US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Exorcist versus Georgetown

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The Cardinal Newman Society is at it again, this time training its sites on Georgetown University, preparing a canonical petition against the university filed under the name of William Peter Blatty, the award-winning screenwriter of The Exorcist. Accusing the Jesuit university of violating its Catholic identity--for example by inviting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak--the petition asks Washington D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerhl to strip Georgetown of the right to call itself "Catholic."

I've always been surprised by the irony of the Cardinal Newman Society's patronage, given the fact that John Henry Newman wrote "The Idea of a University," which in my reading more or less refutes the Society's straight-jacketed approach to what makes a university Catholic. But what bothers me most is that the Society seems to be training most of its venom on Catholics involved somehow in health care reform--a project near and dear to Catholic social teaching. While I'll grant the moral difficulties around the funding of abortion (which the Affordable Care Act does not affect) and the HHS mandate requiring the coverage of birth control, I find the Society's criticism of Catholic public officials who support health care reform naive in the extreme. In civil, pluralistic, democratic society, a variety of goods (and sometimes evils) must be balanced through the virtue of prudence; Catholics can't demand public policy be shaped exclusively by Catholic teaching any more than Southern Baptists insist that the nation be free of alcohol and gambling.

I'm not really sure what the Cardinal Newman Society is really up to--or who funds them--but I'm not going to let them, or William Peter Blatty, convince me that it is un-Catholic to actively engage in the messiness of American politics or to provide an academic venue where the important questions of our day are openly debated.