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Georgetown University Canon Lawyer Questions Holy See’s Authority in Blatty Petition

The Rev. Ladislas Orsy, S.J., a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, was quoted in The Hoya dismissing the canon law petition brought against the Jesuit university by William Peter Blatty and other alumni by shockingly stating, “the official title of Georgetown is ‘Georgetown University,’ not ‘Georgetown Catholic University.’

Fr.Orsy, purportedly a canon law expert, told The Hoya that there’s nothing anyone can do about Georgetown calling itself Catholic. “If a group decides to call itself Catholic, that term is not a copyright,” he said. “The bishop can say, ‘In my judgment, I do not think that this organization represents Catholic views,’ but that does not affect whether the organization can call itself Catholic.”

He likens it to the president of the United States attempting to declare that someone is not an American because they’re not behaving like an American. “This is outside the purview of the Church,” declared Fr. Orsy.

In his column, “Hear no Evil, Speak No Evil, Orsy No Evil: Georgetown University and Catholic Identity," Blatty’s attorney and fellow Georgetown alumnus says Orsy does not have his facts in order on this question:

Orsy's opinion has been repeatedly contradicted by Church officials and other canonists for decades now. 

It has long been clarified that Article 3, §3 of Ex corde Ecclesiae, means what it says when it expressly provides that a university (such as Georgetown) "may refer to itself as a Catholic university only with the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority." 

The question was expressly addressed to all bishops in the great encyclical on Church moral teachings, Veritatis Splendor, where Blessed Pope John Paul II reminds bishops that:  "A particular responsibility is incumbent upon Bishops with regard to Catholic institutions. It falls to them, in communion with the Holy See, both to grant the title "Catholic" to Church-related schools, universities, and, in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title, to take it away."

(If you wish to show your support for Blatty's effort, please go here to sign the petition.) 

Fr. Orsy then insinuates that Catholic institutions of higher learning—like Georgetown—are not accountable to the standards set in Blessed Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae. “Overall, the Ex Corde is describing an ideal,” he continued. “Say if we said it was a 50-page document. About 45 of those pages are describing what a Catholic university should be like ... like an ideal. ... Five pages are more legislative, but still a mix between guidelines and legislative steps.”

Fr. Orsy predicted that little would come of the petition and said that Pope Francis would probably simply send acknowledgement of having received the petition and then send it back to the archbishop, whom he believes will not publicly declare the university not Catholic. He said that because “there may be many who do believe that the university is Catholic enough” therefore this petition threatens to “divide the community.”

Attorney Miranda disputes Fr. Orsy on this point as well.   He pointed out that Cardinal Wuerl’s (the archibishop Fr. Orsy was referencing) archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard, criticized Georgetown on its lack of Catholic identity, stating, “leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching," and said further that "the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching.”

Rendering controversial, if not questionable, opinions is nothing new for Fr. Orsy.  In 2010, he publicly declared Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s excommunication of Sister Margaret Mary McBride over an abortion that took place in a Catholic hospital, "null and void."

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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