Blatty v. Georgetown

Best-selling author, screenwriter, director, and Academy Award-winner William Peter Blatty is challenging Georgetown to reclaim its Catholic identity. Blatty is best known as the author of The Exorcist, but he’s also a GU grad (class of 1950) and a devout Catholic who has had enough of Georgetown working against the church while pretending to be a Catholic University.

Here’s the heart of his complaint:

On May 5, 2012, in a speech to American bishops, Pope Benedict XVI called on America’s Catholic universities to reaffirm their Catholic identity. The Pope noted the failure of many Catholic universities to comply with Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae. The Pope said that preservation of a university’s Catholic identity “entails much more than the teaching of religion or the mere presence of a chaplaincy on campus.”

For 21 years now. Georgetown University has refused to comply with Ex corde Ecclesiaie (“From The Heart of the Church”), and, therefore, with canon law. And, it seems as if every month GU gives another scandal to the faithful! The most recent is Georgetown’s obtuse invitation to Secretary Sebelius to be a commencement speaker.

Each of these scandals is proof of Georgetown’s non-compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae and canon law. They are each inconsistent with a Catholic identity, and we all know it. A university in solidarity with the Church would not do these prideful things that do so much harm to our communion. (You can pen a heartfelt letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington and the Holy Father offering your own experience here.)

In the months to come, The Father King Society will ask Georgetown and the Church for explanations and decisions. In 1991, in an effort led by courageous Georgetown students, my dearly missed classmate, GU Law Center Prof. Richard Alan Gordon, took the awesome step of submitting a canon law petition asking the Church to remove Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic. Then Dean of Students John J. DeGioia had authorized the funding of a pro-abortion student advocacy group. A contemporaneous secret memorandum from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities to the presidents of all Jesuit institutions showed us that Dr. DeGioia’s decision was part of a larger scheme: GU was to be the dissident leader for others to follow. Dean Gordon’s effort was provocative and drastic, but within months of the filing, Rome required Georgetown to reverse itself, and Georgetown did.

As a prelude to developing a full canon law action, Blatty has created an initial “checklist” detailing GU’s non-compliance with Ex corde eccelsiae, and including the following:

  • Failure to Amend Governing Documents
  • Failure to Demonstrate an Institutional Commitment in All Activities
  • Failure to Guarantee Its Catholic Identity In Its Structure and Regulations
  • Failure to Ensure that All Official Actions and Commitments Be Authentically Catholic
  • Failure to Protect the Rights of Individuals and the Community
  • Failure to Obtain Approvals of Required Documents
  • Failure to Recruit Personnel Both Willing and Able To Promote Catholic Identity
  • Failure to Formally Inform all New Teachers and Administrators of Obligations
  • Failure to Invite Respect of Catholic Doctrine and Moral
  • Failure to Implement the Required Affirmative Hiring Policy
  • Failure to Provide Formation in Moral Principles and Catholic Social Teaching
  • Failure to ensure that Catholic Theologians have the Mandatum (Mandate) from the Archbishop required by the 1993 Code of Canon Law

Blatty is taking the case straight to the Vatican, and Georgetown is either going to have to stop representing itself as a Catholic school, or clean up its act.

I spent a lot of time at Georgetown, and have fond memories of it. My wife is class of 1989 (undergrad) and 1990 (master’s), and we dated throughout most of her time there. She loved the experience and still loves the school, and recalls participating in a rich and orthodox Catholic culture while there. She’s a member of  Alpha Sigma Nu, and after graduation, she served as an alumni interviewer for prospective GU students for a number of years. The scandals over the years have pained her because it’s not the Georgetown she remembers.

Almost all of these problems can be traced to the last two administrations. When Fr. Healy stepped down in 1989, he was replaced first by the extremely liberal Fr. O’Donovan (who needed to be slapped down by the Vatican for allowing a pro-abortion group on campus) and then John DeGioia (the first layperson to run the University). My wife remembers DeGioia as a nice guy (he was dean of students when she was there), but there’s no longer any question that his tenure has been disastrous for the school’s Catholic identity.

One point my wife emphasizes is that Georgetown was always a welcome and open place for non-Catholics. From the beginning, it was intended by Bishop Carroll to be open to all, regardless of religion. Yet it retained a strong Catholic identity, which was still thriving when she was there. She remembers Fr. King as a powerful homilist who could pack Dahlgren Chapel for an 11pm candlelit mass. Since she’s left, she observed something of a rise in Catholic culture there, with the addition of a Knights of Columbus group and Eucharistic adoration, neither of which existed in her time. This may indicate that the Catholic community is becoming stronger to counteract the rising secularism of the school itself.

Georgetown was once able to hold its Catholic identity in tension with its service to a non-Catholic student body without losing that Catholic identity. With the rise of identity politics, political correctness, and other leftist fads of the past 20-odd years, they found that tension too hard to maintain, so they surrendered their identity. They forgot what no Christian should ever forget: we are in the world, but are not of the world.

Sign the petition here.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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