FRONT ROYAL, Va.-Benedictine Father Paul Marx will assume the title of “Director Emeritus” after retiring from the board of directors of Human Life International.

The Aug. 15 announcement signaled the end of Father Marx's active involvement with the organization he founded in 1981, and which, under his leadership, became the world's largest pro-life organization with 56 chapters in the U.S. and branches or affiliates in 83 countries worldwide.

Father Marx turned over the Presidency of Human Life International to fellow Benedictine Father Matthew Habiger in 1994 to become Chairman. After leaving this post in December 1998, Marx continued to serve on the Board of Directors until retiring.

Though the details of Father Marx's health have not been made public, he told supporters earlier in the year that in January he underwent a “risky procedure” at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minn., to open up an artery.

“We will still see him writing and he will continue to be a frequent speaker at pro-life events,” said Anne DeLong, a spokeswoman for Human Life International. “He wants to be able to do what he loves, to lecture and write and travel. Retiring just frees him from day-to-day responsibilities at HLI,” DeLong said.

Though Father Marx could not be reached for comment at his current residence at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., where he has been living since May for a period of rest and treatment, colleagues in the pro-life movement recalled his eighteen-year tenure at Human Life International with admiration.

“I believe Father Marx has done as much for babies as Mother Theresa has done for the poor,” said John Everett, Director of the White Rose Woman's Center, a crisis pregnancy center in Dallas. Everett credits Father Marx's fidelity to the teachings of the Church and his tirelessness for the growth of Human Life International. He said one of the challenges now facing the organization is losing Father Marx as a visible head. “Of course they will continue to grow, further and faster,” Everett said. “[But] since its founding, HLI has been Father Marx and continues to be Father Marx. And of the challenges they now face is how to continue without him.”

Margaret Hotze, a member of Human Life International's board of directors and the editor of “Life Advocate” newspaper in Houston, has known Father Marx since 1974. Like Everett, She attributed the growth of Human Life International to Father Marx's tireless leadership, but also to the network of contacts he has established and the leaders he has chosen to further his work. “Marx has organized so many people,” Hotze said. “They have done a great job, for instance, withstanding pressure from the United Nations to keep silent [about abortion and contraception].”

Father Marx distinguished himself early on in the pro-life movement by anticipating its birth. Ordained to the priesthood in 1947, Marx took his doctorate in sociology at Catholic University before returning to his alma mater, St. John's University, to teach. It was at St. John's in 1959 that he read a proposal by the American Law Institute to the state legislatures which would permit abortion for rape, incest, fetal defects, mental or physical health or the mother's life. “I recognized it immediately as abortion-on-demand,” Father Marx says in his autobiography Faithful for Life.

During his days teaching marriage preparation and parenting at St. John's, Father Marx made the link which characterizes Human Life International's “total approach” in the fight against abortion — linking it with contraception. Marx called this link the “contraceptive mentality” and spelled out its consequences in an article he wrote in 1983 for the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

“All studies I have seen show that the [result] of the invasive contraceptive plague, [is] that couples who contracept are much more likely to resort to abortion in the case of unplanned pregnancy,” Marx wrote. In the same article Marx spared no criticism for bishops as he surveyed the widespread use of contraception by American Catholics.

This proven willingness to criticize bishops has lost Marx many potential allies in the pro-life movement. As one supporter told the Register, “an awful lot of Church leaders find him abrasive and are not influenced by HLI because of this.”

Margaret Hotze told the Register that Marx's outspokenness about bishops explains why admiration for Father Marx is not evenly heard among Catholics. “When he writes and when he speaks from the pulpit, he says bishops are derelict in their duties.” In defense of Father Marx, Hotze asked, “How often does one hear a homily on contraception or abortion?”

DeLong said it was faith and a strong sense that God had placed demands on him that made Father Marx an effective leader of Human Life International. “It's a measure of his character that he tires the rest of us out. He's a tough old German,” DeLong said. She added that Father Marx has not yet been replaced on Human Life International's board of directors, of which there are now seven members, but that current board members are now considering candidates to fill the spot he left vacant. “Someone will probably be elected to fill the spot in December,” DeLong said, adding that the non-profit organization's by-laws allow for up to eleven board members at any one time.