Though Pope Francis recently said the Catholic Church should focus less on abortion, gay marriage and contraception, “The Exorcist” author William Peter Blatty (C ’50) continues to question Georgetown’s right to be called a Catholic university for offenses centered on those three issues.

In May, Blatty submitted a petition to the Archdiocese of Washington, asking that it force Georgetown to fulfill the requirements of its Catholic affiliation or be stripped of the right to call itself a Catholic and Jesuit institution.

His petition points to Georgetown’s failure to comply with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution issued in 1990 by Pope John Paul II that defined the necessary practices of Catholic universities, and past “scandals” involving controversial speakers.

Francis’ comments, on the other hand, suggest a willingness to move away from focusing on these issues.

“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said. “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Georgetown’s Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., supported Pope Francis’ comments, particularly his call to expand the reach of the Church.

“Pope Francis calls us to consider all church teachings in light of the central Christian message: the faithful, unconditional, saving love of God,” O’Brien wrote in an email. “Everything … should flow from that central part of the gospel.”

In a document released to The Hoya, supporters of the petition against Georgetown declared that, although they agreed with the pope, they also felt the need to spread the teachings of Catholicism, regardless of what Francis called an “obsession” with certain issues.

“[The pope] has asked us ‘to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound,’” the document reads.

Georgetown Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh, however, has responded by reaffirming Georgetown’s Catholic identity and emphasizing the undergraduate theology requirement and the number of on-campus Masses.

But Manuel Miranda (SFS ’82), Blatty’s counsel and press contact, found fault in the university’s defense.

“Georgetown’s defense is like a dancer doing pirouettes on the edge of the absurd. My old stomping ground, Brooklyn, has lots of masses offered every day, and yet Brooklyn, oddly, is not Catholic,”Blatty wrote in an email said. “Talking about Masses offered on campus is like putting up a Potemkinvillage.”

In particular, Blatty pointed to Pope Benedict XVI’s statement in May 2012, in which he declared that Catholic universities’ identities are defined by more than the presence of chaplains or religion on campus.

O’Brien, however, pointed to the inclusivity implied in Pope Francis’ message.

“As a place of mercy and unconditional love, the Church must respect and engage all persons,” O’Brien wrote. “The pope also said that the church must be ‘the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.’ The Church, in other words, is a big tent. We hope for the same at Georgetown.”

Knights of Columbus member Louis Cona (COL ’15) said that that the Church has already made its views clear on abortion, gay marriage and contraception and that further focus is unnecessary.

“His comments reaffirm Church teaching in regards to marriage and abortion. He didn’t change any teaching on the matter. Rather, I think what he’s trying to say is that the Church has already spoken on abortion and on gay marriage,” Cona said. “If we are confined to these issues we cant see the beauty and the richness of the Catholic faith. The Church has a duty to defend traditional marriage and life, but as Francis points out, that is not our only message. The primary message is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and call sinners to repentance. ”Miranda said the petition’s leaders are in communication with the archdiocese and the Vatican, and the group will decide whether to formally petition the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education within the next few weeks.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously attributed a quote from Blatty to Miranda.

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