William Peter Blatty, Georgetown, and the Congregation for Catholic Education: Headed for the circular file?
The narrative is pretty common today. An alumnus of a Catholic university believes his Alma Mater is failing to uphold in a significant and meaningful way her Catholic identity. So, this alumnus collects signatories on a petition and sends the petition to the members of the institution’s Board and administration. All of which goes nowhere, as everyone decides to ignore the stormy petrils.
This particular narrative takes a different turn, however, as the alumnus is William Peter Blatty—author of The Exorcist—whose Alma Mater is Georgetown University. Moreover, rather than have his petition go nowhere except into the circular file, Blatty decides to exercise his canonical rights, sending his petition containing 2k+ names to the Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE) asking that the Congregation “require that Georgetown implement Ex corde Ecclesiae, a papal constitution governing Catholic colleges.” Failing that, the petition asked the Congregation to strip Georgetown of its right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit. Let there be not doubt: Blatty is serious. He believes that neither Georgetown’s faculty nor its students are exemplary of the faith.
In a letter sent to Blatty dated April 4, 2014, the CCE’s Secretary, Archbishop Angelo Zani, stated that CCE cannot grant Blatty’s request for “hierarchic recourse” because Blatty is not able to demonstrate that he has “suffered an objective change in his/her condition due to an administrative act.” However, Zani did write:
Your communications to this dicastery in the matter of Georgetown University…constitute a well-founded complaint. Our congregation is taking the issue seriously and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard.
(click on the image below to read the letter in its entirety.)
At this time, precisely what Archbishop Zani has in mind when he states that CCE is “taking the issue seriously” and is “cooperating with the Society of Jesus [SJ] in this regard” is impossible to know from those phrases. Is CCE sufficiently serious enough in this issue to bring pressure upon SJ leadership in Rome to introduce the kind of changes at Georgetown that Blatty seeks? Or, lacking “hierarchic recourse,” is CCE going to communicate with SJ leadership in Rome (perhaps over a very nice lunch and glass of wine) and then place Blatty’s canonical petition in the circular file, Archbishop Zani having done what said he would do?
One thing is for certain: Administrators at Georgetown are unrepentant. According to Inside Higher Ed, a Georgetown spokeswoman, Rachel Pugh, wrote in an email that the University has received no formal correspondence from the Vatican regarding the petition, and that Georgetown’s Catholic identity “has never been stronger.”
Perhaps the petition has already been placed in the circular file.
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