[The Georgetown Ignatian Society is formed and starts a canon law suit against the G.U.decision]




PRESS RELEASE: Canon Law Action Against G.U.


Reaction to the University's decision to help fund "GU Choice" was immediate and often negative. In April 1991 "The Georgetown Ignatian Society" was formed by four lay Catholics: a G.U. faculty member, Richard Alan Gordon, Esq., the most senior professor at the G.U. Law School; an alumnus, Donald H. Bradshaw, M.D.; a student Seán T. Kiely; and a laywoman Mrs. Edward (Ann) Sheridan, wife of a G.U. professor and mother of a G.U. alumnus, to obtain a reversal of the University's decision.

A student member of The Ignatian Society, Robert J. Salm (CAS '91) sent Fr. O'Donovan the following letter on March 8, 1991:

Robert J. Salm

Reverend Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.
Jesuit Community
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C. 20057

Dear Fr. O'Donovan,

I am quite upset, and it pains me to have to write to you. But, I think this time things have gone too far. I beg you to read this letter and hear what I have to say about the decision to approve G.U. Choice.

First, however, I would like to tell you a bit about myself since we have never had the pleasure of talking to each other. I am a Senior, Chemistry major in the College, expecting to graduate with honors in May. I have already been accepted to three top Chemistry Ph.D. program in the country and I plan to attend Northwestern University next year.

I graduated from Oratory Catholic Preparatory School in Summit, New Jersey, a diocesan school, where I received a wonderful education. The reason I attended Georgetown University over the other well-respected schools I was accepted at was because of the Catholic nature of G.U. I wanted to be able to grow in my Catholicism at Georgetown as I had previously in my parish and high school.

I must honestly say that my reaction after being at Georgetown University for the past four years is one of shock. I do not believe the kind of things which are allowed to go on at Georgetown and I do not believe that Georgetown University is representing Catholicism well.

Since Spring semester of my Freshman year, I have been involved in an organization called American Collegians for Life. A.C.L. is the national organization of pro-life college students, working with thousands of students on over 250 campuses across the country. It is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) educational group. Last year, I was President of A.C.L.

In January 1990, I was the Conference Chairman of American Collegians for Life. We held a Conference at Georgetown that had over 600 students attend. I wrote to you twice to invite you to our banquet (Congressman Christopher Smith and Dr. Jack Willke were the keynote speakers) and I never received a reply from your of office. I was very hurt that I never even got a letter back, because I know that you are pro-life.

Now, G.U. Choice is granted rights as a student group and can apply for office space and funding! The HOYA on February 26, 1991, reported, "As the final decision approached, DeGioia conferred with ... university President Leo J. O'Donovan,S.J." I also know that you told the Jesuit Community about the decision before DeGioia issued his letter and said that you are pro-life and believe in the Catholic teaching on this matter. I want to believe that you are.

But, it is getting very hard to believe. I am a scientist and when I compile the data, it simply does not add up. You did not even acknowledge a gathering of 600 pro-life students on your campus who truly desired your support. And you approve of a pro-abortion campus group.

Cardinal Hickey has said that "To allow such a group access to university facilities, office space and funding is inconsistent with the aims of an institution of higher learning that has a Catholic identity." The Cardinal is correct and any pro-life person should agree.

In describing the group, Kelli McTaggert said, "We told DeGioia we had two main purposes, [w]e try to educate people and increase awareness of the issues surrounding abortion and the choice debate, and we inform people about national organizations where they can get involved and show support for choice."

If her first statement is not pro-abortion (which you and I both know that it is), the second is pro-abortion beyond any doubt. She says that she wants to get people involved in national organizations and show support for choice. Not discuss choice, but show support for choice. This is offensive to me and is offensive to Catholicism.

I beg you to reconsider what you have allowed to go on. I am truly upset and only want what is right and what is Catholic for Georgetown University. Believe me, there are many more people who are much more angry towards how you seem to think about the issue. I know that you are pro-life and I believe in your integrity. But, I believe you are very wrong to allow this to go on, and this hurts me very deeply.

I have lost fondness for Georgetown University over the past four years because of the active subversion of Catholicism on campus in the name of freedom of expression and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. Are we no longer allowed to proclaim the Gospel and Catholicism at our own universities?

I hope and pray that you will change your mind and reverse the decision to allow G.U. Choice on campus, for with this allowance you destroy Catholicism and Georgetown University, both of which you are charged to uphold.

Please, I would like to talk to you about this, if you have the time. I am very reasonable and would like to hear your side of the story. Perhaps I am incorrect, but until I hear your side, I must side with my Catholic upbringing and the Cardinal. I am yours,

Sincerely, /s/


Robert J. Salm
Class of 1991
College of Arts and Sciences

[Editor's note: Fr. O'Donovan replied to Mr. Salm on March 22, 1997, saying that he regretted not having replied to Mr. Salm's two previous letters and that the not responding was unintentional and due solely to "the volume of mail that comes across my desk." Fr. O'Donovan asked Mr. Salm to call his office and schedule a personal meeting. I do not know if they ever had a meeting.]

An alumnus member of The Ignatian Society, William Peter Blatty (CAS '50), author of the novel The Exorcist, in April 1991 sent to G.U. alumni the following letter:

The Georgetown Ignatian Society

"To further the vision of John Carroll"

To My Fellow Alumni

Dear Friends:

In a rare written statement, James Cardinal Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, has characterized as "most regrettable" the recent decision of Georgetown University to grant funding and other support to a pro-abortion campus organization.

Expressing his hope ''that the decision to grant support to 'GU Choice' will be reversed." the Cardinal stated in no uncertain terms that "to allow such a group access to university facilities, office space and funding is inconsistent with the aims of an institution of higher learning that has a Catholic identity."

Alumni, faculty, and students have stepped forward to answer the Cardinal's call, and that call which is resounding in their own hearts. On April 21, 1991, the Georgetown Ignatian Society was established to work alongside Georgetown Life Advocates and the University Faculty for Life to obtain Fr. O' Donovan 's further consideration of the GU Choice decision and its reversal.

The Society's first task is to communicate with Georgetown's alumni.

I expect that the University's public relations apparatus will be in evidence at the upcoming John Carroll weekend. Do not let anyone tell you that the University was under some outside pressure to make this decision. There is no law that requires this result. The Student Affairs rules which gave rise to the University's decision are merely a draftsman's product and are not engraved in stone. There are, in fact, many student groups which function at Georgetown without University funding and support. If it must, GU Choice can be one of these. (Ironically, the Knights of Columbus at Georgetown is denied University funding because they are "exclusive" -- i.e., they are all Catholic!)

What has occurred in the GU Choice decision is an untenable violation of the Catholic ethos of Georgetown's unique teaching mission. The administration's decision is at odds with the vision of John Carroll that Georgetown participate in the dialogue of our Republic as a courageously Catholic university.

Equally as offensive is the fact that our contributions, and the tuition dollars of Georgetown parents and students will directly fund pro-abortion advocacy and dissemination of abortion information.

There are many paths to take, and I ask that you take several of the following:

* Attend the John Carroll weekend solely for the purpose of participating in the plenary session of the Board of Governors (and any open fora and meetings) to discuss the issue. No other issue is more important than this.

* Do not resign from any Board on which you sit and which affords you the opportunity to raise this issue for debate and to move a resolution urging Fr. O'Donovan to reverse the GU Choice decision.

* Resign from any other position of leadership, particularly any position involving fund raising. Let your resignation speak loudly and clearly.

* Do not attend the John Carroll dinner, and do not receive any awards or commendations. As a person of principle who cares about Alma Mater, you must let your voice be heard now. This is not the moment for pearls and black tie, and shiny medals.

* As an unmistakable act of protest, any donation that you were planning to make to Georgetown, make instead to the Georgetown Ignatian Fund. Your contributions will be received in trust to fund religious and pro-life activities and organizations at Georgetown. If the University alters its decision within one year, the funds could be invested with the University. The trustees of the Ignatian Fund are Nellie Gray (L'59) (President, March for Life), Francis T. Coleman, Jr. (C'61, L'64,'70) (G.U. Alumni Board of Governors), Richard Alan Gordon (C'50, L'53,'61) (Professor of Law, Georgetown University), Dr. Edward J. Sheridan (C'52) (Assoc. Professor, Georgetown Medical School), Col. John Jessup, U.S. Army Ret. (G'64, Ph.D.'70) (former Commandant, G.U.R.O.T.C.), and Jerry Russello (C'93) (G.K., G.U. Knights of Columbus).

(You may send your tax-deductible contribution to the Georgetown Ignatian Fund, Box 25316 Georgetown Station, Washington, D.C. 20007-8316.)

* Write to the Georgetown Ignatian Society if you wish to join the Society, or be an officer or director. Please also write if you wish to be a Trustee of the Ignatian Fund.

* Write to Fr. O'Donovan. The Letter of Cong. Henry Hyde (L'47) enclosed may serve you as a model. Send us a copy of your letter to be published in a book entitled Letters to Georgetown: A Scandal to the Faithful.

* Lastly, show your support of the brave efforts of those students, faculty, alumni and parents who have appealed to the Cardinal, and are seeking to have the Georgetown administration, or its Board of Directors, reverse the GU Choice decision. In the alternative the petitioners are asking that the Cardinal declare that Georgetown is no longer Catholic, a conclusion the University's Board of Directors would hopefully wish to avoid. Please sign the enclosed "'Mandate of Procurator" and mail it back.

On February 23rd, 1973, the Reverend R.J. Henle, S.J., President of Georgetown University, reminded us that "the Catholic Church, as well as most of the high religions of the world, have taught the sacredness of all human life no matter what its stage of development and the grave obligation of protecting it."

If you feel as I do, then, in the spirit of John Carroll and many others who have spent their lives to build and preserve a great American monument to our Catholic faith and learning, I ask you to please take immediate action.

We seem to have arrived a long way from there.

Remember the words of Paul in his letter to Titus: "Rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in faith," and of Pope St. Felix III: "Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it."

Your friend,


William Peter Blatty (C'50)

A Jesuit G. U. faculty member, a former President of St. Louis University, Rev. Daniel O'Connell, S.J., wrote the following article that was published in the May 1991 issue of The Academy, a student magazine neither "recognized" or "supported" in any way by Georgetown University:


The Dean's New Clothes

by Daniel C. O'Connell, S.J.
(Chairman-elect of the Department of Psychology,
Georgetown University)

The Academy has invited me to write the following article regarding the recent (February 22, 1991) letter of the Dean of Student Affairs to the Members of the Georgetown University Community. I am grateful for the invitation. Although I am aware of the dangers of sowing discord rather than seeking justice, I feel that it would be cowardly on my part not to state my position. Until now I have limited myself to a letter to the President of the University, written far in advance of February 22, 1991, in which I pleaded with him not to allow the letter to be published.

Despite the above title, my present words are not at all addressed to the Dean of Student Affairs. In the present situation, he is only the voice of the administration, the one designated to lead interference, so to speak, and take whatever flak comes in.

The hope of the administration all along has clearly been that the voices of opposition can be isolated one from another and quietly tolerated with a minimum of comment until they go away. The tactic has all the earmarks of a power play masquerading as democratic process.

Allow me to go back a bit into my own personal history. This is not by any means the first confrontation I have had with these issues. As President of St. Louis University in 1974 to 1978, one of my first public acts was to arouse the ire of some by bluntly stating that St. Louis University had no obligation whatsoever to sponsor invited lectures in which abortion was espoused. Shortly thereafter, I put the University on record with a huge painted wall, four stories high and overlooking the St. Louis Mill Creek Valley. The sign read GOD IS PRO-LIFE. A smaller version of that sign can still be seen in front of many Midwestern parishes. I also incurred the opposition of a number of influential members of the community by seeing to it Dr. Mildred Jefferson, an outspoken spokeswoman for the pro-life movement, was appointed to the St. Louis University Board of Trustees. Finally, I refused to allow an award from the University to a pro- abortionist pediatrician. The battle lines were clearly drawn. I am obviously not neutral!

Nonetheless, I am speaking now as the loyal opposition. It is not at all my intention to undermine the administration, but simply to insist that a decision harmful to the University, to the Roman Catholic Church, to the cause of justice and right order has been made. This is not a time for bitter accusations, but is indeed a time for deep concern and thoughtful prayer.

I wish to state three theses with regard to the decision to approve "access benefits for GU Choice".

1. The decision is based on a legalistic fiction.

The vast majority of people whose words and reactions I have observed -- both inside and outside the University -- just smile knowingly at the deletion of "pro" from "Choice". Only the drafters of the wording and the advocacy group that stands to profit from it (not so much monetarily as agonistically and in terms of precedent and approval) seem unable or unwilling to appreciate the obvious use of words. One does not have to be a veteran psycho-linguist to understand the elementary use of one -- syllable English words.

Allow me to quote from an APA Monitor (1991, 22, p. 28) article that appeared as I was working on this ms. The page heading is "PUBLIC INTEREST" and the article title "Parental-notification laws termed harmful." The final paragraph of the article sums up the role of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and "pro-choice activists":

"Public opinion was very much against us and in favor of that law," said NARAL staff attorney Marcy Wilder, "until the pro-choice people organized a massive public education campaign...."

If this is not a clear case of public education = advocacy, then Webster's should hang it up and burn all their copies. No one should be fooled by that sort of rhetoric. The GU Choice group is defined by this same finality and, in fact, has no other finality whatsoever.

2. As a safeguard for academic freedom and/or freedom of speech, the GU Choice decision is unnecessary and positively counter-productive.

The best proof, of course, that the decision was unnecessary is that the lobbying and maneuvering and public posturing that accomplished the decision were quite easily carried out antecedent to the decision. But this obvious fact is still not the most disconcerting aspect of the decision in this regard. The fact that an institution of the stature of Georgetown University deems it urgently necessary to prove such freedom with an ad hoc and irrational decision of this sort is even more disturbing. It demonstrates a thoroughly defensive and fearful attitude regarding the fragility of such freedom and a profoundly misguided diagnosis of the sources of this alleged fragility.

Christian doctrine is not in any objective sense a threat to anyone in this world. The firm representation of Catholic orthodoxy -- not the insistence upon the dogmas of liberal theologians -- is thoroughly compatible with academic freedom and freedom of speech. But neither of these freedoms is an absolute right. Both have their proper limitations. Students, faculty, and staff who choose (i.e., by their own CHOICE) to come to Georgetown University know full well (and the University has the duty to clarify it to them initially and remind them of it appropriately) that Georgetown University stands for something.

For the past two decades, the Catholic higher-education community in the United States has been suffering from a sort of institutionalized paranoia that Rome was going to intrude upon academic matters. Hence, we have been divided from within in our very adherence to things Catholic. the GU Choice decision is an excellent case of just this sort of split mentality about our institutional Catholicism: Cherish it, advertise it, assure parents that it's firmly in place -- but compromise it in the face of a secularist culture.

I shall be blunt! The Roman Catholic Church -- along with all her hierarchical apparatus and personnel -- is completely incapable of even entering into competition with the institutional dogmatisms and tyrannies that surround us everywhere in our culture. The American Psychological Association, for example, in which I am a fellow, sets down ethical principles for research which are not at all in accord with my conscience, e.g.,

Sometimes deception must be used in a specific experiment, in which case the researcher must take extra precautions to ensure the welfare of the subjects. (Pettijohn, T. F. [1989]. Psychology: A Concise Introduction. Sluice Dock, Guilford, CN: Dushkin, p. 20)

Even in our GU residence halls, it is uncool (a moral term, by the way, and one that carries very prohibitive attitudes) for a roommate to insist on her or his rights to the room when a "guest" is spending the night. Tell me that we are all unaware of these tyrannical impositions in our culture. And tell me that the RC establishment can hold a candle to them.

3. The GU Choice decision is an affront to the Catholic Church.

As one of my Jewish colleagues put it, were anything analogous to this decision to be requested at Yeshiva University, it would be booted off campus instantly and without further ado. In the present instance, the decision of the administration has been cast as the prudential response to a complex situation calling for careful casuistry and consideration of all the circumstances. It isn't! His Eminence Cardinal Hickey is, of course, correct. It compromises the institutional integrity of Georgetown University as a Catholic institution of higher education. Its clear finality is to afford comfort to a group which is de facto a pro-abortion advocacy group.

But, to quote the Georgetown Tribune (March, 1991, p. 5) editorial, "pro-choice is not necessarily pro-abortion"

Sure it isn't!

I'd like to make a modest proposal: Scrap the letter and substitute a new project to be called GU Courage. For all we really need is the courage of our convictions!

All efforts to get Fr. O'Donovan to agree to change the decision came to nothing. The Georgetown Ignatian Society was even denied repeated requests for a meeting with either the University's Board of Directors or the University's Cabinet. In April 1997, therefore, The Georgetown Ignatian Society started a canon law suit. The following is their press release:


Canon Court Proceedings to be Brought
Against Georgetown University

The following is a press release
issued by the Georgetown
Ignatian Society, April 25, 1991.

It was announced today that canon court proceedings are to be brought by students, faculty and alumni against Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States, in response to the decision of the Georgetown Administration to give funding and other support to GU Choice, a pro-abortion student organization, and will be filed with the Archbishop of Washington, His Eminence James Cardinal Hickey.

The proceedings could lead to revocation of the University's right to label itself a Catholic university.

The process of commencing a canonical action began on April 21st when more than one-hundred individuals signed mandates naming Procurators to bring an action on their behalf with the Cardinal. The "Mandate of Procurator" states the petitioners "grave concern" that their "rights to know and follow the truth of the Catholic Church (canon 748) have been violated by the tolerance and promotion of deviations from authentic doctrinal and moral teachings by the University authorities." The Mandates authorize the several Procurators to seek, if necessary, a declaration from the Church authorities that Georgetown University is not entitled to call itself a Catholic university.

Truth in Advertising

The issue is not only pro-life versus pro-choice but whether Georgetown University as a Catholic institution should appear to compromise in its teaching mission, and continue to misrepresent itself as Catholic to its students and supporters.

Not an Issue of Academic Freedom

The canon law proceeding does not involve issues of academic freedom. The action does not challenge or question the professorial rights of the faculty in the classroom; it seeks only to align Georgetown's obligations as a Catholic institution, and to prevent the application of University funds to pro-abortion advocacy and dissemination of pro-abortion information.

Not an Issue of Freedom of Expression

The canon law action does not seek to deny the right of pro-abortion advocates to organize and function at Georgetown, Its supporters seek only to prevent Georgetown University from straying from the clear position of the Catholic Church, that abortion is not a debatable issue but is rather an "abominable crime", by applying funds obtained from the tuition of Catholic (or pro-life) students and parents, and the donations and alumni and other supporters who calmly gave to Georgetown believing Georgetown to be true to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

Other Activities

In conjunction with these efforts, students, faculty and alumni met on April 21st to coordinate their efforts as individuals, and with Georgetown Life Advocates, an organization of students and alumni established immediately after Georgetown's decision to fund a pro-abortion group. The gathering authorized the establishment of the Georgetown Ignatian Society and the Georgetown Ignatian Fund to communicate Georgetown's decision to alumni and donors, to solicit the redirection of contributions in protest of Georgetown's decision, and to fund pro-life and religious activities at Georgetown, including a pro-life library. If Georgetown were to alter its course with one year, it would have as an incentive the investment with the University of the donations collected by the trustees of the Ignatian Fund.


For information on Georgetown's decision call Liz Crnkovich (Georgetown Life Advocates) at (301) 229-0064.

For information on Canon Law Action, call Charles Wilson (St. Joseph Foundation) at (512) 690-8998.

For information on The Georgetown Ignatian Society and Fund, call Kevin Cuddeback at (703) 276-7357 or Ann Sheridan at (202) 723-2001.

For alumni ant faculty call Professor Richard A. Gordon at (H) (202) 966 7501 ) or (O) (202) 662-9079.


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