Orsy Talks Canon Law, Blatty Petition
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 11:10
The Hoya sat down Tuesday with Fr. Ladislas Orsy, S.J., a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and an expert in canon law, to discuss William Peter Blatty’s (C ’50) petition asking Pope Francis to enforce conditions that would require Georgetown to meet the conditions of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which sets out guidelines for Catholic colleges, or be stripped of the right to call itself a Catholic and Jesuit institution. Blatty’s petition, which contains over 200 pages of testimony, reached Pope Francis on Oct. 4. Below is an edited transcript of Orsy’s interview.
In a previous email, you had said that calling this a canon lawsuit is incorrect, even though the media have been referring to it by that name. Why is that?
I would call it a letter to the bishop or a letter to the pope. It is not an official lawsuit — there is no room in canon law for lawsuits. The confusion, I think, comes from the fact that in American law, you can sue and have standing in a court of law if you belong to an association and when you feel that the association is not doing what it is supposed to do. For example, if you felt that the dean [of Georgetown] was abusing his power, you would have standing in a court of law to sue, probably even for damages. There is no such thing in the Catholic Church.
What does it mean to “remove” a university’s Catholic designation? Can that actually be done?
If a group decides to call itself Catholic, that term is not a copyright. The bishop can say, “In my judgment, I do not think that this organization represents Catholic views,” but that does not affect whether the organization can call itself Catholic. Besides, the official title of Georgetown is “Georgetown University,” not “Georgetown Catholic University.” ... This problem is so unreal. It is something like the president forbidding someone from calling themself American because they are not behaving like an American. ... This is outside the purview of the Church.
Can you briefly explain the role Ex Corde Ecclesiae plays in defining a Catholic university?
The Ex Corde is ... it is not primarily legislative. Say if we said it was a 50-page document. About 45 of those pages are describing what a Catholic university should be like ... like an ideal. ... Five pages are more legislative, but still a mix between guidelines and legislative steps. There are a few set rules or guidelines that should be followed. For example, it says that the president of a Catholic university should be voted on by the board of trustees and agreed upon by the Vatican. But overall, the Ex Corde is describing an ideal.
What do you think the pope’s response will be? What will happen?
Every single individual is perfectly entitled to send correspondence to the pope, but he is not bound to answer to anything. By courtesy, he will probably send acknowledgement of receiving the correspondence, but there is nothing in the canon law that requires him to do so. … Most likely, the pope will send it back to the archbishop. ... This is all hypothesis — it is all very hypothetical — but I do not think that the archbishop will publicly declare [that the university is not Catholic]. Of course, he can always say so, but there may be many who do believe that the university is Catholic enough, and it might divide the community.