I don't do this with any great enthusiasm but it has to be done if we are to get at what is wrong with Alice von Hildebrand's critique of West. In line with my earlier comments about the two Catholic churches, it is important to recognize that there are ideal Catholic cultures that are at odds with what actually exists.
And here Christopher West is one of the good guys. He recognizes that actual Catholics know very little of actual Church teaching and they don't want to know more because they are scared to find out.
And to see why, we only need to look at this paragraph from Hildebrand:
I cannot describe what Dietrich thought of pornography: the very word triggered an expression of horror on his noble face. The same thing is true of sodomy. He had such a sense for the dignity of human persons that any posture, which sins against this dignity, was repulsive to him. It is in this context, that we should judge Popcak’s shocking suggestion (p. 248) that “as Christopher West has noted in his book, Good News About Sex and Marriage, there is nothing technically forbidding a couple from engaging” in sodomy (provided the husband culminates the normal sex act within his wife); and that, while he discourages the practice of marital sodomy, “nevertheless, following Augustine’s dictum and in the absence of greater clarification from the Church, couples are free to exercise prudential judgment” in this regard.To get a deeper grasp on what is at issue here, simply replace "sodomy" in the above paragraph with "oral sex". I know, most people see the word "sodomy" and read "anal sex"* but "sodomy" has a broader meaning of prohibited sexual practice. That is the issue and, as West likes to tell groups of young Catholics he is speaking to, he knows this is the first thing they look up. They want to know, "Am I still allowed to do this." There are other issues such as Can I continue to use vibrators and other sex toys? Can we tie each other up? Is it okay to wear lingerie and other special sexy clothes?
And it is not easy to answer these questions from most Catholic writing on sexuality because this writing does not say much about specific practices. And because it does not, it is easy to imagine that the answer is going to be "No!". A fear that is not much relieved by Hildebrand when she says things such as the following:
Furthermore, the fact that an act is not formally condemned does not entitle us to believe that it is right or good.I, like Hildebrand, have no idea what the provenance of "Augustine's dictum" above is but it surely is the correct answer. Treat married adults like adults. Not because we can be sure that they will be good but because the decision of how to go about their intimate lives is intimate. It is not a public issue that will cause scandal. It is something they decide on their own.
What West is trying to do is to guide young couples who currently have every reason to simply ignore Catholic teaching on sexuality to see it as offering good things to them. I think he would do well to spend a little less time getting worked up about it—there are times when he acts a little like Tom Cruise jumping up and down on the couch—but he is more on the right here than Hildebrand.
This series starts here.
The last entry will be up tomorrow.
* Is anal sex an issue? For that is the practice most people think of when they hear the word "sodomy". I would say only in a tiny way. The best research currently available says that a majority of couples will try it at some point. A very significant number never will, however. Research also tells us that the vast majority of those couples who try anal sex will conclude that they do not like it and abandon the practice. Quite frankly, if the Church banned the practice outright tomorrow, it would probably have zero impact on most people's actual practice. (Although it would create a wave of publicity.)