William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist—which went on to become an Oscar-winning movie—depicts an epic battle of good versus evil waged under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Reportedly based on a real exorcism Blatty heard about as an undergraduate on a scholarship at Georgetown University, the novel is steeped in Catholicism. Indeed, the “hero” of The Exorcist is the fictional Father Damien Karras, a Georgetown Jesuit, who, at great personal cost, drives out the demon.
Now Blatty, a longtime financial contributor to his alma mater, says that Georgetown is no longer true to the Catholic identity he knew there as a member of the class of 1950. In this interview, Blatty, now retired and living in Maryland, explains why he and a group of other concerned alumni have filed a canon law lawsuit to pressure the Jesuit university either to reclaim its Catholic identity or cease to call itself a Catholic institution.
Here is the full interview:
Q. You have put together an impressive website at www.gupetition.org, and you’re developing a case under the Catholic Church’s canon law. You certainly look to be very serious about this. How far are you willing to go to return Georgetown to its Catholic roots?
A. To quote from the Georgetown Alumni Song, “Until the sun grows cold.” I am ready to go all the way for as long as it takes, and if something happens to me, other Father King Society members will take the baton. I know that canon procedure can be murky, but I have great faith in the Holy Spirit that churchmen will do the right thing. I have faith, most of all, in the Holy Father. He knows that 21 years of ignoring Ex corde Ecclesiae makes a mockery of our Church and of Christ Himself.
Q. So you must be pretty steamed about the situation at Georgetown to be doing all of this instead of enjoying your retirement with your lovely wife! What motivates you?
A. What motivates me? Love. In the middle of my senior year at Brooklyn Prep, my mother and I lived in poverty, so that without the full scholarship Georgetown gave me, I would likely never have been able to go to college. Every blessing that I have, in particular my strong faith, I owe to my mother and to my alma mater whom I love and want back: beautiful, healthy and, above all, faithful.
I am not “steamed.” I am aggrieved. And I finally came to realize that I have only one more important thing that I can do, and this is it.
Q. I understand that you are an alumnus and have donated generously to Georgetown in the past. Have things really changed so much that you would now publicly challenge the university to return to its Catholic roots?
A. Yes, of course. I considered even asking them to give my money back to transfer to a scholarship fund in my son’s name at an actually Catholic school. The change crept in over many years. It was disguised by talk that sounded right but hid secondary motives.
Even now, Georgetown puts up a Potemkin village. It points to its chaplains, its Masses, its Knights of Columbus Chapter. At alumni dinners, they will make sure there is a Jesuit in a collar at every table, like the floral arrangement. But they refuse to recruit Catholics, and the faculty is now at 20 percent Catholic! Catholic students have to live as if they are in a foreign country, where all around them everyone is treating them like strangers. Just for being authentically Catholic! If we do not all act now we will lose the great universities. I refuse to accept that.
I believe the Church should be clear that our universities are still Church property, and that we should go to court if necessary to undo all the unauthorized legal gymnastics that claimed to transfer Church property to civil corporations. If that does not work, then the Church should be clear that you can’t get club privileges without paying the dues.
Let me speak to the latest scandal, the invitation to Kathleen Sebelius to speak on commencement weekend. 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 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?
Q. Why a canon law suit? What do you hope will result?
A. I believe it is the only thing that can stop Georgetown in its path. Only firm Church action can save it and make it a great university. It is our only recourse. Our only hope. And not just at Georgetown. I hope alumni from other colleges will contact me for help in submitting petitions regarding their colleges. I hope that Georgetown will see the light and alter its course. At very least, I hope that this action foments a great debate. My friend and classmate, Richard Alan Gordon, used to say that “Debate is a servant of the Truth.” Only evil fears Truth, and only evil would fear debate.
Q. Ultimately, the Church has final authority over Georgetown’s right to be identified as Catholic. Is that the goal of a canon law suit — to take away Georgetown’s identification as Catholic?
A. The goal is simple. It is to do as John Paul exhorted us to do: to preserve for the Church the highest places of culture. We can walk away, but that is not what Christians do. Georgetown will be given a choice: comport with the dictates of Ex corde Ecclesiae or discard your Catholic identity. You don’t deserve it.
Q. What is your timeline for the canon law suit?
A. First our canonists, then our scholars, then the Cardinal Archbishop, then Rome if need be. 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.
Q. You have asked The Cardinal Newman Society to assist your efforts. Why CNS?
A. The Cardinal Newman Society is the best thing going for anyone who is taking this issue seriously. They have been at their work for almost two decades now and have had an enormous impact. More than anything, I am a big believer in bringing everyone to the same table and getting everyone to work together. I do not know that we could do this without CNS.
Q. And are there others involved?
A. Yes. We are seeking advice from the St. Joseph’s Foundation in Texas. They provide canon law advice. We are getting students at Georgetown excited about this. But I expect that when we are done, tens of thousands will have signed our Mandate and scores of organizations will be by our side. Not to mention the scholars and churchmen.
Q. I’m sure you’re prepared for shallow media references to your success with The Exorcist. But on a serious level, there’s something of a parallel here, isn’t there? Yours is an urgent effort to reclaim what the Church lost in just a couple generations, and many souls are at risk.
A. Yes, yes, there is a parallel. But imagine it a different way. Think of all the souls that were not saved; all the minds that were not awakened over these past two or three decades as Georgetown drifted. Think of the great disservice that we have all done by being silent, ineffectual and comfortable …and doing nothing while the other side organized and took Georgetown away from the Church.
Q. What do you think? Are the scandals at Georgetown primarily the result of ambivalence… disbelief… or is it simply cooperation with evil?
A. All of these. But cooperation with evil is everywhere at Georgetown, if only on each occasion that the administration stays silent in the face of deception and harm.
Q. What role does faith play in this effort for you, personally? Are you spiritually prepared for what might come next?
A. I have prayed on this action for almost two years. I see the Holy Spirit in every step along the path to where we are. And we have allies. We will dedicate our efforts to St. Jude, to the Little Flower, and to Blessed John Paul II, whose personal blessing I was once privileged to receive. Perhaps this will be his miracle.