In mid-August the Congregation for Education of the Holy See ordered the university to align its charter to the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities and higher education institutes, of which there are 1,358 around the world. The constitution was introduced in 1990 by the late Pope John Paul II. The PCUP was founded in 1917 with prior approval from the Vatican. In 1942 it received the honorific title of 'apostolic' awarded to those that are closest to the Holy See.
The statutory amendments requested by the Vatican include guaranteeing the university's catholic identity and its dependence on the Holy See. The changes were "necessary and unavoidable", said the Vatican in a document it issued. University administrators and students are upset over a clause establishing the right of the church to participate in the appointment of senior positions. University authorities and students have been invoking a 1980 agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Peru that establishes that the university must conform to Peruvian not canonic law. "According to Peruvian law, it is the assembly that elects the rector," said Marcial Rubio, Rector of PCUP.
But the conflict between the university and the church is not new and goes deeper than who appoints the rector. Rubio accuses Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, a member of the controversial Catholic group Opus Dei, of trying to take over the university. "He disagrees with us and thinks we are not Catholic," Rubio told the Peruvian press. He also accuses the cardinal of focussing on gaining power and acquiring more funds. Cipriani shot back: "I think the university is distorting the issue, nobody wants to take away their autonomy, nor their money nor anything." He also denied that Opus Dei is seeking influence in the university. "It is like mixing sweet potatoes with pork cracklings just to create confusion. I have to say that their intentions are not honourable," the cardinal added.
The disagreement over the university statutes have exacerbated a long-dating dispute between Lima's archbishopric and the PCUP over the ownership and administration of properties bequeathed to the university in 1944 by José de la Riva-Aguero. Riva-Aguero's testament established that the legacy should be jointly administered by a church-university committee for the first 20 years and exclusively by the latter after that. A university brief about the conflict states that "the cardinal is now seeking to go back to the 1944 joint administration".
In turn, Cipriani and his spokesmen have accused the university of using its political influence to reverse a constitutional court resolution of March 2010 that went against them. The court dismissed a university petition seeking protection against threats to its autonomy and property rights posed by the Archbishop of Lima. The matter is now before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after university authorities, faculty and student representatives filed a petition last year claiming that the Constitutional Court of Peru has violated provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Who controls the university's property would become an issue if the university lost its denomination as Catholic. "If their rebellion goes on, the church could forbid them to use the name of Catholic. I cannot say I'm Catholic and govern myself as I deem fit," said Natale Aprimo, the lawyer of Lima's archbishopric. There are different views over the implications.
According to the PCUP's constitution, if it closes down "its property will go to the Archbishopric of Lima". But rector Rubio says there is a legal impediment against this course of action. The university assembly is backing him. In an extraordinary meeting on 19 August the assembly expressed its support for "the current model expressed in its statutes" and its "wish to preserve the university's autonomy and property rights over its patrimony". An assembly commission appointed to study the statutory changes demanded by the Vatican will report in a month.
"It is highly likely that the assembly will reject the statutory changes on the archbishop's terms. These go against the identity of the institution and the way it's governed," Luis Peirano, PCUP's Academic Director of Institutional Relations, told University World News.