Pod people: Framing the Georgetown wars

OK, readers, it's time for a quiz about Catholic higher education. I don't think that any readers will remember this column I once wrote for the Scripps Howard News Service (that would be a bit scary if anyone did), but I will provide enough of the content to help readers answer this question: Can you guess within five years when the following was written?

Elizabeth Fiore didn’t expect Georgetown University’s freshman orientation program to include a condom demonstration.

When the mandatory safe-sex session was over, the student leaders apologized because policies on the Catholic campus prevented them from handing out condoms to needy newcomers. But -- wink, wink -- they could leave a few on a nearby table.

What was shocking was not the candid talk, but the assumption that students had already rejected Catholic teachings, said Fiore, at a conference backing efforts to give church authorities more clout on America’s 235 Catholic college campuses.

OK, here is another chunk of that column that will offer some hints about the calendar:

... Fiore said she was glad the cafeteria served matzo bread during Passover and gave Muslims special take-home containers so they could eat at appropriate times during Ramadan. But she found it strange that the cafeteria served three meat dishes on Good Friday in Holy Week, forcing students who wanted to observe the Catholic fast to resort to peanut butter and jelly. The priests got fish.

The Jesuit campus has become a May pole for Catholic controversies -- from the on-again, off-again decision to remove classroom crucifixes, to a campus lecture by Hustler’s Larry Flynt, to a student’s shame when Women’s Center workers ridiculed her request for information on how to enter a religious order.

Care to guess? OK, I'll give you a hint. I've been writing the "On Religion" column for 24 years.

No, this one isn't THAT old, but it does date back to 1999 -- which is still a pretty good amount of time on the religion beat.

The reason I bring this up, of course, is that Georgetown University -- the Maypole around which news coverage of Catholic higher education tends to dance -- is once again in the news. You have read about some of this news here at GetReligion, for the simple reason that the mainstream press has been faithful in covering yet another round in the Georgetown culture wars. You'll be stunned to know that politics is at the heart of all this.

So, does the name "Sandra Fluke" ring any bells? I thought so.

Also, how about this name -- Kathleen Sebelius?

When typical news consumers hear those names, these days, it is highly likely that the first words that pop into their heads are "birth control," if not "war on women." For a different set of readers, the first term that leaps to mind might be "religious liberty."

However, the point of this week's GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast is that the first words that should pop into the minds of religion-beat journalists, when yet another media storm cranks up at Georgetown, are these Latin words -- "Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church)."

And what, pray tell, is "Ex Corde Ecclesiae"? Here is a chunk of my Scripps Howard column for this week which, like the podcast, tries to frame the latest Georgetown skirmish in a broader contest.

For you see, many years of Georgetown controversy:

... could reach Rome, if a prominent Georgetown graduate has his way. Academy Award winner William Peter Blatty, best known for writing "The Exorcist," is leading a petition drive requesting that the Archdiocese of Washington and perhaps the Vatican investigate 20-plus years of complaints about the university's compliance with guidelines in the 1990 "apostolic constitution" on education issued by Pope John Paul II entitled "Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church)."

"We may choose to file a canon action again, one much larger in scale and seeking alternative forms of relief that will include, among others, that Georgetown's right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit be revoked or suspended for a time," noted Blatty, in his online appeal (GUpetition.org) to supporters. "What we truly seek is for Georgetown to have the vision and courage to be Catholic, but clearly the slow pastoral approach has not worked." ...

Among its many requirements, Ex Corde Ecclesiae states: "In ways appropriate to the different academic disciplines, all Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching." However, the pope also said the "freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected."

Now, like all Jesuit institutions, Georgetown answers -- to a unique degree -- both to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and to officials in Rome. The point is that, while the U.S. press moves on to elections and what-not, it is possible that a legal process may begin behind the scenes, a process rooted in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that could result in an investigation by Vatican officials of America's oldest Catholic university.

That would be a big story. Don't look for any coverage of that until after the election, unless, of course, this story somehow gets linked to birth control.

Enjoy the podcast.

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