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All the Difference: The Former Pontifical University of Peru

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 23, 2012

Today the Vatican has finally revoked the right of a Peruvian university to use the terms “pontifical” and “Catholic” in its name. It took an incredible twenty-two years for this disciplinary measure to be taken. There are several important angles to the story.

Most important is the spiritual angle. Let us pause for a moment to recognize the spiritual implications of this situation. We have the souls of those who have been long involved in an act of rebellion against the Holy See, the Archbishop of Lima, and the Catholic faith in general. We have the souls of all those charged with trying to end this rebellion for the good of the Church. And we have the souls of all students and other university followers who have been and may continue to be misled spiritually based on the false teachings of the dissident faculty at the school. None of this is to be taken lightly.

In addition, throughout the world, and especially in Catholic universities, we have the souls of all those who keep an eye on affairs such as this to see whether the Catholic Church is maintaining good spiritual discipline, or whether it continues to be safe to defy the Church while claiming the Catholic name. In Catholic academia, it has been a long time since effective ecclesiastical governance has threatened the position of those, particularly Modernists, who dissent from Catholic teaching in culturally fashionable ways.

Now all of these souls are important, but we must never forget that every teacher reaches and influences many students. These students ought to be regarded as relatively innocent injured parties when it comes to teachers who abuse their positions in Catholic institutions to teach, under the Catholic name, ideas that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. It is, therefore, a primary responsibility of the Pope, bishops, and administrators in Catholic educational institutions to ensure first and foremost the rights of these students to the authentic doctrine of the Church, which affects so profoundly both their earthly lives and their eternal destiny.

When we see that it has taken twenty-two years for discipline to be imposed on the former Pontifical University of Peru, we might well be dismayed. I won’t say we should be astonished, because we know only too well that the norm over the past fifty years has been to do little or nothing to preserve the integrity of Catholic academic institutions. It really is dismaying that it has taken so long, but the astonishment (if there is any) can only come from the fact that something has finally, at long, long last, been done.

Happily, this is simply more evidence of a very important trend. It is becoming increasingly clear with each passing month that Pope Benedict XVI places a high priority on ecclesiastical discipline, and that he believes the time is ripe to successfully strengthen it. In his short pontificate, he has turned his attention (often through Apostolic Visitations) to wayward bishops, sexual abuse, the celebration of the liturgy, the Church in Ireland, American seminaries and houses of formation, American women religious, religious communities such as the Legion of Christ and the Jesuits, and particular theologians. In many and probably most of these cases, the Pope has already achieved or is likely to achieve some significant Catholic improvement through improved discipline.

I won’t backtrack here to explain why I think this new emphasis on discipline has taken so long to develop, and I certainly understand that we have a very long way to go. But this new spirit is filtering down from the pope to the bishops around the world, as always happens. The result is an escalating trend for which all Catholics of good will ought to be profoundly grateful. It means the rights of the faithful to the manifold goods of the Church are being far more frequently and effectively upheld. This is the key juridical element of what I have been calling the spiritual angle.

Again, of course, there are other angles. These mostly revolve around the implementation of effective sanctions. The Church has no police force. She cannot arrest and remove the cowardly academicians who wish to be lionized by the world as dissidents while preserving their Catholic sinecures. Here she must rely for help on civil authorities, if civil laws have also been violated, or on economic pressure brought by the benefactors of the institutions in question, or in some rare cases, on a well-formed public opinion.

In many regions, including the United States, it is very hard to change the course of a once Catholic university rapidly. Direct, legally-enforceable ecclesiastical governance is rare, civil laws do not operate in favor of Catholic principles, and trustees cannot be relied upon to be significantly more committed as Catholics than the universities themselves. Nonetheless, the stripping of the Catholic name remains marvelously clarifying, and will often have an impact on institutional development (that is, on fundraising). Clarity in itself is extremely important, for it enables those who do care—students, parents, guidance counselors, scholarship sponors, potential donors, and even journalists—to be properly on their guard.

The Peruvian case is more immediately interesting because of a special provision, made by the original land donor, that if the university ever lost its pontifical status, title to the land would revert to the Archdiocese of Lima. Rarely does the Church have such a powerful material weapon at her disposal in such controversies. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

Regardless of the outcome, however, I wish to say again that clarity all by itself is absolutely vital. It is always a sufficient goal for an ecclesiastical judgment because it is a significant service to the truth. Moreover, even when the Church cannot arrange things completely to her liking, she can usually attract publicity, especially when there is a quarrel. Such controversies provide incomparable teaching moments.

I would say, therefore, that Church leaders have been consistently wrong over the past generation or two to obscure the breach of Catholic trust which is characteristic of situations like this. To be sure, there are dangers in ill-considered condemnations and evidence must be carefully gathered and sifted. But for too long now both pope and bishops have deliberately avoided the simple expedient of calling people and institutions out. Thankfully, that is changing. In the long run, it will make all the difference.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jul. 23, 2012 6:39 PM ET USA

    Exd 17:12 "But Moses' hands [were] heavy; and they took a stone, and put [it] under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun." So it was with Moses...., so should it be with Benedict... Amen

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