The Exorcist by author William Peter Blatty is one of the most famous stories of the 20th century. The book and the movie, for which Blatty wrote the screenplay, are often labeled as horror, but at its heart it’s a story about a Jesuit priest who, after struggling with his faith, regains it through the exercise of his ministry.
That story could mirror Georgetown University’s own identity crisis if Blatty has anything to say about it. Blatty’s love of Georgetown runs deep and back to the time when he attended the Jesuit university. Georgetown wasn’t just the setting for the book and the classic film. "The film is in many ways a hymn to Georgetown," William Friedkin, the film’s director, recently told USA Today in an interview with him and Blatty to mark the film’s upcoming 40th anniversary.
In fact, Blatty’s attendance at the college is responsible for inspiring his famous work. Blatty said that he first heard of the real-life exorcism that his book is based upon while attending a New Testament class in Georgetown’s White-Gravenor Hall. That story was about a young Maryland boy who had undergone the rite of exorcism in 1949. And the original idea for perhaps the most famous fall in cinematic history where the Fr. Karras character tumbles down an outdoor staircase was reportedly by one of Blatty’s classmates falling after attempting to steal an exam.
This is where Blatty’s story of lost faith and redemption mirrors his current struggle—along with other alumni—to restore their beloved Georgetown’s Catholic identity. Their cannon law petition requests the implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae at their alma mater to aid the Jesuit college’s return to its faith, and has been recently submitted to the Vatican.
Ex corde Ecclesiae is the apostolic constitution issued by Blessed Pope John Paul II, which sought to ensure that the norms of the faith were being observed at Catholic institutions of higher learning. It allows for the removal or suspension of a college or university’s Catholic status if they are not maintained.
“I love the Georgetown that I graduated from. Along comes a new Georgetown. This is a Georgetown where I don't recognize it anymore,” Blatty told EWTN earlier this year. “We're trying to help them retain [their Catholic identity], and recapture it by going back to doing what they used to do, what they were intended to do from their origination, which is to nourish and strengthen the Catholic student's faith…their formation, and provide them along the way with the tools to defend it intellectually and through reason. We're hoping they comply with that.”
Blatty said he wants Georgetown to return to its intended role as “a defender of the faith and nourisher of the faith, as opposed to what they seem to be now.”
Blatty said he has struggled with his faith at times and that writing The Exorcist helped him to solidify his faith. He’s hoping that the canon law petition he signed may do the same for his alma mater.
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