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Dispute re-ignites between Vatican and university

A bitter row between the Vatican and a top university is reviving an old debate.

  • John Hooper and Dan Collyns
  • Peru
  • October 29, 2012
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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.

Full Story: Peru university in Vatican battle over right to call itself Catholic

Source: The Guardian
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