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
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
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.]