ROME, February 21, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a highly unusual move, the Vatican curia’s highest official, the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, has reportedly corrected the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a dispute over a rebel Peruvian university. According to a report by La Stampa’s Vatican Insider magazine, Cardinal Bertone and a meeting of high-level Vatican officials have declared that a letter by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller to Cardinal Juan Cipriani Thorne, the archbishop of Lima, Peru, is “null and void” and that Cardinal Cipriani’s actions against the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PCUP) were correct and within the precepts of Canon Law.

Vatican Insider reports that a controversy has flared within the Vatican over the actions taken by the Secretariat of State and Cardinal Cipriani against PCUP, whose theology department is known for opposing Catholic teaching on homosexuality and abortion.

The university received a papal decree dated July 11, 2012 from Cardinal Bertone withdrawing the titles “Pontifical” and “Catholic” and rescinding the licenses of the theology faculty to teach Catholic doctrine in the name of the Church. But the professors appealed to the CDF and Müller, who had been a student of Liberation Theology founder Gustavo Gutiérrez, a PCUP professor with whom Müller has had a long and close friendship.

The Vatican Insider says that Müller, an outsider to Vatican curial procedures, wrote a personal letter to Cardinal Cipriani reportedly without consulting his own staff in the CDF, bypassing the normal channels of the Peruvian nunciature. The letter, the text of which was published in part by the Peruvian press, told Cipriani that he had no right to revoke the university’s status. Müller demanded an explanation for the decision to not renew the licenses of theology professors. Müller had, moreover, told the university theology department to carry on teaching in the name of the Church, indicating that the issue is not yet closed in the Vatican.

Bertone reportedly responded to the letter by calling a meeting of high officials in the Vatican who rebuked Müller’s interference. Bertone said that Canon Law is clear that it is the prerogative of the local bishop to grant or revoke the teaching license of any individual or institution proposing to teach Catholic theology.

At the time of his appointment, Archbishop Müller was widely perceived to be sympathetic to theologians involved in Liberation Theology, a synthesis of Christian ideas and Marxism that was censured in the 1980s and ‘90s by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Müller, a close collaborator with Ratzinger, came to Rome in July 2012 at Pope Benedict’s request from the archdiocese of Regensburg. His friendly relationship with PCUP is highlighted by his reception in 2008 of a doctorate honoris causa from the university.

The controversy comes at a time of extreme delicacy in the life of the Vatican, with scandal swirling around the unpopular Bertone, the pope resigning and a looming conclave that could change the entire curial landscape.

Müller’s sidestepping of the Secretariat of State, formally above the CDF in the Vatican’s hierarchy, and in defiance of a papally approved decree is a major breach of protocol. The rebuke from Bertone’s Secretariat of State to the CDF is being seen in Rome as a serious blow to the authority and prestige of the recently appointed Müller, and indirectly to Pope Benedict. It is being called another indicator of the state of near-chaos and rivalry that prevails in the Vatican.

The university administration and theology faculty has remained defiant, claiming the university has a right to the name Catholic, and say they have no plans to change it. A former PCUP rector, Salomon Lerner Febres wrote on January 13th in La República, that the decree is a “decision not in line with the spirit of the Gospel” aimed not at promoting Catholic doctrinal orthodoxy, but at suppressing Liberation Theology.

Cardinal Cipriani, the university’s Great Chancellor, issued the decree after months of talks between the archdiocese and Rome, but the problems date back decades. Founded in 1917, the Vatican says that since 1967 the university “has on various occasions unilaterally modified its statutes, seriously prejudicing the interests of the Church.”

The Vatican and the local Church have been trying to bring PUCP back into line with Catholic teaching since at least 1990 when Pope John Paul II promulgated the law on Catholic universities, the Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”. As of today, the university still bills itself as the “Pontifical Catholic University of Peru”.

Andres Alvarez Beltramo wrote for Vatican Insider that the “very existence of the letter” was seen at the university as “an encouragement” for the rector Marcial Rubio and his collaborators, who have long refused the requests of Church officials to comply with the Vatican’s requests.

See previous LifeSiteNews reports:

Vatican gives ultimatum to wayward Catholic university: conform to Church law by April 8

Ultraliberal Catholic University and Vatican at an “impasse”

Pro-abortion university defiant in face of Vatican ruling stripping it of ‘Catholic’ name