News & Politics

Vatican Responds to “Exorcist” Author’s Complaints About Georgetown

A high-ranking church official says William Peter Blatty’s claim that the school is not Catholic enough is “well-founded.”

Georgetown's "Exorcist steps," made famous by William Peter Blatty's religious horror story. Photograph by Flickr user Adam Gerard.

Exorcist author William Peter Blatty’s has a new ally in his long-running holy war against Georgetown University now that the power of a 2,000-signature petition has compelled the Vatican to respond to his long-running complaints that his alma mater is not Catholic enough.

Blatty, a 1950 alumnus, has been upset with the school for several years, complaining that Georgetown—the oldest Jesuit university in the United States—has strayed from its canonical mission.

The school’s 2012 choice of then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as commencement speaker prompted Blatty to threaten it with a lawsuit. Blatty ratcheted up his protest last fall when he gathered signatures and submitted his canonical petition to the Vatican, asking the Holy See to strip Georgetown of its officially Catholic status, citing, among other perceived offenses, the campus’s safe-sex program, a staging of The Vagina Monologues, hosting openly gay speakers, and an overall declining proportion of Catholic students and professors. 

It appears to have worked. On Monday, the National Catholic Register reported that a high-ranking Vatican official called Batty’s outrage a “well-founded complaint.”

“Our Congregation is taking the issue seriously, and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard,” wrote Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees the church’s affiliated schools.

Blatty said he was “gratified” by the response, but he probably shouldn’t celebrate just yet. Although he piqued the Vatican’s interest, his petition fell short of invoking Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a 1990 edict issued by Pope John Paul II on the governance of church-affiliated universities.

The church’s role in Georgetown University isn’t that distant these days, though. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Washington archdiocese is a frequent visitor to campus. The school has also defended its reputation since Blatty first floated his petition. “Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger,” Rachel Pugh, the school’s communications director, said last September when Blatty turned in his petition.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.