Throughout the history of the pro-life and pro-family movements, many remarkable individuals have played important roles. Among those who may receive less recognition today is James Likoudis, a gifted scholar and speaker whose long-time defense of human life, the nuclear family, quality education, parental rights, and religious liberty has proven strikingly prophetic. While highly respected by his students and colleagues, Likoudis is not currently as well-known as he should be. But as he approaches the centennial of his birth, his work is achieving a new appreciation that may finally bring it the attention it deserves.
Born in Lackawanna, New York, just outside Buffalo, in 1928, James Likoudis was the son of Greek immigrants who came to America seeking a better life. They found it, even in the midst of the Great Depression, as James’s father opened a local ice cream parlor that operated for 50 years. Family life was fortified by the Likoudis’s Greek Orthodox faith, and James’s upbringing has remained a source of strength throughout his life.
After high school, James went to study history and philosophy at the University of Buffalo, where his beliefs came under sustained attack from professors hostile to organized religion. Traditional faith and values were portrayed as enemies of enlightened thinking and obstacles to democratic progress. While he never lost his Christian faith, James was shaken by these attacks, because he didn’t know how to answer them.
Then came a fortuitous visit to the University’s Newman Club, an on-campus Catholic ministry with a library of works by many of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. Theologians like Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman, and early twentieth-century Dominicans like Vincent McNabb and Gerald Vann helped develop Likoudis’s faith, and historian Christopher Dawson enhanced his understanding of religion and culture. “At a time when my secular courses began to pose all sorts of difficulties regarding historic Christian beliefs,” he later wrote, “I found in such writers a treasure trove of arguments, and the genius to challenge intellectually their rationalist and skeptical opponents.”1 Now equipped to defend his beliefs, James was pleasantly surprised to find that at least a few of his more thoughtful professors, when presented with the evidence, acknowledged Christianity’s pivotal role in advancing Western civilization.2
Likoudis learned several important lessons from his undergraduate years: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15), and never give up faith that you can win over your opponent.
The Christian worldview James inherited from his parents now came to fruition. Its guiding principles were a) there are certain truths about the human condition that are sacred and eternal; b) through reason, divine revelation, and the natural law, these truths are accessible to everyone; and c) objective truth is not an “obstacle” to democracy, but an indispensable asset to it.
War, Conversion, and Marriage
By the early 1950s, Likoudis was serving in Korea in the medical corps. His faith had by now matured, but Eastern Orthodoxy would not be his final spiritual home. His appreciation for Roman Catholicism’s intellectual tradition, which had played a key role in reinvigorating his faith in college, led him to explore the history of the papacy, the biggest stumbling block between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. After extensive study, James became a member of the Catholic Church in 1952, but retained his reverence for Eastern Orthodoxy and worked hard to overcome the centuries-old schism separating the two. The search for a Catholic-Orthodox reunion, encouraged by numerous popes, became a consuming passion in Likoudis’s life. He eventually wrote four books on the subject that are models of ecumenical scholarship.3
But the greatest impact on James as an adult was undoubtedly his marriage to his wife, Ruth. As a young newlywed, Ruth joined the Catholic Church with James and, like him, “amidst the storms that would beset the Church, never failed in her fidelity to the Church’s teachings.”4 Her relatives and friends remember her as a strong and elegant woman, a beloved wife and mother who loved life and brought joy to everyone she met. By the time of her death in early 2023, her marriage to James had lasted 71 years, producing six children, thirty-five grandchildren, and forty-four great-grandchildren— an extraordinary legacy of their faith and family.
Recently, James agreed to speak with me about his eventful life and the ongoing challenges our nation faces.
An Unseen Tipping Point
In our conversation, Likoudis corrected the widely mistaken assumption that the upheaval of the 1960s was a sudden, unforeseen eruption. That the Sixties helped destabilize America and undermine its Judeo-Christian heritage cannot be denied. But Likoudis emphasized that this rebellion, far from being a bolt from the blue, was “the culmination of a long process of moral and cultural decay.” In his view, the origins of our present crisis preceded the Woodstock generation, as irresponsible as the latter proved to be, and grew out of the social fragmentation and moral disorientation provoked by two World Wars. Moreover, while the revolt was activated by secularists, “it was accelerated by self-professed Christians who were either too passive to realize what was happening, or too timid to sound the alarm.”
British religious historian Christopher Dawson summed up the situation he already saw in 1942 in his book Judgement of the Nations:
The old landmarks of good and evil and truth and falsehood have been swept away, and civilization is driving before the storm of destruction like a dismasted and helmless ship. The evils which the nineteenth century thought it had banished forever . . . have returned and with them new terrors which the past did not know. We have discovered that evil too is a progressive force and that the modern world provides unlimited prospects for its development.5
For twenty years, Likoudis combatted these errors in high schools, colleges, and seminaries, as he taught courses on history, government, and Western civilization, exhorting his students to uphold, in Matthew Arnold’s words, “the best that has been thought and said.” James then led Catholics United for the Faith, an influential lay group defending Catholic teaching against its critics. He also served as president of Morality in Media, campaigning against pornography and its myriad evils.6 And for over fifty years he has promoted truth, decency, and the common good in lectures, debates, and media appearances.
An Unpopular but Far-Sighted Encyclical
Among Likoudis’s many accomplishments has been his consistent support of Humanae Vitae, St. Paul VI’s famous encyclical against artificial birth control.
When Humanae Vitae appeared in 1968, it was greeted with widespread dissent, causing even the American Catholic bishops, after an initial defense of it, to retreat into a disengaged silence.7 Likoudis, in contrast, traveled the globe to explain that the encyclical’s stand against contraception wasn’t rooted in a narrow-minded puritanism, but in the Church’s elevated teachings on marital love and reverence for human life. Catholicism considers sex a precious gift, Likoudis told me, but it is not an end in itself and can easily be manipulated and abused. Its teaching that contraception is an impairment of a marriage’s natural capacity to procreate, diminishing the selfless love which brings forth children, “is not one the world wanted to hear, but surely could have profited from.”
Almost sixty years later, the encyclical and its early, bold supporters like Likoudis now look visionary, as many scholars and leaders have come to recognize.8
Humanae Vitae correctly predicted that the pill would increase the objectification of women, lower moral standards, and be employed to coerce population control. On the 50th anniversary of its publication, Archbishop Charles Chaput observed that Paul VI “would not be surprised by the #MeToo movement,” for Humanae Vitae “identified and rejected the sexual exploitation of women years before that message entered the cultural mainstream.” Chaput continued:
“Much of the moral conflict, broken family life, social unraveling, and gender confusion that seems so common today stems—directly or indirectly—from our disordered attitudes toward creation, and our appetite to master, reshape and even deform nature to our will. We want the freedom to decide what reality is. And we insist on the power to make it so.”9
A Council Misperceived
Likoudis also deserves credit for his support of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)—an event of immeasurable importance for the Church and the world. For vastly different reasons, partisans on the left and right consider the Council a charter for revolution. “The controversy over Vatican II,” Likoudis told me, is due to “a selective and tendentious reading of its texts, and the failure of too many Catholics to implement its actual teachings.”10
The true value of the Council, argued Likoudis, lies in its vibrant elucidation of developed Catholic teaching for the contemporary world; its call for the laity (not just religious) to pursue lives of holiness; and its promotion of ecumenical and interfaith relations, which has done so much to expand and diversify the pro-life and pro-family movements.
Courage and Clarity
In the tumultuous decade following the Council, the effort to undermine the family and traditional moral values entered a new, more aggressive phase, as educators assaulted the innocence of young children with inappropriate forms of sex education. Likoudis responded with courage and clarity. At a major forum held in 1969, he critiqued the emerging sex education crusade, exposing its errors, incoherence, and contradictions.
The first and most serious error, he said, was the refusal to recognize that “parents, and not school systems,” are the primary educators of their children about sex. Sex education in public schools is “structurally deficient” because it makes it “impossible to meet the needs of individual children.” Worse, it generates “sex talk” without any guardrails, and invariably becomes divorced from the moral and spiritual beliefs of parents—a violation of their Godgiven rights, not to mention their children’s. Likoudis pointed out that even among ardent sex educators, there is “absolutely no agreement” on the “who, what, where and how of sex education,” creating a chaotic, amoral mess.
For well-informed and faithful Catholics, he explained, “an understanding of sex begins with an understanding of fallen human nature and the resulting sexual temptations it produces.” Yet, he noted, “lust, passion, sexual inclinations, sexual fixations and sin” were entirely absent from the new sex education courses. He emphasized that it was not just Catholics who held these views, but many in the Jewish and Evangelical communities he worked closely with as well.
Likoudis affirmed the need for sex education, but a version that respected parental rights and the sanctity of the family. He refuted the popular myth that classroom sex education “is the panacea to sexual problems” by citing evidence that value-free public sex education was creating far more problems than it solved.11 In response, he and those who shared his concerns were assailed as “religious zealots” trying to impose their “sectarian beliefs” on our pluralistic democracy. But from its inception the sex education industry has given every sign of being a secular religion itself, one obsessively focused on a single topic. “Sexuality,” Likoudis concluded, “is the new religion of these people.”12
From “Free Love” to Abortion
With Roe v. Wade, America crossed another line into unprecedented darkness. Likoudis was appalled but not shocked, for Roe was the logical outcome of an anti-life, recreational culture that separated love from sex, sex from marriage, and marriage from children. Most tragic of all, Likoudis told me, was “the capitulation of so many Americans” to the new abortion license—including members of his own Church. Though the Second Vatican Council had declared that “Life from its very conception must be guarded with the greatest care,” and that “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes,”13 many high-profile Catholics proceeded to minimize, rationalize, justify, and even celebrate the decision.
Likoudis reacted by helping found, along with Jesuit priest Fr. John Hardon, a pro-life ministry—Eternal Life—dedicated to educating Catholics and the broader public about the facts concerning abortion. Members of Eternal Life ventured into unfriendly territory to preach the gospel of life and helped bring pro-abortion Catholics into line with the Church’s authentic teaching. For example, in 1984 a full-page ad in the New York Times signed by 25 members of Catholic religious orders appeared, declaring that a “large number” of Catholic theologians believed that abortion “can sometimes be a moral choice.” Rejecting the Vatican’s clear, consistent, and unwavering opposition to abortion from its earliest times to the present,14 the signatories asserted, “There is a mistaken belief in American society that this is the only legitimate Catholic position.”
Likoudis helped bring this scandal to the attention of the Vatican, and persevered until the Church took action. By 1986, only two nuns of the twenty five religious who had signed the ad refused to acknowledge the pro-life teachings of the Church and attended pro-abortion rallies in defiance of them. After their superiors told them disciplinary measures were in the works, the nuns left their religious order in 1988. The Times published a major story on the matter, highlighting Likoudis’s reaction:
“‘This is a victory for all pro-life people in the United States,’ said James Likoudis, president of Catholics United for the Faith. He saluted the nuns for the ‘realization that their pro-abortion stand is incompatible with Catholic religious life and the Catholic faith.’”15 Among those grateful for this outcome was Juli Loesch Wiley, then a spokeswoman for Feminists for Life, who responded: “Perhaps what [the nuns] want is a total collapse of Catholic teaching into conformity with the secular lifestyle.” She also questioned why they would “defend in theory and practice the killing of children before birth,” which so clearly contradicted “the humane traditions of their own Church.”16
An Inspiring Vision of the Family
As a Catholic, Likoudis recognizes a special calling to support the nuclear family, not only because he believes it has been ordained by God, but because it is a bedrock of Western civilization. Commonly defined as two married parents of opposite genders and their biological or adopted children living in the same residence, the nuclear family has been under fire for some time, and Likoudis posits several reasons why.
The first is the corrosive effects of modern, secularized liberalism, which, in Likoudis’s words, places “the individual and his selfishness above the family and society and attempts to empty both of any supernatural content.” This hostility is compounded by statism, which is determined to replace the traditional family and religion with a Leviathan government, driven by a de facto atheism and all-encompassing relativism. When you combine the two, the result is a toxic brew that aims to reshape and create a new human being “just as the worst ideologies of the twentieth century have, with disastrous consequences.”17
In his 1971 monograph Fashioning Persons for a New Age?, Likoudis documented and examined this destructive trend and provided healthy and constructive solutions to reverse it. Though only 70 pages long, the monograph was so powerful that Republican Congressman Jack Kemp had lengthy excerpts of it reprinted in the United States Congressional Record.18
In defending the traditional family against those who would jettison or redefine it, Likoudis realizes that even in the best of circumstances, marriages can crumble because of infidelity, abuse, illness, death, financial collapse, and other tragedies of human life. He also knows many exceptional individuals who have dealt with such tragedies without surrendering their moral and religious beliefs. But there is no conflict between acknowledging these realities and upholding traditional families as the ideal. For there is now a wealth of evidence demonstrating that intact families, especially ones guided by biblical faith and values, are far less likely to experience misfortune than members of broken ones.19
Accolades and Achievements
The value of Likoudis’s career becomes clearer by speaking with those he has aided and inspired. Alice Grayson, who heads the Veil of Innocence website, told me that Likoudis was the only person who helped her when her young son was being subjected to objectionable sex-ed material, in both private and parochial schools. “James Likoudis gave me everything I needed to know about my rights as a parent in America and within the Church,” she said, “and the situation was repaired almost immediately.” Further, “no matter how busy he was, no matter what deadlines he faced, James always made time to answer every one of my questions; and he did the same for many other parents as well.”20 Jeffrey Mirus, founder of Trinity Communications and leader of the influential Catholic-culture.org website, calls Likoudis “one of several mentors” whom Mirus learned from when he was struggling in his twenties to become a more effective witness for the gospel. It was rare in those days—and still is today—to locate “a proponent of authentic Catholic renewal,” but in James Likoudis, he found one.
Numerous theologians informed me of Likoudis’s key role in encouraging the Vatican’s document, Educational Guidance in Human Love (still the definitive Catholic text on prudent sex education)21; while other admirers pointed to his collaborative and fruitful work with EWTN Founder Mother Angelica and philosophers Alice and Dietrich von Hildebrand. James and Dietrich co-wrote a book entitled Sex Education: The Basic Issues and Related Essays, which includes a handwritten letter of recommendation, prominently displayed inside the front cover, from none other than Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
A website has been created with links to James’s voluminous writings, and his grandson, Andrew, is in the process of establishing the Likoudis Legacy Foundation, dedicated to preserving and building upon James’s accomplishments for a new generation.22
Charity and Hope
If James Likoudis’s life has been marked by courage and clarity, it has also been infused with charity and hope. He has lived long enough to see Roe v. Wade overturned and religious liberty affirmed by the Supreme Court. The battles for parental rights and against gender ideology are ongoing, but they are drawing courageous participants both in America and abroad.23 And throughout all the intense debates and cultural controversies, Likoudis has never resorted to ad hominem outbursts or invectives, as so many do today, concentrating on refuting bad ideas rather than excoriating misguided people. At the age of 95, James Likoudis can look back on a long life spent striving to make America a more principled, more thoughtful, more charitable, and more decent nation. That he will leave behind much work still to be done testifies to the tumultuous and challenging times in which he—and we—have been called to live.
1. From Likoudis’s autobiographical essay, Eastern Orthodoxy and the See of Peter: A Journey Towards Full Communion (Park Press, 2006), p. 8.
2. For an acclaimed work on Christianity’s beneficial role in world history, written by a non-believer, see Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Basic Books, 2019) by Tom Holland.
3. Likoudis’s four books on this topic are Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism, The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy and the See of Peter, and Heralds of a Catholic Russia, available from used booksellers, until new editions, currently in the works, come into print.
4. From “Ruth Likoudis Obituary,” published in the Ann Arbor News, April 18, 2023. One of the couple’s sons, Paul, following in James’s footsteps, became a notable pro-life writer and editor for The Wanderer.
5. See, The Judgement of the Nations by Christopher Dawson (2011, The Catholic University of America Press [reprint of the original 1942 edition]), p. 4.
6. Morality in Media, founded in 1968, is now known as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and has become one of the most important organizations of its kind. It actively fights pornography, and promotes “legal, corporate and legislative action to build a world free from sexual abuse and exploitation.” Its website is: www.endsexualexplotation.org
7. See “Human Life in our Day,” a collective pastoral letter of the American Catholic Hierarchy, issued November 15, 1968; but also, “New York Cardinal Dolan says Church Failed to Teach Against Contraception,” Lifesite News, April 2, 2012.
8. On this issue see Mary Eberstadt’s essay, “The Prophetic Power of Humanae Vitae,” First Things, April 2018. See also, “Humanae Vitae: Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Human Sexuality,” signed by dozens of distinguished scholars, which appears on The Catholic University of America’s website, at: https://trs.catholic.edu/humanae-vitae/index.html
9. See “Archbishop Chaput: Paul VI Would Not be Surprised by the #MeToo movement,” Catholic News Agency, April 4, 2018.
10. Likoudis and Kenneth D. Whitehead wrote an entire book in defense of Vatican II and the Church’s reformed liturgy, entitled The Pope, the Council and the Mass (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006; reprint of the 1981 original edition). L’Osservatore Romano—the Vatican’s official newspaper—endorsed it, as did the renowned theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and Father Richard John Neuhaus, the longtime editor of First Things. For more on the book, see, “A Beacon of Christ’s Providential Light in the Post Conciliar Church,” by Andrew Likoudis, from Andrew’s online blog, “Nature and Grace,” published on the Patheos website, June 12, 2023.
11. See “End of the Mythology of Sex Education,” by James Likoudis, Serviam, September, 1996; and for a more recent review of over 55 qualitative studies, see “Sex Ed is Negative, Sexist and Out of Touch: Study,” by Mandy Oaklander, Time magazine online, September 12, 2016.
12. See “Sex Education in Schools is Criticized,” by Margaret M. Carlan, The Saint Louis Review, June 13, 1969, Section 2, which thoroughly covers Likoudis’s address to the forum.
13. See Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” Gaudium et spes, section 51.
14. For the historical consistency of the Catholic Church’s condemnation of abortion, see “Euthanasia and Abortion: A Catholic View,” by Father John Hardon, the Human Life Review, Fall 1975, pp. 88100.
15. See, “2 Nuns Quit Order in Battle with Vatican on Abortion,” by Ari L. Goldman, the New York Times, July 22, 1988.
16. See “Nuns Air Battle on Abortion,” by Lynda Richardson, The Washington Post, October 13, 1990.
17. For Likoudis’s developed thoughts on this topic, see, “Catholic Thought on Liberalism as Ideology Destructive of the Family,” published in Defending the Family: A Sourcebook, edited by Paul C. Vitz and Stephen M. Krason, The Catholic Social Science Press, 1998, pp. 32-37.
18. See Kemp’s introductory remarks, and the excerpts from Likoudis’s monograph, under the title, “Potential Problems Associated with Sensitivity Training,” in the United States Congressional Record, April 22, 1974, pp. 11229-11230.
19. For considerable evidence about the benefits of the nuclear family, see, “The Nuclear Family is Still Indispensable,” by Brad Wilcox and Hal Boyd, The Atlantic, February 21, 2020, and the many studies published by the Institute for Family Studies (website: www.ifstudies.org).
20. For further information, consult the Veil of Innocence website: www.veilofinnocence.org.
21. In an interview with me, Robert Fastiggi, a Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, highlighted Likoudis’s role in the lead-up to the document’s publication. Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education can be read at: https://www.ewtn. com/catholicism/library/educational-guidance-in-human-love-1995
22. For the website, see: jameslikoudispage.com. The projected Likoudis Legacy Foundation has already received the backing of many leading thinkers and writers and will highlight the bountiful impact James Likoudis’s work (in areas of morality, ecumenism, liturgy, and doctrine) has had upon religion and society, both at home and abroad.
23. On the expanding role and increasing influence of the parental rights movement, see, “Debate over Parental Rights is the Latest Battle in the Educational Cultural Wars,” by Kiara Alfonseca and Mary Kekatos, ABC News, September 14, 2023. For Pope Francis’s strong opposition to gender ideology, see, “Pope Says Gender Theory Part of ‘Global War on Marriage, Family,’” Reuters, October 1. 2016; and “Pope Francis: Gender Ideology is ‘One of the Most Dangerous Ideological Colonizations’ Today,” by Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency, March 11, 2023.
William Doino Jr., a contributor to Inside the Vatican and First Things, among many other publications, writes often about religion, history and politics. He has published an 80,000-word annotated bibliography on Pope Pius XII, which appears in the anthology The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (Lexington Books), available in hardcover, paperback, and in Kindle format.