Human Life International has established the Fr. Paul Marx Pro-life Award both to honor HLI’s founder, Fr. Paul Marx, and to recognize the commitment of outstanding pro-life leaders. The first recipient of this award is Mr. John Smeaton, National Director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Children, who received the award today at a banquet concluding HLI’s Seventh Prayer Congress for Life in Fatima, Portugal.
HLI president Father Shenan J. Boquet presented the award to Mr. Smeaton. In his remarks, Father Boquet recognized Mr. Smeaton’s exceptional efforts in defense of life: “John Smeaton represents the height of pro-life and pro-family courage as a Catholic layman. He is a wonderful, passionate leader who works tirelessly to defend human life and the family. May God bless him and raise up more fervent witnesses to the Gospel of Life.”
In the late 1950s, Fr. Marx received a special call from the Lord to spread the message of the Faith to protect respect for human dignity and the family, especially to protect unborn babies whose lives are at risk. The call led him to launch the Human Life Institute in 1972, which became Human Life International in 1981.
From the beginning, it was clear the Lord was blessing Fr. Marx’s mission in very special ways. In 1979, Fr. Marx met Pope John Paul II, who said to him, “You are doing the most important work on earth.” Ten years later in another meeting, John Paul II called him, “The Apostle of Life.”
Human life cannot be defended effectively without a firm belief in the Creator and Source of Life, in God. Fr. Marx underscored that the faith must be taught in an integral way, both in its dogmatic and moral teachings. This teaching needs to be fortified by a serious spiritual life, the frequent reception of the sacraments and systematic spiritual reading. Fr. Marx underlined early in his apostolate that, “HLI’s most important service is to present the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, clear-headed analysis of what’s taking place in society, and, based on its international experience, suggestions for effective ways to deal with problems.”
Fr. Marx also understood early in this effort that the Holy Spirit was moving him to spread the pro-life message worldwide. His boundless energy and knowledge of the pro-life movement inspired leaders on all continents. In more than a half century of pro-life activism, Fr. Marx visited all fifty states of the USA and ninety individual countries, traveling over three million miles, or the equivalent of six round-trips to the moon.
Fr. Marx saved many children due to his direct intervention, and countless others are now living because of the leaders he inspired and equipped internationally. He recruited leaders all over the world to join the pro-life movement, from the Philippines to Kenya, from Poland to Argentina, from Virginia to Hong Kong. He also saw the fundamental importance of assisting in and encouraging the pro-life formation of seminarians and young priests, who should be among the strongest protectors of human life. This is one of the reasons he established the Rome Office of HLI. He knew that a priest’s first duty is faithfulness to the Church that sends him forth.
It is important to note that one of the key messages that Human Life International transmits, following the inspiration of Fr. Marx, is the link between the contraceptive mentality and abortion. For him, as for the Church, it was very clear that contraception is a rejection of God’s loving plan, and thus was a grave sin. He stressed that no country has legalized abortion without first legalizing and promoting contraception: “We will insist that a right-to-life movement that does not oppose contraception and abortifacients will never win the battle for the protection of the unborn.”
For that reason he insisted that a fundamental part of HLI’s formation programs should be dedicated to Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae vitae. Fr. Marx often praised Pope Paul for promulgating this encyclical and underlined how the four dire predictions of its famous 17th paragraph have been vindicated. We have in fact seen in practice that contraception lowers general morality, causes men to selfishly use and abuse women and that it puts a weapon in the hands of governments that dictate to couples the number of children in their families.
He also saw the relation between the contraceptive mentality and the drastic reduction in fertility that we are experiencing in so many countries in the world. He underlined that
If you want good marriages, healthy, happy families, and a mature and loving sexuality, then we must know God’s moral truths and choose to live them. When we stand before the judgment seat of God, from which no one is excused, He will judge us worthy to enter His kingdom only if we accepted and conformed to His moral truths: ‘If you love me keep my commandments.’
As a priest and a social scientist, Father Marx had a profound knowledge of the human soul and zealously promoted the virtue of chastity in a world filled with hedonistic sexual propaganda. He pointed out that, “Without chastity, the unleashed drive wreaks havoc on family and society.” Practicing this virtue, we place our energies at the service of Our Lord and of the common good of society. He emphasized that, in marriage, chastity leads to the proper use of the sexual faculty, to beget, in a responsible way, a generous number of children and to educate them in accordance with God’s plans. Therefore, he promoted the responsible use of Natural Family Planning (NFP). He insightfully said, when for serious reasons procreation is not advisable, periodic abstinence becomes an expression of the mutual love of the couple. He saw the serious problems with the sex education programs used in public and even Catholic schools and spoke out strongly on this issue. Fr. Marx perceived that the reason young people commit sexual sins is not primarily ignorance, but rather weakness of the will and poverty of their spiritual lives. If the young receive solid formation in the faith and its practice, emphasizing the mastery of the soul over the body, the foundation of chastity will be secured.
In 1982 Father wrote Death without Dignity: Killing for Mercy, one of the first comprehensive works on the threat of euthanasia. He pointed out how abortion leads to euthanasia. One who commits abortion because one finds the unborn child an unacceptable burden runs the risk of being killed he or she becomes frail and dependent. In 1990 he foresaw that “the [committers of euthanasia] are the new totalitarians”: a prediction that is slowly becoming true in several European and other countries where euthanasia and assisted suicide are accepted practices.
As we look to the future inspired by the legacy of Fr. Marx we keep presenting the constant teachings of the Church on life and family to a world constantly tempted to move farther away from God’s plan. Fr. Marx was never discouraged by the grim realities of pervasive birth control, legalized abortion and a growing culture of death. He enthusiastically called his fellow pro-lifers to renewed confidence in the Lord of Hosts and His ultimate victory. The truly important thing, Fr. Marx taught us, is to continue struggling under God’s guidance to win the battle for life, to restore the family, and to promote the truths of the faith.
John Smeaton was born in London and educated at Salesian College, London. At 16 years of age, he explored a vocation to the priesthood in Ireland, in the Salesian novitiate in County Meath. He eventually studied English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford and after graduating qualified as a teacher, becoming head of English at a secondary school.
He became involved with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the first major pro-life group to be established anywhere in the world, after graduating from Oxford. He established a new branch in south London in 1974. He began to work full-time for the Society in 1978, when he was appointed General Secretary. Since 1996 he has served as the Society’s chief executive.
During the 1990s at the major UN world conferences in Cairo, Copenhagen, Beijing, Istanbul and Rome, John Smeaton played an invaluable role coordinating an international coalition of more than 150 pro-life and pro-family groups acting as non-governmental organization (NGO) delegates. He helped bring about the pro-life victory in 1994, at the Cairo population and development conference, where the proclamation of an international right to abortion was resoundingly defeated. At the 1996 Istanbul and Rome world conferences the aggressive promotion of so-called “reproductive health” and “sexual rights” were pushed back.
John was elected vice-president of International Right to Life Federation in 2005. He has been married to Josephine since 1983, and they have four children and five grandchildren.
John Smeaton has a wonderful zeal in the promotion of the culture of life, in the tradition of Fr. Marx. He has fought not only abortion and euthanasia but also sex miseducation and the redefinition of marriage. John co-founded the international coalition Voice of the Family in 2015 in order to bring together pro-life organizations from all over the world to defend Catholic teaching on the family – particularly in connection with the Synod on the Family.
It is a pleasure to bestow the first HLI Fr. Paul Marx Pro Life Award on another apostle of life, Mr. John Smeaton.
The award includes a specially commissioned bronze medallion of Fr. Paul Marx crafted by the distinguished sculptor Hamilton Reed Armstrong of Front Royal, Virginia. His works can be seen in many Catholic institutions and public places in the USA, in Spain, where he worked for many years, and in Germany.