The Thinking 

Will Georgetown Be Exorcised?

May 21, 2012


THIS IS one of the most wonderful news stories I have read in a long time. From The Washington Post:

The author who turned Georgetown University into a horror scene in “The Exorcist” plans to sue the school in church court, charging that his alma mater has strayed so far from church doctrine that it should no longer call itself Catholic.

William Peter Blatty, who graduated from Georgetown in 1950, says the “last straw” was the university’s speaking invitation to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius, who addressed graduating public policy students on Friday (May 18), has been criticized by conservative Catholics for approving a mandate that requires many religious institutions to cover employees’ birth control costs. The Archdiocese of Washington called the Sebelius invitation “shocking.”

Blatty, 85, credits a Georgetown scholarship with fostering his writing career, which includes an Academy Award for “The Exorcist,” a blockbuster based on his best-selling 1971 novel. [cont.]

Notice how the Post says Sebelius has been criticized by “conservative” Catholics, as if there are any Catholics to whom Sebelius’s views would be acceptable. Also, shouldn’t Blatty be able to sue Georgetown in civil court too, given that the school is taking money from donors under false pretenses?

—– Comments —-

Paul, who is a lawyer, writes:

A U.S. civil suit probably would be dismissed well before trial. Common Law (and Civil Law) fraud requires a false representation, and the false representation at issue is whether Georgetown is falsely holding itself out as a Catholic institution. Catholicism is defined by the Apostles’ Creed, which requires belief in the Holy Catholic Church, the only belief logically at issue. The sub-issue therefore is whether Georgetown believes in the Holy Catholic Church.

Now, Georgetown’s headmaster(s) will file an affidavit declaring he believes in the Holy Catholic Church. Blatty must counter with affidavits declaring specific facts that would lead a reasonable person to conclude an issue of material fact exists as to whether the headmaster is accurate. Even though the court must view the counter-affidavits in a light favorable to the defendant (absent obvious lies), the burden on Blatty would be high based on general observation.

Considering that the Pope will not get involved, Blatty might be able to obtain an affidavit from the bishop with authority over Georgetown.

The Pope can excommunicate, but an after-the-fact excommunication will not help Blatty. Perhaps under canon law (the basis of Blatty’s case) retroactive laws are possible, but this would be an ex post facto law under the Constitution.

This is the quick and dirty answer (lawyer waffling). There are several other major common law issues, but this one is the sexiest. I wish him luck though. (That was the scariest book I have ever read.)

Laura writes:

Thank you. If Blatty’s suit succeeded under canon law, many Catholic universities and colleges would be vulnerable to similar challenges,which makes success seem unlikely.

By the way, Kristor writes a fascinating view of The Exorcist here.

Bob writes:

Lawyer Paul is wrong. The Apostle’s Creed (and the Nicene Creed) is accepted by all Christians, not just the Catholic Church. Many Christians hotly dispute and deny all sorts of Catholic doctrines, e.g., Papal Infallibility.

The Catholic Church requires its members and institutions to agree to much more than the Creeds, which are only a bare outlines of the more important important doctrines. The full requirement is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which runs to almost 700 pages. You are not a Catholic if you accept abortion or the Book of Mormon or hundreds of other things. The suit is valid if it can be shown that Georgetown University regularly violates any of the hundreds of doctrines a Catholic must believe.

Bob adds:

I don’t know if it would succeed in civil court, but it seems to me that Paul’s reason for assuming that the suit would be dismissed out of hand by a civil judge is wrong. Paul is using a grossly inadequate definition of Catholicism.

On the other hand, I could see the suit being dismissed on First Amendment grounds: the civil courts might not want to define what a Catholic institution is. However, the National Labor Relations Board has, in fact, decided what constitutes a religious institution for collective bargaining purposes, and Georgetown clears fails the NLRB test.

Vincent C. writes:

To begin at the beginning: for William Peter Blatty to claim that the recent Georgetown University invitation to HHS Secretary Sebelius to speak at his alma mater was “the last straw” and resulted in his epiphany that Georgetown was no longer a Catholic institution, raises the legitimate question where this man been for the past thirty or more years? Surely, he was aware of Georgetown’s efforts to remove all crucifixes from classrooms for fear of “offending non-Catholic students.” Or the naming of the Robert Drinan, S.J. Chair in Human Rights after this most celebrated member of the Society of Jesus, who defied the Vatican on just about everything, (N.B.: Jesuit priests take a fourth vow: poverty, chastity, and obedience, but especially obedience to papal directives) including voting in favor of bills favoring abortion, as well as outright lying to his Provincial (Superior) that he was in the process of complying with the Vatican insistence that neither priest nor nuns hold elected office, a lie that lasted a decade.

Aside from Signor Blatty’s mal de tete about his alma mater, and his claim to sue the university, allow me to make a few points regarding the commentary so far.

To Paul, the lawyer: I happened to be in the court room when the US Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in the Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church when they claimed that they – and not the EEOC – could determine who is fit to teach in their school. Their recent ruling in which the overwhelming majority of the Justices agreed that religious institutions have great latitude in hiring – and inviting – whom they wish, assures me that the Blatty petition wouldn’t reach first base in civil court.

As for Paul’s thinking that Blatty might be able to obtain an affidavit from His Eminence, Donald Cardinal Weurl, of the Archdiocese of Washington regarding the Sebelius invitation, I would urge Paul to think again. His Eminence will huff and puff while examining his finely manicured nails, and say the most critical things, but his actions, or in this case his non-actions, will speak far louder than his words.

The Society of Jesus, aka Jesuits, is in theory responsible for the administration of Georgetown University. When they chose as President of the University a non-Jesuit – and non cleric – for the first time in their history, they were sending a message to all: we’re no longer a Catholic school. In fact, because of such modern theological niceties such as allowing the presence of homosexual clubs on campus, as well as visits by very pro-abortion politicos, if you read the propaganda that the university disseminates it now refers to itself as, “a school in the Jesuit tradition.” Of course, I doubt if St. Ignatius Loyola would agree, but you can’t have everything.

And if I were able to speak directly to Signor Blatty, I’d say this: If you were to examine not only Georgetown, but just about every other Jesuit institution of higher learning in these United States, I suspect that your current headache would turn into a serious migraine.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0