Tag Archives: Georgetown

Will Georgetown Remain a Catholic University?

While Georgetown University leaders may have said a silent prayer last week for the repose of the soul of one of its most distinguished alums, the best-selling author, William Peter Blatty, it is unlikely that most were mourning his passing. Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, had been making life difficult for Georgetown for more than a decade after he became convinced that the university had abandoned its Catholic mission.  In fact, concluding that his alma mater “takes pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful,” Blatty filed a Canon Law petition with the Vatican in 2013 asking that Georgetown University be denied the right to call itself Catholic.

A Jesuit at Every Table

Calling Georgetown a “Potemkin Village,” Blatty once declared, “Georgetown is the leader of a pack of schools that are failing to live up to their Catholic identity.”  Blatty was especially critical of what he saw as Georgetown’s hypocrisy: “At alumni dinners, they will make sure there is a Jesuit in a collar at every table, like the floral arrangement.”

Blatty’s 200-page papal petition contained more than 480 footnotes, 99 appendices, and 124 witness statements.  It also included a commissioned 120-page institutional audit of Georgetown.  According to Manuel A. Miranda, who served as Blatty’s counsel, “We have documented 23 years of scandals and dissidence—more than 100 scandals in the most recent years alone.”  The petition asked Pope Francis to require that Georgetown implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 papal document requiring all Catholic colleges to teach “in communion” with the Church.  The goal of Blatty’s petition had been to revoke Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic unless it complies with Church teachings.

Georgetown is not alone. Defiant from the earliest days of the release of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, most Catholic college presidents refused to implement the papal document. When it was first released by Pope St. John Paul, Notre Dame’s then-president, Fr. Edward Malloy, along with Fr. Donald Monan, then-chancellor of Boston College, published an article in America magazine calling the document “positively dangerous.”  The faculty senate at Notre Dame voted unanimously for the guidelines to be ignored.

With the exception of a few Catholic colleges and universities (like my own academic home, Franciscan University of Steubenville), most of the 230 Catholic colleges and universities have strayed far from their Catholic roots.  This all began in 1967, when Catholic college leaders gathered in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin to create a manifesto that declared their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical.” Since that time, most Catholic college presidents have ignored attempts by their presiding bishops to bring their schools into communion with the Church.

Workshops on Trans-Health

Ignoring Catholic doctrine on human sexuality and life issues, some faculty members at Georgetown have promoted legislation to provide access to same-sex marriage and to expand reproductive rights. The New York Times lauded Georgetown for its “gay-friendly” campus. Each October Georgetown hosts a 40-day celebration of GLBTQ issues.

The theme for 2016 was “Honoring Our Histories” and focused on legislative pathways to securing rights across the decades for trans and gender nonconforming people; the intersections between faith, sexuality, and disability; stories of coming out and coming together; and journey of transitioning through the constructions of gender.” With workshops like “Trans-Health in the Military,” and “Queer in the Capital,” Georgetown has been long been a leader in lobbying for same-sex marriage and other GLBTQ rights.

An important part of OUTober is Georgetown’s “I AM” Campaign that encourages students, faculty and staff to discuss was I AM” means to them.  Posting videos online Georgetown faculty and staff proudly described their appreciation for Georgetown University’s acceptance of their same-sex marriages and relationships.  This year, several gay and lesbian faculty members spoke about their pride in being part of the GLBTQ community at Georgetown.

‘Not Just Tolerated’

In one of the online videos, Samuel Aronson, Assistant Dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, said that for him, the “I AM” campaign means that at Georgetown he is “not just tolerated” as a gay man who is “happily married.” Rather, Dean Aronson says that at Georgetown, “we love you not despite who you love, or your gender expression, but because of who you love.”

Beyond lobbying for same-sex marriage, and transgender rights, some at Georgetown have encouraged undergraduate students to help expand abortion rights as a social justice issue. Collaborating with the dissident Catholics for Choice, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, a student law school organization on several Catholic campuses, aims to produce a new generation of abortion advocates to help “train and mobilize law students and new lawyers across the country to foster legal expertise and support for the realization of reproductive justice.”

As recently as 2015, the LSRJ website listed chapters of  Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Georgetown University as well as DePaul, Fordham Law; Loyola, Los Angeles; Loyola Chicago; Santa Clara University; Seattle University; St. Louis University; Detroit Mercy; University of San Diego; University of San Francisco, as well as Loyola, New Orleans and Boston College.   And, although several of these chapters were deleted from the new LSRJ website, the Cardinal Newman Society (an orthodox Catholic higher education resource organization) maintains that there remain 13 active LSRJ chapters on Catholic campuses.

Working with Planned Parenthood

Law Students for Reproductive Justice is still listed among other law student organizations on the Georgetown University law school website, but now there is a disclaimer that the organization “is not funded by the university.” The University attempted to suggest that was also so in 2015—even though public meeting notices on campus listed LSRJ activities as being held on campus at the Tower Green, and in various rooms in McDonough Hall—the main Law School building.

Georgetown’s LSRJ chapter past president was Sandra Fluke who gained fame by publicly criticizing Catholic colleges and other Catholic institutions for their unwillingness to support “reproductive health” for women by paying for contraceptive care—including abortifacients.

Blatty was concerned about the ways undergraduates were being socialized at Georgetown. The Cardinal Newman Society has documented several connections between Planned Parenthood and Georgetown University involving faculty and undergraduate student internship opportunities.

Signs of Life at Georgetown

Blatty was joined in his concerns about Georgetown’s Catholic identity in 2012 by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the presiding bishop of the Washington DC Diocese, when he denounced the University’s decision to invite Kathleen Sebelius, the pro-choice Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Service, and the creator of the controversial contraception mandate, to be the Commencement Speaker. An editorial published in the Catholic Standard, the official Archdiocesan newspaper representing the Cardinal, concluded that “Georgetown has undergone a secularization due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel…they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age.”  

The fact that the Law Students for Reproductive Justice felt the need to change its name and hide its chapters can be viewed as a positive development for Catholic identity at all Catholic colleges and universities. At Georgetown, the student group “Hoyas for Choice” appears to have been encouraged to change its name to “H*yas for Choice.” But, what is even more encouraging is that the campus pro-abortion culture itself may be beginning to change. In a recent op-ed in The Georgetown Voice entitled “H*pocrites for Choice a self-described “liberal feminist Catholic” criticized H*yas for Choice because “they are hypocrites…they must admit that the Catholic Church now has some, although very negligible domain over their lives.”

H*yas for Choice

Complaining about the growing pro-life culture on campus, bloggers at H*yas for Choice believe their pro-abortion group has been unfairly marginalized:

While we receive no funding to promote students’ right to bodily autonomy, Georgetown University Right to Life receives a large budget from the school each year that enables them to fund their efforts to force their own values about behavior and what forms of health care acceptable onto all students’ bodies.

While there has been little change in the faculty culture at Georgetown, the student pro-life culture continues to emerge as the pro-life generation comes of age. While pro-life messages on campus have been vandalized by pro-choice advocates, the fact that pro-life messages have been allowed at all on the campus is a positive development.

Georgetown University will be well represented at the Annual March for Life in Washington DC this week. And, although few faculty will join them, they cannot help but be moved by the growing activism of a growing and vibrant pro-life student campus culture. William Peter Blatty would be proud of these student-led developments at Georgetown.

The Washington Post Gets It Wrong on Sebelius

The Washington Post and the president of Georgetown University have defended the appearance of Kathleen Sebelius at a commencement ceremony on the grounds of basic academic mission. The Post cited “the proper role of a university and the importance of vigorous, open debate, even–or perhaps especially–involving matters of intense controversy and religious disagreement.” In his open letter to the community, President DeGioia declared, “We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas.”

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A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

kathleen_sebelius.jpgKathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is scheduled to speak Friday at a Georgetown University commencement event, setting off protests among Catholics and others who believe the Obamacare mandate violates religious liberty. So far, some 25,000 people have signed petitions asking for the invitation to be withdrawn. On campus, the reaction seems more tepid: only 9 of the 1500-plus faculty members and just 3 of the 55 resident Jesuits are known to have joined the protest.

For President Obama, the speech sets up a likely win-win outcome:
dispatching a nominal Catholic to a nominally Catholic university that
yearns to be secular (the question, “Is Georgetown still a Catholic
university?” has been asked since the mid-60s) either provokes an angry
response that would fit the “war against women” scenario, or a trifling
one demonstrating that the Catholic bishops have bluster, but few troops
behind them, even on a Jesuit campus.

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The Insincerity of the Georgetown Letter

As has been reported here and here and here, some 90 Georgetown University professors and administrators sent a letter to Congressman Paul Ryan in advance of his speech on campus last week. The main point the letter makes is that Ryan’s political outlook and the budget that issues from it violate Catholic teaching, even though Ryan claims that his Catholic understanding informs his ideas. Those who signed the document make a firm recommendation to Ryan: do not maintain positions that impact the poor and the needy so strongly, but instead preserve government programs aimed toward them.

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Patrick Deneen On Georgetown’s Fuzzy American History

Patrick Deneen, professor of government at Georgetown and founder of Georgetown’s Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, spoke September 23rd at a luncheon in New York sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University. The following is an excerpt. The full text will appear in the winter issue of The New Atlantis.

“Today many university students are taught little to nothing about the Constitution, much less its philosophical and even theological underpinnings. If anything, they are either taught to see its constraints as obstacles to be overcome, or simply to understand it as a “living” document that reflects the sentiments of the day. At Georgetown, where I teach, there is one course in American history – actually called “History of the Atlantic” – that can be taken to fulfill one of the core course requirements in History. This course focuses primarily on issues of race, gender, and colonialism, briefly touching on the Atlantic Revolutions, and at no time on the American Founding. However a disproportionately large amount of time is spent exploring American exploitation. Implicitly our students are taught that the official claims of the Founders were so much deceptive rhetoric, that they employed rationalizations to cover their fundamental will to power. By implication, will to power is the sole identifiable motivation of human beings, and to accept the notion that we are to be governed by a law above ourselves is simply to be a dupe or a patsy. They are not told that the Constitution lays out not only the basic structures of government, but does so in a manner that acknowledges our perpetual need for the lessons of self-restraint through the rule of law.”

Don’t Cut The Sacred Cows

A modified version of this piece appears today in the Washington Examiner

Georgetown University, like many colleges and universities hit by the current economic downturn, is in what look like dismal financial straits. The value of Georgetown’s endowment shrank 25.5 percent last year, to $833 million, the annual deficit it has been running is estimated to climb to $37.8 million this fiscal year with little abatement in the near future, and donations are expected to be down–and likely to fall further if President Obama’s proposal to reduce tax deductions for charitable gifts takes effect. So Georgetown’s president, John DiGioia, like many another college CEO these days, recently announced a plan to cut costs.

The nature of DiGioa’s proposed cost-cutting, however—freezes on salaries, delays in filling vacant positions, and a hold on the construction of a planned science center—seem anemic in the face of the university’s obvious financial problems. That’s probably because Georgetown’s desire to trim its budget is running smack into the reality of campus politics, in which every program, silly, overstaffed, or non-essential as it might seem to outsiders, has an aggressive constituency ready to raise the pitchforks in its defense. Harvard, for example, facing a projected 30 percent drop in the value of its massive $38.5 billion endowment, announced in February it would trim the ranks of its contract janitors—not even Harvard employees—by a few dozen, leaving some Harvard buildings a shade less spic and span. The upshot? A series of student protests, denunciations by the Service Employees International Union, and on March 23, a unanimous condemnation of Harvard by the city council of Cambridge, Mass. Georgetown clearly doesn’t want to go down that road.

Private businesses might shrug off such negative publicity, but most universities are sensitive to their images as repositories of progressive values. So there is a long list of campus sacred cows that can’t be nicked by the budget-cutting knife without an uproar. One is tenured faculty. Tenure means having a job for life, no matter how lackadaisically you perform it or whether the department in which you teach attracts many students. The University of Texas Medical Branch laid off 30 of its 127 faculty members, many of them tenured, after Hurricane Ike devastated its Galveston campus last year and forced the temporary closing of its main teaching hospital. The Texas Faculty Association is now suing the state university system to force the professors’ rehiring.

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Who Should Speak At Catholic Colleges?

The overwhelming majority of American catholic colleges won’t be honoring public figures that flout church teaching at this year’s commencement exercises, according to the Cardinal Newman Society, the conservative Catholic watchdog group. Of the hundreds of men and women who will be awarded honorary degrees by the nation’s 225 Catholic universities this month, the Society labels only 6 as dissenters on key moral issues (abortion, as always, seems to be the biggie), down from 24 in 2006 and 13 in 2007, according to the Boston Globe.

As the Globe’s Michael Paulson points out, pro-choice catholic politicians are the most obvious snubs. Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy, all regulars on the commencement speaker circuit, will not be addressing a catholic college’s graduating class this year.

Many catholic schools, particularly the smaller, more conservative institutions, seem to have genuinely taken to heart the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advice from 2004 that “the Catholic community and the institutions which are a part of our family of faith should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

For schools like Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Boston College, which have large, politically diverse student bodies and faculties, as well as the prestige to lure big names if they want to, the move away from politicians as speakers may also be borne at least in part from a desire to avoid partisan rancor that detracts from the communal nature of commencement. Boston College, in particular, has drawn ire from all directions over its choice in partisan honorees in the past. Extending invitations to socially liberal honorees like Warren B. Rudman (1992) and Janet Reno (1997) has been panned by more conservative voices within the church, while attempts to honor Bush administration officials like Condoleezza Rice (2006) and Michael Mukasey (Law School, 2008) have angered pacifist Jesuits on campus and the more left-leaning lay faculty. It’s not surprising that this year the school opted for the very non-controversial historian David McCullough.

Continue reading Who Should Speak At Catholic Colleges?