The Exorcist’s Blatty Horrified by Georgetown’s Crisis of Faith

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.

This article was originally published in Campus Notes, the blog of The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). Founded in 1993, the mission of The Cardinal Newman Society is to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. They can be contacted at: alert at cardinalnewmansociety dot org.

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  • JMC

    This kind of scenario (i.e., after an earlier Canon Law petition, Georgetown backpedalled on its “march to secularism” for a while) is exactly why the anathema was considered charitable – evidenced by the title of a book, “The Charitable Anathema.” Sadly, since Vatican II, the anathema itself is considered anathema. One more baby that got thrown out with the bathwater.

  • Lynda

    Oh dear, oh dear… what to do, another “identity crisis”. The Word, the Name comes to mind “Christ”… “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” So He says: “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

  • InVA

    More hand-wringing from those considering themselves “holier than the bishops” (the only ones who have the authority to decide whether an institution is “Catholic”). Instead of winning “hearts and minds” and realizing that true change takes time (the Church moves in centuries) there are those who would just as soon disavow the same to Georgetown. The crucifixes long ago returned to classrooms at G-town and other changes have and are taken place. But like ALL institutions in the Church, fallible people run these and are prone to error at time. Instead of gathering petitions for a canon law petition, Blatty and his followers, including Card. Newman Society, would do better and be more effective through prayers of petition? That would be a “novel” approach instead of the usual rock throwing.

  • John

    Wow. Powerful message, thank God for Mr. Blatty and others for leading this drive, essentially out of love for God and for their school. I see the Holy Ghost working here.

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