I loved Georgetown from the first day that I set my footlocker down in Healy Circle and asked an upperclassman how to find a room to put it in. I loved the Jesuits, too. In my novel “The Exorcist,” I thanked them for “teaching me to think.”
Georgetown gave me the gift of a liberal education that included the keys of reason to unlock the mysteries of faith. Throughout an undeservedly wonderful life, I have been guided by the light of my Georgetown education, grounded firmly, as I had been even in my youth, in the unmatched intellectual wealth of the Catholic Church. Each time I faltered — as I often did, sometimes grievously — that light never failed to come to my rescue.
What I owe Georgetown, however, is nothing compared to what she owes her founders and the Christ of Faith. It grieves me deeply that my alma mater is failing so scandalously in its debt to both, as well as to the militant Jesuits still buried there who made it so special for so long. Georgetown today seems to take pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful.
I know that some students, or the earnest Jesuit, will point out the liturgies, the chaplains, the Knights of Columbus chapter and so on. Administrators assure me that they speak to the archbishop and visit Rome regularly. I know the litany all too well. But it describes a Potemkin village, complete now with long, waving banners.
Those who believe this illusion seem satisfied with their little Catholic ghetto. It contrasts so starkly with the archdiocese’s view of things. On May 10, its official publication stated plainly that, at Georgetown today, “leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching,” and that “the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching.”
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.
It is not too late. I have formed the Father King Society to unite students, faculty, parents and alumni to make Georgetown honest, Catholic and better. Students and faculty have joined us. Anyone interested can contact me. The courageous are welcome.
To become authentically Catholic again does not mean returning to the past. It means building something entirely new, a new way for our university to meet the world that Georgetown’s old guard might be unable to imagine. Among other things, a Catholic university will defend academic freedom against the illiberal and intolerant new orthodoxies that allow no dissension from their new truths, as is happening at Georgetown today.
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.”
WILLIAM PETER BLATTY graduated from the College in 1950. He won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for adapting his best-selling novel “The Exorcist” for the 1973 movie of the same title.