It’s no Halloween tale. Sadly, The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty’s account of Georgetown University’s failings—published in today’s Georgetown campus newspaper, The Hoya—is all too true.
But now the master of suspense has Georgetown officials wondering what’s lurking around the next corner. Blatty reminds them that he and other Georgetown patriots are about to file their promised canon law petition, urging Church and University officials to attend to Georgetown’s substantial decline in Catholic identity.
Blatty also asks the Georgetown community to join his Father King Society “to unite students, faculty, parents and alumni to make Georgetown honest, Catholic and better.”
Our new society is named for Fr. Tom King, S.J., who, in 1991, assisted a first canonical petition to stop Georgetown’s slow separation from the Church. That petition asked the Church to strip the university of its Catholic label if it did not stop funding abortion advocacy. Georgetown reversed itself. Soon, we will ask the Church to do something quite different. Our excitement is palpable. Like Jesuit Father Karras, we do it for “love.”
Father Karras, of course, was one of the focal characters in Blatty’s The Exorcist. His doubts about good and evil are at the heart of Blatty’s novel, which is more an exploration of faith than a typical horror story.
Blatty’s tale of Georgetown is both: a rueful story of faith abandoned and trust betrayed, and a horrific scenario for the Catholic Church, whose Faithful sacrificed for more than two centuries to build Georgetown’s reputation.
Of course, the decimation of “Catholic” began long ago when we first looked with envy toward Harvard and reduced the Jesuit curriculum. The dissidents came later, some in Roman collars and others who found personal gain in the movement against Church authority. Georgetown galloped toward secularism; even crucifixes disappeared from classrooms.
Then, in the early 1980s, a top New York public relations firm counseled the university that it was misguided to diminish its Catholic identity. Their report showed how Catholic identity was a valuable “brand” to be exploited in fundraising and recruitment. Georgetown got the memo but pursued a cynical path. In the prose, Latin quotes and other cosmetics, Georgetown would tell the world that it was “Catholic and Jesuit.” At black-tie alumni dinners, a Jesuit would be placed at every table like a flower centerpiece. The march toward secularism and moral relativism continued.
Debate is the servant of truth. In this case, debating whether Georgetown is Catholic has itself become a deception. Some say yes, some say no. But it does not matter what we think. There is only one accrediting agency that gets the last word. In 1990, Pope John Paul II, a former university professor, finally issued a normative constitution for Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae. Georgetown has a metric, but its leaders have chosen willfully to ignore it.
Blatty has great love for Georgetown. The 1950 graduate attended the University on scholarship. He was a Hoya editor, and his son was a Hoya editor. He thanked Georgetown in The Exorcist for “teaching me how to think.”
As for Georgetown’s Catholic identity, Blatty states flatly, “It is not too late.” His canon law petition will ask whether Church officials agree.
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