Blatty v Georgetown – DOA

The Exorcist author, William Blatty, is spearheading a drive to canonically remove the designation “Catholic” from Georgetown University.  His effort is both noble and correct.  Unfortunately, the petition will be dead on arrival (DOA).

Blatty and other orthodox Catholics are incensed that Kathleen Sibilius, Health and Human Services Secretary, a pro-abortion politician and a supporter of the Obama Administration’s mandate which forces Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization coverage in their health care plans, was the school’s Commencement speaker.  Blatty’s suit will rely on the Vatican document “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (1990) which encourages bishops to be vigilant in protecting the Catholic identity of the colleges and universities in their dioceses.  According to the document two steps are critical: Firstly, those bishops should investigate the theological faculties of these schools and provide a “mandatum” or a license to indicate a professor’s orthodoxy.  It seems that little or nothing has been done either to enforce the policy or else to make known which professors have passed muster.  Secondly, it states that if an institution has strayed from its Catholic mission and remains stubborn in not ameliorating it, the local bishop should lift its designation as “Catholic.”  To date, no school has suffered this penalty.


A diocesan bishop has to weigh the cost of such actions.  The time, resources (human as well as financial) and the negative publicity which are bound to occur would make their effort at best a Pyrrhic victory.  The fact of the matter is that at least half of American Catholics don’t care what the Church teaches (recall 54% of Catholics voted for pro-abortion candidate Obama in the last election) and for the large members of non-Catholics attending these schools, Catholic issues are mute.  Furthermore, while many bishops are hopeful that the issue of Religious Liberty, pertaining to the forced Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, will motivate Catholics to circle the wagons, a large number of Catholics now believe that academic freedom trumps Catholic truth.  This seems to be the position of Georgetown’s president, John DiGoia.

There is no argument that freedom of expression is vital to any university.  Yet at a religiously affiliated school erroneous ideas and policies must be challenged by the school within the context of its Faith tradition.  To give a platform without comment to a speaker whose positions are inimical to the school’s mission is both traitoress to the Church and scandalous to those attending a school sponsored event.  Recall how Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, felt compelled to chastise Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, before he was allowed to address the students in 2007. No Catholic school leader has made a comparable attempt clarify where their school’s mission disagrees with a questionable speaker.

This being said, a bishop has to take stock as to whether his actions against a school will cause more harm than good.  For example, a bishop’s relationship with a college or university may at least be the source of some Catholic equilibrium on campus.  Naturally, the celebration of the sacraments can be presumed and perhaps some orthodox Catholic clergy, loyal to the Church and the bishop, can provide a Catholic presence and activities on campus, e.g. retreats, marriage preparation and discussion groups.

Bishops know that the removal of the “Catholic” brand name would not necessarily force errant schools of higher education to change their policies since most of them are now controlled by Boards of Governors and not by the religious communities that founded them.  This would effectively be perceived as episcopal impotence and cause a loss of face.

This being the case, there are two other options left to a bishop: Excommunication of those in authority who refuse to comply with Church teaching; or, to place the school under Interdict.  Interdict would prohibit priests from exercising their ministry on the campus of discredited schools. However, few bishops have had the intestinal fortitude to pursue either course.

At present, prudence dictates that bishops try to salvage the good they can (and there is some) from these former bastions of the Faith.

Here are some things that bishops, clergy and lay people can do to assuage the crisis:

  1. Bishops can publically challenge schools on their choice of speakers.
  2. Bishops can refuse to attend events that feature unsuitable persons as honored guests.
  3. Alumni can refuse donations to the school and redirect their estate planning to a more orthodox institution.
  4. Organizations like the Cardinal Newman Society can articulate concern for the direction that some allegedly Catholic schools are taking.
  5. Catholic groups on campus can protest their disappointment with speakers and programs that violate Catholic principles.
  6. Catholics can inform their bishops of the scandalous events taking place on campuses in the hope that at least the most egregious ones will not be repeated

For the most part, however, schools that invite such objectionable speakers are already lost to the Church.  Our only real hope now is in some of the newly formed schools that are proudly teaching and proclaiming the authentic Catholic brand. 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.


Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976. He has authored or co-authored four books and over 320 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    One thought that occurs to me is the destination of the endowments of such Catholic colleges.

    Here in the UK, a number of successful actions have been raised by often quite small dissenting minorities, claiming that the endowments of religious institutions that have been gifted to support a particular set of principles belong, as of right to the minority who maintain them, rather than to the majority that has abandoned them.

    In the leading case of Bannatyne v Overtoun ([1904] AC 515), commonly known as “The Free Church Case,” Lord Hailsham LC allowed “the right of any man or any collection of men, to change their religious beliefs according to their own consciences.”  However, he insisted “when men subscribe money for a particular object, and leave it behind them for the promotion of that object, their successors have no right to change the object endowed.“  There is nothing,” he added, “in calling an associated body a Church that exempts it from the legal obligations of insisting that money given for one purpose shall not be devoted to another.”

    In a concurring judgement, Lord Alverstone was equally emphatic.  He was unable, said he, “to support a judgment which would deprive the persons, forming a minority, of their rights, simply on the ground that they are unwilling to become members of a body which has not only abandoned the fundamental principles of the Church to which they belong, but supports a principle essentially different from that on which the Church was founded.”

    These principles are so blindingly obvious that it is astonishing anyone should seek to argue the contrary.

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  • Alecto

    Now here’s something we won’t read in any other source.  I thank God for the good people at Crisis.  Wonderful work reporting on critical issues to faithful Catholics.

    The oft-cited statistic  about 54% of Catholics voting for Obama breaks down further by ethnic group.  It’s actually Hispanics who overwhelmingly voted for this pro-abortion president skewing the numbers drastically.  Given that the American clergy is staking the entire future of the American church on Hispanics, perhaps this is an indication that they need better  evangelization efforts and aren’t well catechized?  Self-described “white” Catholics, for lack of a better descriptor, voted 44% for Obama; alarming, but clearly not a majority.

    Second, nice job of criticizing Cardinal Wuerl without actually naming him, but I’m happy to call him out.  He has the unfortunate habit of punishing those who try to live by Catholic doctrine (witness the treatment of the priest who denied communion to the active homosexual) while remaining silent about what Catholic doctrine teaches.  He should be restationed someplace else and someone with a backbone should be appointed to head the hotbed of anti-Catholicism that is Washington, DC.  He is not a strong defender of Catholic faith which is further disappointing since as a cardinal he is compelled to defend the faith with his death if necessary; we need someone who wears a breastplate and carries a fiery sword here in Babylon.

  • Bvd1

    Many don’t  care what the Church teaches because they don’t know what the Church teaches; they listen to useful idiots of Satan like Biden, Pelosi and Sibelius and think that everything they say is true.  We need people like Mr. Blatty to shine some light on those dark dens of iniquity and show the world what is happening.  This is from a retired college and land grant university administrator who was also president of a Catholic high school, run out of town by liberal teachers and ex-nuns who ran Rembert Weakland’s den of iniquity in Milwaukee when I tried to be orthodox and create real standards of Catholic behavior!!

    • Don Konwinski

      Even getting  priests in each Catholic church to have a pro-life petition said at every single Mass could help educate the people  –  i. e., help the parishioners know where the Church stands, know that the Church hasn’t changed its stance, and know that this particular teaching involves one of the most prominant social issues of our time.  What is so difficult about that??!!  I, myself, am not seeing ‘fear that people would be turned off’ as much of an excuse.  People probably takeon the role of pansies when they are treated as pansies.  I could go on.

  • Manuel A. Miranda

    Father, please.  A little imagination.  Each of your five recommendations have long been done at GU and many other schools.  Your major thesis that we should abandon a greater effort to the benefit of newer schools is now (over 25 years) old.   We are talented people, we American Catholics.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time.   I served as first president of the Cardinal Newman Society, I have visited Ave Maria, and lectured at the law school.   We have all been waiting for great things in defense of the Church from you all, not naysaying.   And BTW, that is the kind of naysaying we got when we succeeded with a canon law action re GU in 1992.   We should encourage the Bill Blatty’s at every college.  Let’s not argue for the status quo.   Life is too short.  
    Manuel A Miranda  

  • jk4dios

    So, it’s okay for a school to lie about being Catholic while actually teaching against Catholic beliefs? This is the type of “leadership” from our clergy that has gotten us into this mess and you recommend more of the same to get us out of it? What am I missing here?

  • Heimjoe

    A good rule, Father, would be for these colleges to stop currying favor and inviting political figures altogether as both right and left are often opposite catholic teaching. Thus, Notre Dame invites Obama, Georgetown unites Sibelius while on the other side St Vincent’s college in Latrobe, few years back, invited Bush the very week he announces his government will fund planned Parenthood, and fraciscan university in Steubenville invites general Hayden, the man who not only implemented a torture program – for which, btw, we convicted Japanese soldiers at the end of world war ii – but who scandalously claimed the catechism was wrong.
    What this shows is a general lack of character in those running these places to be chasing after immoral Caesars. I would rather we honor a humble catholic mother or someone like the janitor who attends dai,y Mass before a long day’s work.

  • Joseph

    I apologize for the earlier typos, but my main point in concise terms is that perhaps catholic universities rather than honoring political figures from the right and left who in being honored would lead many to question if the church is serious about opposing abortion or torture and thus creating scandal would be better served by honoring ordinary Catholic heroes. Think of how inspiring that example would be.
    Also, I wished to say that Father Orsi does a very fine job at explaining why there is almost never any action concerning the selection of speakers. He has offered some real knowledge and insight, which is very helpful.

  • Joseph

    One more thing. I wished to say that in honoring people like Kathleen Sibelius and General Hayden this gives the impression by their very being honored that the Church or Catechism are wrong. It is not something either may have directly said but rather their presence at being honored that causes scandal and confusion among the audience that day who might, wrongly, conclude that the Church, or at least the Cathloc is not really so serious about some matters.

  • Mariana

    Here is the real reason the Catholic Church is being steamrolled by these Universities:
    “Bishops know that the removal of the “Catholic” brand name would not necessarily force errant schools of higher education to change their policies since most of them are now controlled by Boards of Governors and not by the religious communities that founded them.  This would effectively be perceived as episcopal impotence and cause a loss of face.”
    Why do you care about saving face? The time has come for something to be done. WWJD??

  • I wonder whether the fact that Mrs. Sebelius has apparently been instructed by her Bishop on at least three occasions not to present herself for communion, a clear sign of obstinate and manifest disobedience, might lead Fr. Orsi, to any different conclusion?

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  • JamaLama

    I’m really wondering why he had to mention William Blatty?  He didn’t add much to the thoughts thereafter, but seeing his name in print did give me a mini-day-mare.  Thanks, Father!

  • Regan

    Getting Sebelius’ name wrong in two places imputes a basic lack of respect.

  • Clement_W

    I am a pretty well educated little guy with a Doctorate in a science field. Until about 10 years ago, with my doctorate and impressive number of letters after my name, I was under the impression that I was knowledgeable above the average. Then, I had a crisis in my life and this led to a period of introspection during which I took to reading the Bible, not so much as a book of religion but as literature.  It happened at around the Pentecost and in retrospect, that was when I believe the Holy Spirit took control of me. My spiritual eyes were opened and I realized that my opinion of myself as ‘knowledgeable’ suddenly changed to how really inadequate the knowledge that I had acquired was. This led to humility and just as suddenly, my crisis faded away.

    Perhaps the Holy Spirit will come to the aid of the Professors at Georgetown University and reclaim them to profess their underlying selves and identity as Christians and Catholics. This crisis will lead to hearts being changed al the least among a few of the ‘Doctors’ (L. ‘docent’)!

    • John S

      Clement, excellent post.  You point the way to one part of the answer:  prayer for those who are leading these schools astray.  They are not so much our enemy, but brothers and sisters in Christ who, perhaps, are going astray much as we all are, but in different ways.  This is not meant to put a pollyannish perspective on the evil that is being done at these   “Catholic” colleges, but rather to point to a weapon that is rarely discussed when these wars of culture and faith are discussed:  fervent, down-on-our-knees prayer and supplication to the Lord.  His will be the victory when this crisis of faith is finally overcome.

  • TriciaS

    A bishop can make such pronouncements on a college.  Cardinal Egan (NY) did so regarding Marist College, after they invited then-Governor Eliot Spitzer as a speaker. 

    Although, in this case, Marist was also proudly leaving behind it’s Catholic roots. . . .

  • PajamaMan

    Point of grammar (or, perhaps, vocabulary):

    A “traitoress” is a female traitor.  I believe that the word you meant to use is “treasonous”

    Otherwise, well written.  I will not coment on the substance of the article.

  • Mikeflynn57

    i have been thinking for some time now that the bishops need to bite the bullet on the bad press and excommunicate wayward schools and public politicians.  keeping the faith has never been easy.

    these people and orgs should really do the right thing and renounce their affiliation. 

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  • I believe Fr. Orsi is incorrect in saying that no college has been declared no longer Catholic. Marymount Manhattan and Marist colleges and I believe two others have been so declared. 

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  • Keith O. Dehmer

    Father;  In Illinois we have CLOSED many of the Catholic adoption agencies because they have refused to place children with same sex couples.  Now we lose our right of conscience to object to the distribution of contraceptives in Christian (and other faiths) health care facilitie or be fined!!  The President of the Catholic Univ. of America said that fine (tax), would be 2.6 million dollars by not obeying the Health and Human Services Mandate, which was a LAW as of August 1, 2012.  The government has crossed the line of Church and State as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.  Most Catholic Church Pastors have as of June and July started to EDUCATE their parishioners on the UNJUST HHS Mandate and to fill out and return the “I-Can” cards distributed by the (CCI), the Catholic Conference of Illinois (the voice of the Catholic Church in Illinois).  Thank God for the CCI’s efforts!!  Now, some of us are asking our Pastors to make a CALL FOR ACTION to write their Senators and Congressmen/women, to let them know just how we STAND on the issue.  Why not a “I-WILL'” card and PROGRAM TO activate the faithful to action, to write-in and contact present and future politicians on this so very important issue.   It’s late, because the Election is less than 80 days away, but this “write-in/talk to” etc., effort, should be ONGOING!!  The price of Liberty is Eternal Viligence.  We must first Educate, then Plan, Motivate and NOW ACTIVATE all concerned citizens, all Christens, Jews and others to participate (and PRAY) in this just cause.  We cannot, like the emperor of Rome did… fiddle while Rome burned.   Keith

  • Harley Rummel

    “To date, no school has suffered this penalty.” Not true. University of Peru, this year.