about such topics in connection with Chris West, as such things are completely tangential to his message and his work.  Yet if he is accused of betraying the Catholic teaching here, he has to be defended, despite the fact that I too, like Janet, would prefer not to mention the topic. (Quotes from Ford and Kelly are from Contemporary Moral Theology, Vol. II, Marriage Questions, Ch. 11, Special Problems of Conjugal Intimacy, pp. 228-230).

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 12:11 pm

Dr. Healy, I agree entirely that it is unjust to accuse CW (or anyone else) of heresy for expressing an opinion on a matter that has not been settled finally by the Church.
But I wonder whether you would agree with me in doubting that the morality of a practice like anal foreplay should not be thought of as hinging on whether or not a given couple finds it “appealing”.  Shouldn’t the question rather be whether or not it is fully consistent with the dignity of persons and the nature of human sexuality?

Michael J. Healy • Jun 6, 2009 - 12:38 pm

Dear Katie,
Yes, “appealing” or being open to such things is not sufficient, I just meant it was a priori necessary given that it would be forbidden to try to force one’s spouse into such acts.

Ford and Kelly indicate three guidelines for limitation here: conjugal justice and charity, conjugal chastity, and Christian self-restraint.  Then they mention the difficulty in making universal judgments here and say that “the partners themselves are the most competent judges of these reasons [I would add, assuming informed consciences], pertaining as they do to such an intimate area of their conjugal relationship.”

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 1:10 pm

I think I’m not satisfied with Ford and Kelly here.  I wonder whether such an approach isn’t too objectivistic—lacking exactly the kind of personalist perspective that was central to Wojtyla/JP II’s contributions to the Church.

Steve • Jun 6, 2009 - 5:03 pm


Scott Johnston • Jun 6, 2009 - 5:56 pm


Your lack of respect for others speaks for itself. You seem to have an agenda that is apart from participating in a sincere and open discussion.

Because of your disrespectful tone, I don’t consider your remarks to be worthy of comment. But I will mention one thing. I attended the talk Wednesday and also had the pleasure of joining Dr. Healy and a few others for a glass of wine after things wound down. I also am familiar with Dr. Healy as a teacher because I was a student in his classes at Franciscan University back around 2000 or so. I can say very resolutely, based on direct personal experience, that Dr. Healy, while impressed with CW, certainly was nowhere near swooning. Your suggestion of this above is patently ridiculous, and highly unworthy of any Christian. You owe an apology.

Scott Johnston • Jun 6, 2009 - 4:25 pm

Thank you, Dr. Healy, for your additional thoughts on Wednesday evening.

If it is possible, I am sympathetic with most all the comments here, with the exception of Steve.

Regarding Tim’s concerns, I think he has a valid point, but I also I agree with Dr. Healy that problematic responses to West’s ideas are not necessarily fairly laid upon his shoulders (at least not in all cases). I know that priests’ homilies can be taken in some very odd ways that were not intended by the preacher, nor that were perceived by most of the other hearers.  To undertake any sort of public preaching ministry is to tread on dangerous ground, and this is only heightened when the topic is so inherently sensitive. West is certainly to be praised for his courage in this regard. That being said, perhaps it is advisable that he reevaluate whether what he is willing to say in public does not at times fall a little too far on the side of immodesty.

The aspect that would be my concern here, is I’m not sure if West’s response to Tim’s question about what entails prudishness was adequate. Yes, and as Dr. Healy agreed, a person can be too sensitive to discussion of sexual topics even when the context is appropriate for such. But, I don’t think this is all that is involved. Even when the context is appropriate for some explicit language, this does not mean that any and all reticence to hearing such is rooted in prudishness. I wonder if West is not too hasty to dismiss Tim’s (or others with similar concerns) sensitivity. One can have a healthy sense of proper decorum, modesty, and of the propriety of allowing some things to remain shrouded in mystery, without being at the same time, overly prudish.

Perhaps the bottom line here is that this topic is one of those areas that in our fallen world, we cannot draw clear boundaries that are exactly on the mark and that would work well in all situations. We struggle to achieve what is noble and dignified, while also being as engaging and as fruitful as possible. It is important I think to acknowledge that constant prayerful discernment and openness to correction should always attain.

I think Katie’s slip of terms above was not inapplicable. This is an area where the virtue of prudence is very much to the fore. There are principles that should always be abided. But, how one applies them in a particular context is indeed a matter of prudence. And, for an adequate analysis, not only are the circumstances and the specific matter of what is said (and how) relevant, but the interior motivation of the speaker (and of the hearers) as well. Why is something being said? Is it truly necessary to achieve the desired effect? What is the reason for any negative reactions? Are these based on a healthy insight into the sublimity and intimacy of the sexual sphere? Are they tainted by a wounded past? Both?

Steve • Jun 6, 2009 - 5:08 pm


Katie van Schaijik • Jun 6, 2009 - 5:51 pm

I have deleted “Steve’s” posts and blocked his email from further comment.  As I said above, this forum is for civil, truth-and-good-oriented discourse, not for venting rage and heaping abuse.

David • Jun 20, 2009 - 3:22 pm

This piece seems to confirm some of the criticims leveled at West and others: That it is ultimately the person who objects to what they have perceived as irreverant, innappropriate references, who need to question themselves, and whether they have an allegedly puritanical view.  As Schindler has noted, this is a pattern that those who question West encounter.  I think this is a sign that something is askew- when someone seems to think that thier ministry is infallible, and cannot be questioned, which some at least accuse West of.  This also seems to be a general counter move to address the criticisms, rather than addressing and refuting the substance of them. 
We must be very careful about realizing that the bar has been so lowered today, that what may appear as appropriate for today, may not be objectively so; and the reason things may have been considered innappropriate some years ago, and still today, is not because of a puritanical view. 

As a breif comment in regard to Smith, she appears to contradict herself in her two pieces.  She questions whether the examples cited by Schindler are accurate, but then takes pains to defend a couple of them, thereby inferring that they are legitimate.  In the second piece she clearly seems to admit that at least some of them are accurate, and again defends them.(She is certainly correct about the Easter candle example.)  In this second piece, she also claims they are unsubstanitiated, then infers they were taken out of context.  The latter would seem to be a case of either/or; if they are out of context, then this infers they are generally substantiated. 

I also think it worth noting that most of the defenders of West so far have a vested interest in doing so, if even financially; e.g. they do talks with West, publish his books.

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 20, 2009 - 7:03 pm

David, if it is true that CW thinks his ministry is infallible and cannot be questioned, then of course you are right.  But I doubt he thinks that.
I agree with you (see my post on The Problem of Projection) that it would be wrong to assume that ALL criticism of CW’s explicitness must come from prudishness.  But, like Janet Smith and Mike Healy and others, I begin to think that most of us may be more infected with it than we realize.  And if that’s the case, then CW must come up against it all the time.  It wouldn’t be surprising if he were extremely sensitive to it. 
I don’t agree with you about Janet Smith.  She was challenging Schindler’s unacademic way of proceeding, not every point of his critique.  She argues that CW’s work deserves a fuller and fairer treatment than Schindler gave it. 
Your last line seems to me a kind of slur.  No one that I know of who has defended CW here, with the exception of Matt Pinto, has any “vested interest” in doing so.  Is it right to make such a charge without any substantiation?

Lauretta • Jun 21, 2009 - 5:11 pm

Katie, I agree very much with what you said.  I was one of those people who needed that very direct challenge from CW.  Almost all of the serious Catholics to whom we have presented TOB also found that they had this misunderstanding.  I am thinking that is why CW keeps proposing this to people as well.  Even if this doesn’t apply to a few, I believe it does the majority of people.  And, it never hurts all of us to do a little examination once in awhile to make sure that these prevalent cultural attitudes don’t creep into our thinking patterns!

Augustine • Jun 22, 2009 - 2:37 pm

When someone overanalyzes a crude comment like that as having deeper meanings, it’s the same as rationalizing the indefensible.

We all like West and his work, but let’s not assume that he’s always right or that he has no room for improvement.  In particular, crass language and non-sequiturs like in the reference to Hefner.

Is it really too hard to admit that he screwed up?  Aren’t we adults who can support without blind loyalty?

Katie van Schaijik • Jun 22, 2009 - 2:47 pm

Augustine, what are you referring to as a “crude comment”? 
I, for one, do not assume CW is always right.  I agree that the Hugh Hefner reference was severely problematic.  Count me among those who think that HH is much further from the truth about human sexuality than the worst of prudes.  I don’t think his “work” should be treated as progress in any sense.
About the “crass language”, though, there seems to be real debate.

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