By Michelle Bauman
The author of the best-selling book and award-winning screenplay “The Exorcist” has announced that he is leading an effort to file a canon lawsuit against Georgetown University for failures to live up to the demands of the school’s Catholic identity.
William P. Blatty, who graduated from Georgetown in 1950, told CNA on May 18 that he believes there is a need for disciplinary action against the university.
“As I recall it, the Lord knocked over a few tables,” he said.
Blatty, who has been honored by Georgetown with the John Carroll Medal for alumni achievement, will lead other alumni, students and members of the university community in the newly-formed Father King Society to Make Georgetown Honest, Catholic, and Better.
The society is named for the late Jesuit Fr. Thomas M. King, a former theology professor at Georgetown who was rumored to be the inspiration for the priestly character in “The Exorcist.”
Its website encourages members of the Georgetown community to join the canon lawsuit and share their grievances against the university with Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Pope Benedict XVI.
It also asks them to withhold their donations from the school for one year.
Blatty believes that Georgetown has given scandal to the faithful on numerous occasions and has refused to comply with “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” the document issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990 to outline the functions of Catholic universities.
He explained that the Father King Society’s canon lawyers and scholars are finalizing the brief for the Church law case. It will then go to the Archdiocese of Washington, and then to the Vatican if necessary.
Blatty noted that “Georgetown is merely the leader of a pack” of schools that are failing to live up to their Catholic identity. He hopes that his actions will encourage others to follow suit.
“Georgetown was the first Catholic college in America, and we hope that it will now be the first again,” he said, urging Georgetown to pave the way for other Catholic colleges that are similarly in need of renewal.
In an open letter explaining his decision, Blatty said that he is grateful for his Georgetown education but is grieved to see “that Georgetown University today almost seems to take pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful.”
He said that he is now seeking remedies up to the point that “Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit be revoked or suspended for a time.”
“Of course, what we truly seek is for Georgetown to have the vision and courage to be Catholic,” he added, “but clearly the slow pastoral approach has not worked.”
The canon lawsuit was announced on May 18, the same day that Georgetown welcomed U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at an awards ceremony during its commencement weekend.
The invitation drew heavy criticism, not only due to Sebelius’ long record of advocating abortion, but also because she was the architect behind the controversial contraception mandate that has been denounced by Catholic bishops across the nation for the threat that it poses to religious liberty.
The federal mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The Father King Society said that their legal action was being planned before the Sebelius controversy erupted. Its website lists numerous instances of what it considers to be scandal and violations of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” by the university in recent months.
In pursuing the Church lawsuit, Blatty and the Fr. King Society will be working closely with the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that monitors and promotes Catholic identity in American higher education.
Although the process could take months, Blatty believes Catholic education is worth the fight.
“The Catholic Church has been the single greatest civilizing influence in all of human history,” he said. “It gave birth to the very notion of a university.”
“A Catholic education is valuable because it uniquely combines the truth of science with the truth of revelation,” Blatty remarked. “It is like fighting for freedom and for our faith at once.”