'Exorcist' author plans to sue Georgetown over Sebelius speech

By Michael P. Tremoglie | May 24, 2012

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Author William Peter Blatty is suing to have Georgetown University, the nation's oldest Catholic university, sanctioned for violating the precepts of Catholic education.

Blatty is preparing a canon lawsuit in conjunction with the Cardinal Newman Society. He wrote the novel "The Exorcist," and he won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay when the novel was made into a movie. He is an alumnus of Georgetown University and a contributor.

He took this action after Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was the featured speaker at Georgetown's Public Policy Institute commencement - purportedly at the request of some students.

Sebelius has issued a mandate that requires institutions - including Catholic - to provide health insurance for contraception and abortion. These are antithetical to Catholic beliefs. The mandate resulted in 43 Catholic institutions - including Notre Dame and Ave Maria universities - suing Sebelius for violation of religious liberty. It also caused several Catholic universities to stop offering health insurance.

He and other concerned alumni have created an online petition -www.gupetition.org - on which he asks donors to curb their contributions to Georgetown for one year. It also states that the rights of Catholics to a Christian education have been violated by Georgetown's "21-year refusal to comply fully with the law of the Church."

Because of this, he is initiating the canon lawsuit against Georgetown. Among the remedies the petition seeks is that there be a "declaration by the appropriate ecclesiastical authority that Georgetown University is no longer entitled to call itself a Catholic or Jesuit University."

There is precedent for this, said Father Michael Orsi, the Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law & Religion at the Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic law school in Naples, Fla.

"Catholic theologians are given a mandatum by the bishops of the dioceses that they are qualified to teach Catholic theology," he said.

The rulebook for this is the Ex corde Ecclesiae, an order issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. It defined what Catholicism means for Catholic universities. All educational facilities must have the endorsement of the local bishop.

"The other side of it is the bishop can remove a Catholic theologian," Orsi said. He mentioned two instances where this was done.

One was the case of Father Charles Curran, a theologian at the Catholic University of America. He taught about subjects that were considered antipodal to Catholic teachings. He was determined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be ineligible to be a professor of Catholic theology and was fired from his teaching position in 1986. The Congregation was run by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The other cited by Orsi was more recent. St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix was stripped of its "Catholic" appellation in December 2010. Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted issued a decree dissolving the hospital's affiliation with the Catholic Church. He wrote in his decree that he could not confirm the hospital was providing its services in line with Catholic precepts.

"It is not done enough," Orsi said. If Blatty's lawsuit moves forward, a brief will be presented to the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. He must make the determination that Georgetown no longer conducts itself as a Catholic university should.

"Georgetown, of course, will say they have mass, they have the Knights of Columbus on campus," Orsi said. "This will be their attempt to say they are Catholic. They will say that allowing Sebelius was merely an expression of free speech on campus."

Blatty made reference to this during an interview with the Cardinal Newman Society - a Catholic education organization. He said, "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."

Sebelius' appearance created quite a furor. Protesters appeared at the ceremony. Numerous newspaper and magazine articles have been published that are critical of her invitation. Letters to the editor have been written by alumni, students, faculty and members of the Catholic community expressing outrage.

Blatty wants his action to serve to motivate Catholics to be more aware of what is occurring. He said in the interview, "Georgetown will be given a choice: comport with the dictates of Ex corde Ecclesiae or discard your Catholic identity. You don't deserve it."

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