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The Fall of an American Idol

The announcement was all too abrupt.

When Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer declared — out of the blue — in his weekly e-letter “Spirit & Life” on August 27, 2010, that he was stepping down from his post as president of Human Life International (HLI), something seemed amiss. The reason for his unexpected departure, Fr. Euteneuer wrote, was that his bishop had called him back to his home diocese in Palm Beach, Florida, to return to parish work. “This is the right thing for me to do and at the right time,” wrote Fr. Euteneuer. “I have great peace about the road that lies ahead and about all that has been accomplished up to this point…. I am ready for a break!”

After recovering from the initial shock, those of us who had interacted with him or admired him from afar were left scratching our heads. Why would a man who lived, and seemed to thrive, in the public eye to an ever increasing extent over the decade of his tenure at HLI depart so suddenly, without warning, without any indication whatsoever that this was coming? The explanation was puzzling. He had just released a new book and was in the middle of a speaking tour — hardly the “right time” for an abrupt change of course. He didn’t even have a parish assignment to go to yet. No replacement was waiting to take the reins of HLI. Why the rush out the door?

Though the questions lingered, what else could we do but wish him well and offer prayers of thanksgiving for his years of outstanding work to advance the prolife cause? The very same day, August 27, the board of directors of HLI released a statement thanking Fr. Euteneuer for his “meritorious service,” saying that his “leadership at HLI and his influence on the pro-life movement around the world will be greatly missed.”

Could this really be the end of the illustrious career of the seemingly indefatigable Fr. Euteneuer — he who had led picket lines at abortuaries, held conferences the world over (logging over a million travel miles), written numerous articles, columns (including in the NOR), and books, and appeared in film documentaries and on TV talk shows (including a legendary 2007 face-off with Sean Hannity of Fox News)? It hardly seemed possible. Yet, just like that, Fr. Euteneuer disappeared from the scene altogether. He didn’t return phone calls, letters, or e-mails, or respond to requests for interviews. His parish assignment never materialized. Had he gone into seclusion? Or was he simply enjoying the “time of rest and renewal” he said he had been looking forward to, and which he surely deserved after a decade of demanding work?

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