Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Georgetown University and unofficial religious groups

Georgetown University is terminating its relationship with evangelical student groups (like IVCF). Your can read Georgetown’s letter here and other coverage here, here, and here. If you want to see what Georgetown says about itself, you can go here and here. Is it ironic or what that the link to a statement describing "Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity" is, at the moment, broken?

My own view is that if Georgetown wants to centralize control over the official expression and exercise of religion on campus, it’s certainly entitled to do so. After all, it is a religious institution (though the details are at the moment hazy because of the ironically broken link) and fidelity to its mission may require the sort of centralization and oversight it’s now proposing. But, still, I can’t halp thinking that the motives are a little less pure than that. Do they, for example, have a particular beef with evangelicals who want to evangelize, or with evangelicals whose theological outlook might be described as conservative? Inquiring minds want to know.

Update: Even though he didn’t know I was asking it, Joseph Bottum ventures an answer to my question:

The problem, of course, finally boils down to this: The evangelical groups represent only a few hundred students, but they are strongly pro-life and opposed to homosexual marriage. The mainline Protestant employees of Campus Ministry find such things embarrassing, and so they kick the evangelicals off campus, employing the power of the officially Catholic chaplain’s office and the rhetoric of the school’s Catholic identity.

There’s an obvious irony here—employed too often to be surprising—in which people begin by protesting in the name of diversity against centralized authority, and later discover, once they’re in charge, how useful those old forms of authority can be in controlling diversity.

But it also represents a tactic we’re likely to see more of: claims of old-fashioned Catholicism, used by people who are far from old-fashioned Catholics, to maintain control of officially Catholic institutions and to ban the people whose political opinions they don’t like. Watch for it at Boston College, and Marquette, and Notre Dame, and Loyola Marymount, and on and on.

Update #2:
This was in the Georgetown student newspaper, which I’m sure will cover the brouhaha, if any, in the coming weeks.

Last update: The link works again, so we learn this:

The vision of John Carroll continues to be realized today in a distinctive educational institution -- a national University rooted in the Catholic faith and Jesuit tradition, committed to spiritual inquiry, engaged in the public sphere, and invigorated by religious and cultural pluralism.


Assisted by Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim chaplains, Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Timothy S. Godfrey, S.J., oversees Campus Ministry programs. From its inception in 1789, Georgetown has welcomed students of -- in the words of founder Archbishop John Carroll -- "every religious profession."

In the late 18th century, approximately one-fifth of the university’s student body were Protestant. In Fall 2004, 52.6 percent of undergraduates self-reported that they were Roman Catholic, 5.3 percent Jewish, 2.1 percent Muslim, and 24.1 percent another Christian denomination.

You can also find something of a vision of faith and learning in the inaugural speech of Georgetown President John J. DeGioia:

Like all great American universities, we also live another set of tensions as we seek to fulfill our role. Enlightenment universities were established with the idea that there is a unity of knowledge, and truth is there for human discovery. The last 30 years of higher education has brought the development of multiple methodologies, schools of thought, and specialties, each with their own assumptions and inclinations. The university’s role is now to provide a home to a great multiplicity of what are sometimes called "interpretive communities." We are a community of communities.


I have talked about three organizing questions for Georgetown. Other universities have their own. I believe ours are uniquely rich, compelling, and difficult. The questions central to us carry powerful tensions and elude fixed, final, definitive answers. Our work is messy. Our business lies in disorder and conflict. But make no mistake, our responsibility is to preserve the tensions not to finesse them away.

Sounds to me like in this instance the University isn’t preserving tensions.

Discussions - 11 Comments

This is frightening and foolish. I can think of so many objections to this behavior by Georgetown that my mind is incapable of forming them into sentences. I just hope that, if it hasn’t been done already, the Catholic Church formally severs ties to that forsaken school.

Is the college still claiming to be a Catholic college?


At the same time GU doesn’t seem to mind accepting beaucoup bucks from wealthy Saudi Wahhabists to set up a "think tank" of dubious value. I guess Islamist propaganda is a horse of different color, but Christian Evangelicals are just too far outside the pale.

If you want a Catholic College you may have to try one that is not run by a religious order.

Sounds to me like another shot in the culture war. Do we just take it and complain about it? Or actually do something?

That may be good advice for all I know. But it’s good personal advice, not good political advice. Good political advice is about beating the adversary on his ground, not about running away from him.

This story about Georgetown, and specifically Pres. DeGioia’s remarkably tendentious statement in his inaugural speech, reminded me of this experience: Some thirty years ago, while visiting France, I met an assistant curator of the Louvre. The Georges Pompideau(sp?) Center was the talk of France. One day after lunch I ask the curator what he thought of the museum. He replied: "I think it is perfect." I was stunned, not expecting such an endorsement. I stammered, "How? In what way?" He continued: "I consider it to be the anti-cathedral......of an anti-art.....of an anti-civilization. It perfectly achieves what it sets out to do."
May God help Georgetown (specifically its students) as it sets out to achieve the anti-perfection of Dr. DeGioia’s anti-vision. Messy? Disorder? DISORDER??? Conflict? No kiddin’, Ma.

We at Villanova always had our doubts about Georgetown.....

"...the right to be different is subsumed under the rule of likeness. How does this conversion work? The meaning of the formula in effect breaks down into two propositions: 1) The right to be different applies to only certain differences. 2) These differences make no difference."

from Equality by Default ,p. 22, a recent book by Philippe Beneton, who happens to be a Catholic.

"And…if someone says that there are some pleasures belonging to fine and good desires and some belonging to bad desires, he [the democratic man]shakes his head at all this and says that all are alike and must be honored on an equal basis."

from The Republic 561b-c, by Plato, who happened to found something called the Academy.

Georgetown objects to the fact that the Evangelicals are likely teaching more of the Catholic Faith than they are, and bringing the students closer to the Magisterium than they want them to be.

"And…if someone says that there are some pleasures belonging to fine and good desires and some belonging to bad desires, he [the democratic man]shakes his head at all this and says that all are alike and must be honored on an equal basis."

Good for the democratic man! Solve the problem of Ontology: namely different ontologies not only put foward different goods but see things completly different...of necessity. Or perhaps history is nothing but people killing each other waiting for Hegel’s Universal Spirit to resolve the issue!

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