In 2004, the Cardinal Newman Society took out a full-page ad in USA Today to say that the presidents of Georgetown, Notre Dame and Boston College were “permitting an obscenities-drenched production that defiles students” by allowing students to perform “The Vagina Monologues.”

The next year, when Georgetown’s Law Center chose to name an endowed chair after Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., who served five terms in Congress and publicly supported abortion rights, the society weighed in swiftly, calling the decision “a horrible embarrassment for Georgetown.”

And this year, when Georgetown announced it would open an LGBTQ resource center, the watchdog group said the university had gone a step too far.

Since its inception in 1993, the Cardinal Newman Society has dedicated itself to the renewal of Catholic higher education throughout the United States.

But its efforts have not come without significant criticism from the very Catholic universities it seeks to reform and other Catholic advocacy groups. Indeed, across the country and at Georgetown, some of its warnings have drawn significant ire.

Patrick Reilly’s interest in the future of Catholic higher education was first cultivated when he was an undergraduate at Fordham University in the early 1990s. The school was debating whether or not to permit the founding of gay, lesbian and pro-abortion rights student groups, and as the head of the student newspaper, Reilly was stoutly opposed, voicing his opinion in editorials in the paper.

In 1993, shortly after graduating, Reilly decided to continue to pursue his interest and founded the Cardinal Newman Society. He named the new organization after John Henry Cardinal Newman, who stressed the importance of Catholic universities adhering to church teachings in the mid-19th century.

“It was formed by recent graduates of several Catholic colleges who were very concerned by their experiences with the secularization of Catholic higher education,” Reilly said.

The society has served as a watchdog for higher-education Catholic institutions, making suggestions in order to ensure that policies adhere strictly to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“It is not a matter of our position – it’s a matter of the bishop’s or the Vatican’s position. We simply are organized in an American fashion to advocate that,” Reilly said. “We don’t have authority. We don’t claim authority.”

The Cardinal Newman Society has been a particular critic of Georgetown, which, despite holding the title of the nation’s oldest Catholic university, has made some progressive decisions.

“They made it clear that they weren’t happy with a number of things that had developed at Georgetown, such as H*yas for Choice and the existence of gay organizations on campus,” said John Langan, Cardinal Bernardin Chair of Catholic Social Thought for Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics. “And in general, they would like the university to be operated as a much more controlled environment, in which things that are at odds with the Catholic teachings are eliminated.”

Reilly said the society is constantly responding to balancing a university’s Catholic identity with the pursuit of academic freedom and that the society sometimes sends letters of concern to University President John J. DeGioia.

But Reilly said that the society has not been able to influence Georgetown as much as it would like, despite its protests.

“We don’t spend a lot of time on Georgetown because we’ve received very little response of interest,” Reilly said. “I would say that, unfortunately, Georgetown is reluctant to change. There are numerous examples of non-compliance.”

The society found particular offense in the Georgetown University Law Center’s decision to start funding internships at abortion rights organizations last March.

“The university has gone from appearing to be sympathetic to pro-choice to actually funding its advocacy,” Reilly said.

Since 1990, four U.S. colleges, Marist College, Nazareth College, Saint John Fisher College and Marymount Manhattan College, have disaffiliated with the Catholic Church, a matter that Reilly said is a grave concern for the society.

“We consider that to be, in a very real sense, a great loss for the Church, and a theft,” he said. “The pope, Benedict, is very concerned about the drift of Western culture away from Catholic standards of morality and social justice. The key to renewing this is higher education.”

Every other year, the society publishes a volume of “The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College,” a book of 20 colleges considered to be models of Catholic higher education. This year, the society is also launching the Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education, which will examine and evaluate colleges and universities according to the Vatican’s teachings and policies.

The society sustains a campaign against “The Vagina Monologues” on Catholic campuses that host the event and coordinates the Speaker Monitoring Project, which petitions colleges that host “scandalous speakers.” According to the society’s Web site, 24 Catholic colleges and universities hosted scandalous commencement speakers and honorees in the spring of 2006. Some of these speakers were advocates of abortion rights, stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage and women’s ordination.

A tax-exempt nonprofit organization, the society is supported by over 20,000 individuals, corporations and foundations.

“Twenty thousand lay people are very concerned about Catholic institutions conducting activities that are inconsistent with Catholic faith,” Reilly said.

Georgetown’s decision to open an LGBTQ resource center in the upcoming fall raises further concerns for the society.

“The Vatican in the 1990s had strongly urged Catholic universities to address homosexual issues through the normal channels of counseling, rather than programs that are built around an inclination that the church considers to be disordered,” he said.

In light of two alleged hate crimes on campus in the fall, Reilly said that a program addressing the concerns of LGBTQ students is acceptable, but not a resource center dedicated entirely to the issue.

“Whether a unique center built around an inclination that’s considered to lead to sinful activity can handle this, that needs to be considered very carefully,” Reilly said. “You need to look at if the center would offer resources or celebrate a culture that runs contrary to Catholic reality.”

embers and leaders of the LGBTQ community at Georgetown, however, said that a resource center is a necessary step for the Georgetown community.

“As a Catholic and Jesuit University, we have a commitment to celebrating the identity of individuals, and, with this center, we would celebrate the LGBTQ identity,” said Bill McCoy, associate director of student programs and LGBTQ community resources. “It meets the idea of `cura personalis’ – celebrating the whole person and not marginalizing individuals.”

cCoy said that the resource center will help make LGBTQ students feel more welcome at Georgetown.

Gasper Lo Biondo, director of the Woodstock Theological Center, agrees that the LGBTQ resource center and H*yas for Choice do not run contrary to the Catholic identity.

“Georgetown authorities wouldn’t be doing it if it were. The way they’re doing it is in consonance with our tradition,” he said.

Patricia Parachini, the religious literacy project coordinator for the Office of Campus Ministry, said that her office does not want LGBTQ students to feel Georgetown is a homophobic place.

“Our Catholic faith embraces people of all those orientations and we always teach respect for people, no matter what their understandings, orientations,” she said.

Other conservative Catholic groups have taken note of the Cardinal Newman Society’s actions – and not always favorably. In 2005, the society faced pressures from Catholic universities after it recommended that Marymount Manhattan College be stripped of its Catholic affiliation and attempted to oust several “dissident faculty” members from Boston College. After these events, Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, said that the society’s “attacks can no longer go unchallenged.”

“[The recent activities] follow a long trail of distorted, inaccurate and often untrue attacks on scholars addressing complex issues,” he said.

The society has cited the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Washington, D.C., earlier this month, to help legitimize its mission. Reilly said he hopes the Georgetown administration will heed Benedict’s advice.

“The Catholic identity of Georgetown is the responsibility of the officials and trustees there. And we certainly hope they will embrace what the Holy Father has called them to do last week,” he said.

Langan said the society’s approach to the issue of Catholic identity is one that is a minority amongst Catholic institutions.

“I think there are many different ways of being a Catholic university and we’re in a situation where there has to be a significant acceptance of pluralism. We are a very diverse community and people who want something and wish there’s less diversity, where there’s a much lower level of challenge to traditional religious practices should look elsewhere,” he said.

Students from Catholic organizations on campus also feel the Cardinal Newman Society can be a bit too traditional in its views.

“There is nothing wrong with preserving the Catholic identity, [as] that’s what the Knights of Columbus does, but there are certain actions taken by the society that are hostile and counter-productive,” said David Gregory (COL ’10), Grand Knight of the GU Knights of Columbus.

“We agree with the mission [of the Cardinal Newman Society], but not everything they do,” he added.

Langan characterized the society as hostile critics who do not regard Georgetown’s objectives as legitimate. As a result, the relationship between the two is not easy, he said.

“It’s difficult when you have the sense that some people are hostile critics and nothing you can do will satisfy them. That becomes a frustrating relationship to sustain,” Langan said.

Despite certain disagreements between the university and the society, Langan does not think the relationship is purely contentious.

“We have certain goals, promoting Catholicism that we share. It’s a mistake to regard these people as the enemy. We are honestly trying to maintain a Catholic identity. It’s not a purely adversarial relationship, but the disagreements are real,” he said.

– Johnny Solis contributed to this report.

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