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Special Report
March 05, 2012
A former student explains the Vatican’s struggle to restore the Catholic identity of Peru’s most important university
Cardinal Juan Cipriani Thorne of Lima, Peru, the grand chancellor of the Pontifical University of Peru, has sought to restore the university's Catholic identity. (CNS photo)
The escalating struggle between the Vatican and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) over the reform of its statutes may appear to be nothing more than a conflict over administrative differences, and an obscure papal document known as Ex Corde Ecclesiae. In reality, the conflict is about the very nature and identity of a Catholic educational institution.  The PUCP, in short, must decide if it wishes to be Catholic, or not. The fate of the country’s most important university, as well as millions of dollars in assets, is riding on the outcome.

A short history of the conflict

On February 21, the Vatican gave an ultimatum to the PUCP to change its statutes before April 8 to conform them to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a papal decree on the governance of Catholic universities.  The decision to set a deadline was personally given by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, to the university’s rector, Marcial Rubio Correa. Rubio was called to the Holy See days before to reveal to him the conclusions of Cardinal Peter Erdo, who was sent to Lima in December by Pope Benedict XVI to mediate the conflict between the Archbishop of Lima and the PUCP over the conformity of its statutes to Catholic law.

The Peruvian daily El Comercio, citing confidential sources, has indicated that Rubio proposed that the University Assembly designate the rector, and, as a symbolic gesture, to have a mass that would affirm the Catholic identity of the institution. This proposal, as the PUCP has observed, was not considered by the Vatican.

The request of a change of statutes is not new. It was first made almost 30 years ago through Papal Nuncio Mario Tagliaferri.  From that day forward, the same request has been made repeatedly, and the PUCP has repeatedly refused, even taking the issue to court to vindicate its cause. The current rector of the PUCP has misinformed the public, repeating in recent months that the statutes are in agreement with Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Now, in the face of Rome’s ultimatum, that is clearly revealed to be untrue.

But beyond the legal issues, the contribution of the PUCP to social and political debates is even less Catholic. The professionals who have been educated in its classes stand out for their efforts to eliminate the Catholic character of Peruvian society.

I know because I studied there. None of my professors was Catholic nor wanted to be, when they weren’t openly anticlerical.  This isn’t news for any Catholic who has studied at the PUCP. However, the belligerency of the university has grown in recent years. The authorities of the PUCP publicly insult Lima’s archbishop Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, who is listed on the statute books of the University as its Grand Chancellor. Every enemy of the Catholic Church is today sheltered, promoted, and even financed by the PUCP. There are frequent demonstrations on campus against the Cardinal that are injurious to the students and against the Catholic Church in general.

The essential question

Can an institution that ignores Rome, attacks the local authorities of the Church, and whose behavior is opposed to Catholic teaching, be called Catholic?

For those of us who work to promote the Culture of Life, the anti-Catholic position of the PUCP is even more eloquent. Many of the principal promoters of abortion and gender ideology work at the PUCP or in the institutes that depend on it. Many of the Non-Governmental Organizations with an anti-life ideology receive financial assistance from the PUCP or receive their academic support from the same.  There is no abortionist platform in Peru that lacks a relationship with the PUCP.

It is only necessary to cite a single case to illustrate the point. The First Latin American Juridical Congress on Reproductive Rights, held in Arequipa in November of 2009, brought together the principal and most radical proponents of abortion, gender ideology, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual organizations, and other similar causes. The discussion, during the whole event, was intentionally and openly anti-Catholic. One of the most notable features of the event was the important contingent of speakers from the PUCP, as has been documented by the organization “Peru Defends Life.”

The PUCP faculty includes figures such as Monica Roa, who led the effort to decriminalize abortion in Colombia in 2006. She is currently teaching a course at the University entitled “Jurisdiction, Human Rights, and Democracy.” Roa is the director of Women World Link and is known as one of the most important representatives for the Center for Reproductive Rights, two organizations that promote litigation at the international level in order to establish abortion as a “human right” throughout the world. It should be little surprise that Roa, dressed up as a bishop, publicly mocks the teachings of the Catholic Church in her Facebook account.

The University’s brochure for Roa’s course presents her simply as a “specialist in the area of gender and women’s rights” from Colombia’s University of the Andes.

What is the Church asking of the PUCP?

According to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Grand Chancellor (the Archbishop of Lima) has the right to participate in the life of the university, to recommend to the Vatican one of three candidates proposed by the University Assembly as rector, and to receive the profession of faith of the rector when he begins his term.

Furthermore, it adds that “every bishop has the responsibility to promote the good functioning of the Catholic universities in his diocese, and has the right and obligation to take care to maintain and strengthen its Catholic character. If problems arise […], the bishop will take the measures necessary to resolve them, in accordance with the proper academic authorities […] and if it is necessary, with the help of the Holy See.”

Regarding professors, the pontifical document indicates that they must respect Catholic doctrine and morality in their research and teaching. When they are selected for their positions, they must be informed about the Catholic identity of the institution.

Follow the money

The renowned thinker José de la Riva Aguero y Osma (1885-1944) was the principal benefactor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.  A fervent Catholic, De la Riva Aguero created the institution along with other intellectuals who believed that Christian doctrine is not opposed to academic freedom. Single and without descendants, he willed his fortune so that the university would survive the test of time, and it was his will that the Archbishop of Lima oversee its properties.

Today, the value of the assets of the PUCP are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Even greater is the value that can be attributed to its social and political influence. There are other issues that are no less substantial, such as the percentage of sales that the most prosperous commercial center of the city of Lima contributes to the PUCP because it is located on part of the land that was willed by De la Riva Aguero.

For canon lawyer Fernan Altuve, cited by El Comercio, “if the Catholic University ceases to exist as such for not adapting its statutes to the Holy See, it cannot remain with the properties that were donated by José de la Riva Aguero y Osma. I cannot retain the assets of Catholics while converting myself into another university, because I have ceased to exist as such.”

In response, PUCP’s attorney, Jorge Avendano, says that such a claim is “foolish” and that “The estate of Riva Aguero was left to the Catholic University without any link to the Church,” a claim that contradicts the Constitutional Court of Peru, which has ruled that the Archdiocese of Lima should have an active participation in the PUCP.

Avendano also claims that “the name ‘Pontifical Catholic University of Peru’ is protected by Peruvian law. It is written in public documents.” Let there be no doubt that the “Catholic” identity of the PUCP doesn’t rest on its statutes, nor on its practices, nor its purposes. Its raison d’etre is simply to preserve the control of its assets by way of the name.

[This essay was translated and edited by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman.]
 
About the Author
Carlos Polo  

Carlos Polo is the director of the Latin America Office of the Population Research Institute, and a graduate of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
 

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