WASHINGTON, D.C., June 3, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – One of the best-loved tourist attractions on the Georgetown University campus is the staircase from the 1973 film “The Exorcist,” based on the 1971 novel of the same name by author William Peter Blatty. The book and movie, set in and around the Jesuit school’s campus, portray the fictional exorcism of a demon from a young girl by a troubled Catholic priest and his mentor. It has long been considered a classic Catholic film.
Now Blatty, a 1950 graduate of Georgetown, has filed a canon lawsuit against his alma mater demanding the school either adhere to its Catholic identity, or be stripped of its Church affiliation. He is calling on alumni to withhold donations to the school for a period of one year while the administration decides whether to bring the institution into compliance or formally renounce its Catholic roots.
Blatty’s petition was filed on behalf of 1200 Georgetown alumni, parents, students, faculty and other concerned Catholics, accusing the school of failing to comply with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 Apostolic Constitution for Catholic Universities that demands church-affiliated institutions of higher learning promote and defend Church doctrine.
The suit alleges that Georgetown has flouted Catholic doctrine increasingly frequently over the past two decades, especially on social issues like abortion and homosexuality.
“We have documented 23 years of scandals and dissidence, over 100 scandals in the most recent years alone,” said Blatty’s counsel, Manuel Miranda. “What is evident is that Georgetown University has been captured by the ideology of radical autonomy. It pervades everything. Academic freedom is now prisoner to intolerant new orthodoxies, and Catholic moral teaching has surrendered to the dictatorship of moral relativism.”
On a conference call with reporters Monday to discuss the suit, Blatty said the goal of his petition is not to strip Georgetown of its Catholic identity, but to force the university to “straighten up and fly right.” He said he would like to see his alma mater return to “what it used to do and what it was intended to do, which is give Cathlolic students a strong, solid formation and the intellectual tools to defend their faith.”
Blatty said that while he has been increasingly disturbed over the past 20 years by Georgetown’s dissidence, the scandal that pushed him to file the lawsuit was the school’s refusal to back down in the face of Catholic outrage over the invitation of pro-abortion Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to be a featured commencement speaker at the School of Public Policy.
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Sebelius, who is Catholic, is the bureaucrat behind the controversial HHS contraception mandate that seeks to force Catholic employers to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs over their deeply held religious objections. Tens of thousands of Catholics signed a petition protesting her invitation to speak, but the school was steadfast in defending the selection.
At the time, the Archdiocese’s official newspaper issued an editorial stating, “One can only wonder how the selection of Secretary Sebelius for such a prominent role as a featured speaker can be reconciled with the stated Catholic mission and identity of Georgetown University. Secretary Sebelius' vision on what constitutes faith-based institutions presents the most direct challenge to religious freedom in recent history.”
Added the paper, “With all of the people struggling so hard to preserve freedom of religion, and with all that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said in defense of this important value, Georgetown's choice of the architect of the radical challenge of such freedom for special recognition can only be seen as a statement of where the university stands - certainly not with the Catholic bishops.”
Blatty said that the university’s stubborn support for Sebelius was “the last straw” for him.
“Commencement speakers generally give advice to graduates on how to live their lives,” Blatty said. “[Georgetown] wants advice on how to do that from a woman who, as governor of Kansas, vetoed every single bill that attempted to put a touch of control on abortion regulations … who was cheek-by-jowl buddy with that butcher George Tiller, and whom the bishop of Kansas … forbade from receiving communion.” George Tiller was an infamous late-term abortionist in Kansas who was murdered in 2009. Before his death, he aborted thousands of nearly-full-term babies.
Blatty said the scandal showed him and others that preserving Georgetown’s Catholic identity would require serious action.
“Of course, what we truly seek is for Georgetown to have the vision and courage to be Catholic,” Blatty wrote in an open letter announcing the petition, “but clearly the slow pastoral approach has not worked.”
Added Blatty, “Throughout an undeservedly wonderful life, I have been guided by the light of my Georgetown education, grounded firmly, as I knew it was even in my youth, in the unmatched intellectual wealth of the Catholic Church. Each time I faltered, as I often did, that guiding light never failed me.”
“What I owe Georgetown, however, is nothing as compared to what Georgetown owes to its founders and the Christ of Faith,” Blatty said, “and so it grieves me deeply that my beloved alma mater is failing so scandalously in its debt both to the Church and to the militant Jesuits still buried there who gave it their everything; who made it so special for so long. It grieves me that Georgetown University today almost seems to take pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful.”
Blatty admitted that there are those who will likely write him off as a cranky old man pining for simpler times. In response to those, Blatty quoted a letter from Chiara Cardone, a young 2010 graduate of Georgetown who wrote: “While faith and spirituality are embraced at Georgetown, they are respected only so long as they are either confined within the walls of Dahlgren Chapel, or diluted to appease the dictatorship of relativism which is sweeping our civilization. My Catholic manner of worship was always accepted, but my Catholic lifestyle and convictions were sometimes attacked by student organizations and staff members, themselves underpinned by tacit and even explicit university endorsement.”
Added Cardone, “Far beyond nuanced scrutiny or respectful debate, my convictions, especially those regarding the dignity of human life, were instead the subject of sweeping condemnation, even at university-sponsored events. My cultural identity was insulted; my intellectual autonomy and personal agency were denied in order to render my voice inconsequential. On those occasions I came to wonder why, at a Catholic institution, I was so ridiculed for my Catholicism. I sometimes felt betrayed by a campus culture which discouraged faithfulness, even while banners everywhere touted the ideal of ‘faith in action.’”
Blatty summed up his opinion and that of his fellow petitioners with another quote, this one from current Georgetown student Colin Cortes:
“It is time for Georgetown to decide whether it wants to be a Catholic institution.”
Catholics wishing to add their names to the canon suit against Georgetown University can do so here: