Henry Herx dies at 79; reviewed films from Catholic perspective

Henry Herx, who for more than 30 years prepared the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' movie ratings and wrote reviews that were distributed by the Catholic News Service, has died. He was 79.

Herx died Wednesday at his home in Ramsey, N.J., of complications from liver cancer, his family told the Catholic News Service.

Herx also edited movie guides, including "Our Sunday Visitor's Family Guide to Movies and Videos," in which he evaluated thousands of titles through the prism of Catholic doctrine and took stock of sexual content, violence and offensive language. He retired in 1999 as director of the bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Lacking faith in the movie industry's ability to police what ends up on the screen, U.S. bishops introduced their own movie rating system in 1936.


Herx's fascination with Hollywood was rooted in the second-run movies he watched in his youth in Chicago. Born there in 1933, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Loyola University and began reviewing films in 1964 for the Legion of Decency in Chicago.

The legion's film department was later folded into the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures and eventually evolved into the U.S. Catholic bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting. Herx moved to New York when the department was created there.

Herx aimed his reviews at parents trying to decide whether films were appropriate for their family's moral values.

"I think the average critic is really reviewing for adults, basically young adults," Herx said in a 1997 interview with Indiana's South Bend Tribune. "I don't think they give too much thought to the information a parent might require to make a judgment for a family."

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, worked closely with Herx at the Office for Film and Broadcasting when she was the Catholic News Service's media editor. (The film office became part of Catholic News Service two years ago.)

"Henry understood Hollywood, and his judgment was impeccable," she said. "He saw the trends and made us realize that we had to review broadcast television as well."

As an example of his insight, Walsh pointed to Herx's favorable review of "The Full Monty," the small-budget 1997 British film about six unemployed, working-class men who, needing quick money, form a striptease act. Noting that the men were uncomfortable as strippers, Herx saw the movie as a triumph of the human spirit — and said it had more to offer than that year's blockbuster, "Titanic."

"He recognized the movie was about, among other things, modesty," Walsh said. "He didn't give it a knee-jerk reaction."

Herx's organization assigned "The Full Monty" a rating of A-IV — adults, with some reservations.

Herx is survived by four children, four siblings and four grandchildren. His wife, Marilyn, died in 2005; a daughter died in 2008 and a son died in 2009.