LIMA, Peru – The Pontifical Catholic University of Peru has been caught up in a legal dispute over who controls it.
The university, widely accepted as the leading academic institution in Lima, has built a reputation of liberalism and activism for human rights. It is built on property bequeathed by Jose de la Riva Aguero, a historian and intellectual who died in 1944.
The head of the Lima Archdiocese, currently Cardinal Juan Cipriani Thorne, has the honorary title of university chancellor, and the Peruvian bishops’ conference designates five members of the university’s governing assembly.
However, Riva left several different wills with different instructions about how his legacy was to be controlled.
His 1933 will said that for 20 years after his death, his property was to be administered by a board of one representative designated by the head of the Archdiocese of Lima and one representative designated by the university rector; then the property was to be owned exclusively by the university.
However, his 1938 will said the board was to perpetually administer the property.
In 1994 the board’s two members issued a statement relinquishing control over the legacy to the university, but the board continues to exist.
The current dispute was triggered by the university’s sale of land in February to a Catholic high school that had rented the sold plot for about 20 years.
Walter Munoz Cho, administrative board representative from the Archdiocese of Lima, sent letters to the university rector objecting to the sale and demanding the right to audit the university’s finances.
University officials saw Munoz’s demands as an effort to control the university, and they went to court to block his efforts.
Cardinal Cipriani said he has no desire to take property from the university, but added the administrative board should be informed of every decision affecting the inheritance.
“As archbishop I have the obligation to protect the university’s use of the inheritance,” he said during his weekly radio program.
In a commentary published in El Comercio newspaper, Cardinal Cipriani wrote that the “sense of every Catholic university is to provide society with a doctrinal Christian education based on the content of faith.”
That “is the reason for the legacy of Riva Aguero,” he wrote.
Sinesio Lopez, a sociology professor at the university, said Cardinal Cipriani, a member of the personal prelature Opus Dei, wanted to control the university and turn it “into an Opus Dei chapel.” Opus Dei in Peru issued a statement calling the claims “absolutely false.”
Cardinal Cipriani has publicly objected to some of the university’s sexual morality issues, such as a gay student group’s participation in a campus event. He also criticized a university survey that found most Lima residents believed that couples should live together before marrying and that a woman need not remain a virgin until marriage.
“I found (that survey) very strange, above all coming from” the university, Cardinal Cipriani said. “Their obligation as Catholic University is to provide a moral evaluation and the church’s teaching about the institution of marriage and the family.”