Georgetown Prep and modern liberal Catholicism

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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“Georgetown Prep did something right.”

A close friend said that to me after we were leaving a party with some of my high school buddies from Georgetown Prep, the Jesuit high school outside of Washington. My friend was wondering why I wrote the 2005 book “God and Man at Georgetown Prep,” which is critical of the school and the insane liberalism that crashed into the Catholic Church in the 1960s and caused a lot of corruption up to the time I was a student at Prep in the 1980s.

It was the first time she had seen me with my high school buds, and she was amazed at the humor, camaraderie and brotherhood of the Prep family. “It’s obvious you love that place and you love those guys,” she said. “Why did you write that book?”

The night of January 26, I got an email from Georgetown Prep that reminded me why. Garrett Orr, a man who was a teacher of mine and is a former Jesuit, has just been arrested for sexual abuse. It’s the second time charges have been made against him. The first charge, which came in 2003, did not result in criminal charges. It did, however, cause some friction for people, both alumni and parents, who believed the charges. Fr. Orr was a well-loved theater teacher, and a lot of people did not want to believe it. Their treatment of people who thought there was indeed a problem there ranged from mild derision to outright hostility (whenever I wrote an article about the situation, I would inevitably get flamed in the comments by an anonymous Prep booster or two). Orr left the priesthood and the school. The new charges are from a student who was at the school in 1989, six years after I graduated.

When I heard the first charge, I felt conflicted. Going to Georgetown Prep was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The place truly is a community and a family. Teachers, many of whom are like characters out of a book or movie (“Harry Potter and the Catholic Ghetto”), become mentors and friends. The guys become like brothers. When I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, the first ten phone calls and emails I got were from Prep friends and teachers. Even after “God and Man at Georgetown Prep” was published, nobody there really held it against me — one former teacher even posted a semi-positive review on Amazon. He wrote: “‘God and Man at Georgetown Prep’ is a compelling read. It is also sometimes a haphazard and contradictory mix of the intellectual and the glandular; of the cogent argument and the primal scream; of the open minded discourse and the conservative rant.” Like a lot of my homework grades when I was a Prep, I thought this was total BS for about an hour, until I realized that he was right. It’s a three-star book (out of five).

But aside from the greatness of Prep, there was the fact that the liberalism that had much of the Catholic Church in its clutches beginning in the 1960s was evident in some departments — not all — at the school. This was mostly in matters of sexual morality. It is no longer a secret that starting in the 1960s many Catholic seminaries began to blackball orthodox and masculine applicants in favor of what has been called the “lavender mafia” — homosexuals. I have seen enough of this and talked to enough witnesses to know it to be true. And while the level of sexual abuse by homosexuals in the general population is lower than among straights — just as the incidents of abuse are much higher in public schools than in Catholic ones — only a person in denial still claims that something did not go terribly wrong in the Church after the 1960s, and that more often than not that thing was homosexual priests molesting teenage boys. My own take is that it had less to do with homosexuality than with the feverish libertinism of the 60s. Long gone were the days when Dorothy Day would argue for heroic virtue as a requirement for both anti-war pacifism and obedience to the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexual ethics. After Vietnam, Vatican II and Watergate, sexual reticence was considered a hang-up. That’s why former left-wing radio host Bernie Ward, my human sexuality teacher while at Prep — and a friend to Fr. Orr at the time — is now in prison for peddling child pornography. Ward, our own Dan Savage, taught us all about masturbation, ejaculation and anatomy. We never got around to talking about the soul.

And, of course, liberals in the media and society who draw a straight line from the Tucson shooting to Sarah Palin have no interest in connecting the dots from liberalism to sexual abuse — not to mention abuse of the soul. Two weeks ago I wrote a piece for The Daily Caller exploring why “God and Man at Georgetown Prep” was not covered by the media, specifically the Washington Post. I explained how, when Fr. Orr was first accused of sexual abuse in 2003, Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein refused my suggestion that she dig deeper and look into Bernie Ward as well. When I said she was missing a story, she said I had a “gay problem.” Today it’s apparent that my problem is not with gay people but with men who teach young people that Betty Friedan was a genius and buy and sell kiddie porn — not to mention reporters whose liberal bias makes them miss story after story after story. (Oh wait — there’s a Tea Partier defending the Second Amendment. Let me call you back.)

One of the more traditional teachers I had at Prep was John Nikola, S.J., who had been the technical advisor to the film “The Exorcist.” One of the things I learned from Fr. Nikola is that what evil wants to do is similar to what our sexual liberators want: to make us consider each other as meat, as things, as bestial forms there to be used. That’s why in the book the demon refers to the possessed girl’s mother as “pig” and the girl as “piglet.” (I talk about this in this video.)

If I compare the slavery that has resulted from our “liberation” to what we learned from some people at Prep, I would only add that I’m guilty as well, at least of the bouts of dehumanizing lust that is part of the fallen world and being human. We all are. We all have that monster in us to some extent. But the orthodox at least know what it is. We recognize it, fear it, and try to walk away from it. I would only say what I said when “God and Man” was published: I am willing to come to the school and speak, or debate, at any time. They may even do well to put my recent book “A Tremor of Bliss” on the syllabus.

Shortly after my friend met my Prep friends, she urged me to write another book, or at least an essay, about how great Georgetown Prep is. The brilliant teachers, the friends, the fun, the intellectual rigor, the sports program — it could all fill a book. Georgetown Prep did indeed do something, does something, right. But in the 1960s, liberalism became dominant, a wave that was still cresting when I was there in the 1980s. And now we know that kids got hurt. And today all I feel is sad.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.