Vatican had right to strip university of Catholic title, legal expert says

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An expert in canon law says the Vatican has acted within its rights to prohibit the Pontifical Catholic University from using the titles “Catholic” and “Pontifical.”

Gonzalo Flores Santana, a member of the Latin American Consortium on Religious Freedom, told EWTN News that the Holy See has the ability to “prohibit the use of the titles ‘Pontifical’ and ‘Catholic’ on the very basis that was clearly laid out in the decree.” 

The Vatican removed the school's Catholic credentials on July 21 after months of discussions between both sides, which began after a 2011 Vatican inspection of the university carried out by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest. He traveled to Peru, where he found the Lima-based institution at odds with the Catholic Church in several significant areas of policy.

Among other things, the recent decree from the Vatican Secretary of State said the Concordat between Peru and the Holy See allows the Church to oversee the norms of the institutions that are linked to her.

Flores said that even though the university has been stripped of its titles, “That does not mean it has ceased to be a university founded by the Church and that it should not continue to keep a canonical regimen.”

In his opinion, “It would be better for the university (and for everyone in general) that its administrators follow the Holy See’s decree (which means not issuing degrees under that name) or better yet, that they decide to modify their statutes in accord with Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” which they have refused to do.

Flores said that if the university continues to defy the Vatican, the Holy See would have to coordinate with the Peruvian Foreign Affairs Ministry in order to ensure that its decree is enforced. The international treaty between Peru and the Holy See “establishes that the Catholic Church is autonomous and independent and that the State shall guarantee respect for its canonical regimen,” he explained.

Asked what tactics university officials would employ, Flores said that “because of their rebellious behavior,” it was “likely (and also very unfortunate)” that administrators would attempt to use the courts to stall enforcement of the Vatican’s decree.

The courts in Peru “would not have the authority to address this issue because the Peruvian State has guaranteed the Church legal immunity in those matters regulated by the Treaty established between them,” Flores added.

Since the question is of an international nature, it would have to be resolved directly in accord with the rules governing international treaties according to the Vienna Convention, he said.

Even if the courts in Peru overreached and ruled on the question, “Sooner or later it would have to be resolved through the mechanisms established by international law,” the graduate of the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru said.

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