Iam immensely grateful to my alma mater, Georgetown University, for the four years I spent there learning from brilliant minds. Nevertheless, evil was celebrated on campus on October 16, and I think it should be addressed.
The student-run university Lecture Fund brought the leaders of the Satanic Temple to campus for a public event. This fund is not just another left-wing activist organ. It was founded to be the most important student club, empowered with the necessary funds and imprimatur to bring heads of state, A-list celebrities, and public intellectuals to campus.
The Satanic Temple bills itself as an anti-theist advocacy group that seeks to destroy organized religion’s role in American society. It is notorious for hosting a religious abortion ritual that includes “the recitation of two of [the Satanic Temple’s] Tenets and a personal affirmation that is ceremoniously intertwined with the abortion.” It also sponsors Black Masses featuring ritual bloodletting and the desecration of potentially consecrated hosts. Suffice to say, despite its denial of the presence of demons in the world, the organization does everything in its power to lean into its name. The Lecture Fund justified its decision to platform the Satanic Temple by citing its mission to “enlighten and educate.” Never mind that the founder of the Temple has a history of making anti-Semitic and racist statements.
Georgetown remains a Catholic institution, but I fear this event is a sign that backlash against Catholic-led pro-life and religious liberty wins in the public sphere is contributing to a culture of contempt for religion on campus.
When the event was officially announced, the university president said nothing publicly and the Catholic Ministry merely issued a statement acknowledging the group’s “anti-Catholic actions and speech” and declaring it would be holding a prayer service at the same time as the event. According to the statement, “there is no more powerful response than to unite in prayer.” The Archdiocese of Washington has not spoken publicly on the matter.
The university's feeble response, which was mocked by some students, confused me, because as recently as 2020, the university had no problem refusing to permit speech and actions on campus that conflicted with its core Catholic identity. If the university were a public institution like the University of Virginia, then free speech should be the standard, not a school’s commitment to the dignity of its Catholic character. Yet my university has never allowed such a standard to apply. In the 1990s, the administration revoked university funding from a pro-abortion student group. At the time, the president of the school said that “As a university we are committed to protect and encourage free speech. But we must disentangle the university as an institution from apparent official support or guidance of a group whose actions contradict Catholic principles.” When I was an undergraduate, just a few years ago, the university prohibited that same abortion group, now stripped of any institutional funding but still allowed to parade on campus, from hosting an abortion demonstration in the classroom. All of these actions are supported by Pope John Paul II’s famous apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, and have precedent in other Catholic jurisdictions. For example, when the Catholic media figure Michael Voris attempted to speak at a Catholic university in 2011, he was banned by the Diocese of Scranton because of “[his] views regarding other religious groups.”
Complaints about universities in the United States go back decades, and it is easy to descend into despair or apathy. Instead, this event should prompt thoughtful reflection and strategic action by all Catholics.
First, donors to Catholic universities should be very specific in where they send their funds. At Georgetown, the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and its affiliate student group and the university chapter of the Knights of Columbus have consistently maintained the faith. A few years ago, some concerned Christians also started an Augustine Center with both undergraduate student fellows and a faculty group, which I had the pleasure of joining. Donors should do their homework about which student and university organs are trying to honor God. While Catholic universities sit on billions in endowment funds, it is the smaller campus groups that most need funding and will have the greatest influence on campus culture.
Second, students and alumni need to proactively ask the appropriate Catholic hierarchs to express public disapproval, and Catholic clergy need to be willing to state the Church’s teachings clearly. Catholic students cannot prevail against blasphemy and heresy without support from the clergy. If a cleric is remaining silent because he hopes to get an honorary degree from a notable Catholic institution, then he is probably in the wrong profession. The days of honoring leaders of Christian organizations at major universities have passed away, as any cursory examination of commencement speakers in the last five years will demonstrate.
I remain grateful to my school and do not wish to deride it. I loved my time at Georgetown, where I was taught by Jesuits whose erudition is matched by their sense of purpose in the world. But they should know they are not alone in wanting to prevent the campus they have stewarded for generations from becoming a staging ground for the celebration of blasphemy. In recent weeks, I have been impressed by alumni speaking out against anti-Semitism on college campuses. I ask Georgetown alumni to do the same for Christians at the Hilltop.
Jacob Adams is a junior fellow at First Things.
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