[If it loses those titles, it will be left only with "University of Peru" and "La" (without "Católica")]
Peru university in Vatican battle over right to call itself Catholic [and Pontifical]
Cold war echoes in row at La Católica, where founder of liberation theology Gustavo Gutiérrez taught
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who ruled that the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru cannot use pontifical or Catholic in its title
John Hooper in Rome and Dan Collyns in Lima
The Guardian, Sunday 28 October 2012 14.58 EDT
The Vatican is locked in a bitter dispute with one of South America’s top universities in a row that has resurrected ideological differences within the Catholic church long thought to have been consigned to cold war history.
At stake is the seemingly obscure issue of whether the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima can any longer describe itself as either Catholic or pontifical – ie, papal. The dispute has highlighted lingering antipathy between Roman Catholic conservatives and proponents of liberation theology, which in the 1970s and 1980s created a bridge in Latin America between radical priests and leftwing militants.
This summer, Pope Benedict XVI’s most senior official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, issued a decree stripping the university of the right to use either word in its title. The decree said the stance of the university, known as La Católica or La Pook (after its Spanish initials, PUCP), was no longer “compatible with the discipline and morals of the church”.
Students and faculty have refused to accept the decision – and some claim there is more to the affair than misgivings over their university’s liberalism.
As the decree made clear, the Vatican has been wrangling with the PUCP for more than 20 years.
The university has been closely linked to liberation theology since Gustavo Gutiérrez, the liberation movement’s Peruvian founder, taught there in the 1960s.
The row burst into the open less than three weeks after Benedict named a lifelong friend of Gutiérrez to head the Vatican department that enforces doctrinal orthodoxy on the worldwide Catholic church. Monsignor Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), even co-authored a book with Gutiérrez.
But, said Father Gianpaolo Salvini, a former editor of the Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica and expert on the Latin American church: “I do not think that Müller’s appointment signals a re-evaluation of liberation theology. The term includes several, heterogeneous currents of thought. Some of its followers were perfectly orthodox.”
Father Nicola Bux, a consultor (adviser) to the CDF, agreed. Liberation theology, he said, only became unacceptable to the Vatican “at the point at which it is argued that man’s salvation can be resolved by means of justice to be attained in this world”.
During the cold war, while Latin America was undergoing enormous upheaval, doctrinal issues took on a political dimension, said Salvini. “Jesus became a social agitator and the poor, as referred to in the gospels, came to be equated with the proletariat as defined by Marx. That alarmed the Vatican. And the great fear was of the export of the Cuban revolution. John Paul II, a pope born in Poland, a Communist country, could not in any way go along with that.”
In Nicaragua, priests inspired by liberation theology took an active part in the 1979 Sandinista revolution against Anastasio Somoza’s rightwing dictatorship. The philosophy also influenced leftist rebels in Mexico and Colombia, where one of the main guerrilla factions was led for nearly 30 years by a former priest.
The Vatican never condemned either Gutiérrez or his writings. But he was repeatedly called to Rome, and in 1999 became a monk, apparently to escape the scrutiny of his diocesan superiors.
The rector of the PUCP, Marcial Rubio, said that, in a letter to the Peruvian bishops’ conference, Bertone expressed consternation at the teaching of Gutiérrez’s works at the university. “Bishop Muller says that Father Gustavo Gutiérrez is very important in the development of Catholic theology,” Rubio said. “How is it that it is wrong to read the books of Gustavo Gutiérrez here?”
Some at PUCP suspect the battle over the university’s name is not about liberation theology, but power and perhaps money.
Months before Gutiérrez fled into the Dominican order, Pope John Paul II made Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani the archbishop of Lima. A member of the conservative Opus Dei fellowship, Cipriani has been campaigning to put the PUCP firmly under the control of his archbishopric. He has the support of conservative groups in Peru who fear the university has been overrun by professors with liberal views towards homosexuality and abortion.
Luis Bacigalupo, a philosophy professor at the PUCP, believes the Vatican’s backing for Cipriani could be inspired by other concerns. The university’s campus and other real estate in Lima is worth about $300m (£186m), he said, noting the Vatican faces an economic crisis exacerbated by “multimillion-dollar payouts” in sex abuse lawsuits. He added: “There are certain conservative sectors in the Vatican who are very worried about the financial future of the church.”
For Natale Amprimo, lawyer to the archbishop of Lima, the issue is simple: “La Católica belongs to the Catholic church. The professors must fall into line with the rules of the Holy See.”
Rubio said: “We think of the university as a group of people, not the property of anyone.
“We’re defending freedom of conscience, a plural education and freedom of speech. I think our archbishop thinks we shouldn’t be that free.”
Roots of liberation theology
Liberation theology is an interpretation of Christian doctrine that stresses what it sees as the church’s duty to help emancipate the poor from social, political and economic injustice. Its roots go back to the 1950s, but the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez did not coin the term until the 1970s.
He described liberation theology as a reaction to “a continent in which more than 60% of the population lives in a state of poverty, and 82% of those find themselves in extreme poverty”. He and other proponents of this school of thought felt the church had strayed from original Christian teaching by accepting poverty’s existence.
Gutiérrez wrote: “The denunciation of injustice implies the rejection of the use of Christianity to legitimise the established order.” Many of his followers went further, taking part in direct action and aligning themselves with revolutionary movements.
In Nicaragua, priests took an active part in the Sandinista revolution that led in 1979 to the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza’s rightwing dictatorship. Several also played a role in the Marxist-inspired government that replaced it.