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The moment of truth has come. The Holy See is to remove the titles “Pontifical” and “Catholic” from the name of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). The controversial and unprecedented decision should be communicated Saturday 21 July if no last minute surprises. The Vatican had no other choice after years of disobedience from an institution which no longer seems to answer to the Holy See.
The affair is very delicate and this is why the two parties are trying to protect their own interests before the official announcement is made tomorrow. The decision has been made and will be communicated by means of a decree, accompanied by a letter addressed to the university rector Marcial Rubio. In these two texts the Holy See will declare that it no longer recognises the university’s current structure because it is failing to engage in the original mission. One thing will not change however: the Apostolic See will state that the university will retain its rights in relation to the structure.
This situation is the result of a 40 year old feud. Many years have passed since the former rector and Jesuit priest Felipe Max Gregor guaranteed, in 1968, that the university would never stop being Catholic. The following decades were decisive in turning it into the exact opposite: an institution that is independent from the Church and whose teachings go against the Magisterium of the Catholic Church for the sake of the university’s freedom.
This process led to a number of civil trials being held between the university and Archdiocese of Lima, the legitimate executor, because its heads had taken the liberty to act in areas they were not authorised to act in. A notable example is the case of the assets inherited by the scholar José de la Riva Agüero y Osma in the 1940’s. The PUCP suffered a number of defeats in this case.
The directors never agreed to answer to the Archbishop of Lima Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, who according to the statute is the great chancellor. Not only did they rebel against the cardinal but ignored all warnings sent from Rome.
The Vatican asked, in all the ways it could, for the university’s internal statutes to be modified and brought in line with the Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” written by John Paul II in 1990 and binding for all Catholic academic institutions in the world. But the response was always negative.
This is why the Roman Curia had to intervene through the Congregation for Catholic Education, which in 2011 sent a letter to rector Rubio, outlining all the modifications that needed to be made to the statutes. But the University Assembly refused to act on the Vatican exhortation. And so the Vatican Secretariat of State got involved in the affair via its office for internal and external policies. It ordered an apostolic visit, an audit and an effort to try to reach an agreement between all parties, with all actions carried forward by the Hungarian cardinal Peter Erdö. But without success.
The result was that the Holy See lost its patience and set a deadline for last 8 April. The university was required to hand over its new statutes by this date, but failed to do so. This act of rebellion will now end in the worst way possible: with the Holy See’s drastic but inevitable decision to cancel the university’s titles for the first time in history.
The Apostolic See has the complete authority to do so because the Church has always considered the educational structure to be its property. Both canonical and Peruvian law recognises this fact. In order to ensure its decision is respected, Rome can appeal to the agreement in place between the Vatican and Peru. If it were to do so a never-ending conflict would break out. If the government does not recognise the prerogatives of this agreement, it could cause a serious diplomatic incident.
The situation has reached breaking point and students could bear the consequences. Because amongst other things, the Church hierarchy would ask the National Assembly of Rectors to forbid the PUCP from giving out degree titles in its name. In the meantime, the Archdiocese of Lima will have to found another university that really is Catholic.