Exorcise Georgetown: Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Calls for Making His Alma Mater Catholic Again

May 18, 2012 - 10:46 AM

Kathleen Sebelius

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - Novelist and filmmaker William Peter Blatty, who won an Academy Award for the screenplay he based on his own novel, The Exorcist, is leading a movement to formally petition the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and, if necessary, the Vatican, to act under the authority of church law to discipline Georgetown University for violating the norms the church expects from institutions of higher learning that call themselves Catholic.

This movement is asking the church to consider taking actions against Georgetown that could include declaring “that Georgetown University is no longer entitled to call itself a Catholic or Jesuit university.”

But the movement's highest aim is to begin a process that ends by reclaiming Georgetown as a university that is truly Catholic in that it teaches and exemplifies the true teachings of the church to which it professes to belong.

"The goal is simple," Blatty said in an interview with the Cardinal Newman Society. "It is to do as John Paul exhorted us to do: to preserve for the Church the highest places of culture."

Georgetown’s website currently says it “is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institute of higher learning in the United States.”

The movement Blatty is leading was ultimately triggered by Georgetown’s decision to invite Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at the graduation ceremony for the university’s Public Policy Institute. The ceremony was held this morning.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas city

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City

Sebelius’s archbishop in Kansas has banned her from taking communion until she repudiates her position in favor of legalized abortion and makes a worthy confession. Last August, Sebelius released a proposed regulation—under the Obamacare law—that would require virtually all health-care plans in the United States to provide women with sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives (including those that can cause abortion) without charging any fees or co-pay. Sebelius finalized the regulation in January.

Because the Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong and Catholics cannot be involved in them, the regulation, combined with the individual mandate in Obamacare, would require virtually all Catholic lay people in the United States to purchase health insurance plans that violate the teachings of their faith. It would also force Catholic business owners and Catholic institutions--including schools, hospitals and charitable organizations—to act against the teachings of their faith if they purchase insurance for their employees.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared Sebelius’s regulation an “unprecedented attack on religious liberty,” and asked HHS to rescind it in its entirety. Most Catholic bishops in the United States also asked their priests to read a letter from the pulpit stating: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

William Peter Blatty

Novelest and filmmaker William Peter Blatty

Blatty, who graduated from Georgetown in 1950, posted a letter online on Friday asking Georgetown alumni and others with a stake in the university and the Washington archdiocese to join him in “making Georgetown honest, Catholic and better.”

Specifically, Blatty is asking Catholics to sign a document appointing him as their “procurator” to pursue an action against Georgetown under Canon Law--the legal code of the Catholic Church—for violating the norms of a Catholic university as laid out by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Ex corde Ecclesiae.

Article 4 of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, cited in the petition, says: “The identity of a Catholic University is essentially linked to the quality of its teachers and to respect for Catholic doctrine. “

“All teachers and all administrators, at the time of their appointment, are to be informed about the Catholic identity of the Institution and its implications, and about their responsibility to promote, or at least to respect, that identity,” said the pope.

In his online letter, Blatty pointed out that Pope Benedict XVI had reminded U.S. Catholic Bishops of Pope John Paul II’s Ex corde Ecclesiae just two weeks ago.

“On May 5, 2012, in a speech to American bishops, Pope Benedict XVI called on America’s Catholic universities to reaffirm their Catholic identity,” Blatty wrote. “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 Ecclesiae (‘From The Heart of the Church’), and, therefore, with canon law,” said Blatty. “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,” said Blatty. “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.”

At the same time that he is rallying Catholics to petition the church to discipline Georgetown, Blatty expresses his gratitude for the Catholic education he himself received from Jesuits at Georgetown five decades ago.

“Like many men of my generation, I owe much to the Jesuit fathers and to Georgetown University,” wrote Blatty. “My hard-working mother had faith that I could win a scholarship to attend Georgetown, a ‘rich boys school.’ Georgetown gave me that scholarship, and I am ever-grateful. With it came a rich liberal education that included the keys of reason to unlock the mysteries of my Lebanese mother’s Faith.

“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,” wrote Blatty. “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, 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,” he wrote. “It grieves me that Georgetown University today almost seems to take pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful.”

Blatty has had a long and successful career as a novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker.

In 1984, he won the Academy Award for best screenplay for The Exorcist, which he adapted from his novel of the same title. It was a story about a Jesuit priest from Georgetown who performs an exorcism on a girl possessed by a demon.

The Cardinal Newman Society is assisting Blatty in his efforts to petition the church to discipline Georgetown.

“For 19 years, The Cardinal Newman Society has documented numerous concerns at Georgetown that significantly compromise the university’s Catholic identity,” Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick J. Reilly said in a statement to the Hoya, Georgetown’s campus newspaper.

“We’re thrilled that the distinguished alumnus William Peter Blatty has invited us to assist him and others in their efforts to defend Georgetown’s Catholic mission from those who would undermine or abandon it,” said Reilly. “Such intervention is necessary only because Georgetown’s leadership has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness to uphold Georgetown’s obligations under the U.S. bishops’ guidelines, Ex corde Ecclesiae and Canon Law.”

In his interview with the Cardinal Newman Society, Blatty pointed to the fact the HHS Secretary Sebelius had approved the "demonic practice" of partial-birth abortion when she was governor of Kansas.

"Let me speak to the latest scandal, the invitation to Kathleen Sebelius to speak on commencement weekend," said Blatty. "Let’s not shield our eyes or mind from the brutal details of what occurs in a partial birth abortion. First, surgical scissors are banged down into the infant’s head, after which the abortionist scrapes it around in order to widen the hole enough so it can accept a vacuum tube, which is then used to suck out the baby’s brains. You know all this? Good.

"But did you also know," said Blatty, "that a consensus of pediatric neurologists are now agreed that by 20 weeks--and a few say even as early as six weeks!--the infant not only feels the excruciating pain, but feels it far more than would an adult? As governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have banned this demonic practice! And a supposedly Catholic university, if not merely a humane one, honors her?"

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has immediate ecclesiastical authority over Georgetown because it is within his diocese. When asked about the timeline of his Canon Law petition, Blatty said that first Canon lawyers and scholars will work on it, then it will be taken to Cardinal Wuerl, and then, if necessary, to the Vatican.

"First our canonists, then our scholars, then the Cardinal Archbishop, then Rome if need be," said Blatty. "We will study everything for a few months more, but our brief is essentially written, and there is no lack of evidence. We are very hopeful that His Eminence Cardinal Wuerl will act as Jesus did when he disciplined the money-changers. As I recall it, the Lord knocked over a few tables."

[Disclosure: The author of this article attended a master's program at Georgetown, but did not earn a degree there.]