Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Peru: Cardinal Cipriani’s candidacy as head of CEP rejected

Its election time for the Latin American episcopates. 

After Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, in Peru too bishops have chosen the new figure who will head the Peruvian Episcopal Conference (CEP) for the next three years. 

The results offer a precious key to re-reading tensions and deciphering the prevalent sensibilities that are play in the heart of Peruvian Catholicism.

The 99th plenary assembly of Peruvian bishops which has been in progress in Lima since last Friday, elected Mgr. Salvador Piñeiro Garcia-Calderon – who has been Archbishop of Ayacucho since last August - as the new President of the Episcopal Conference, last Wednesday morning. 

CEP’s new 63 year old president has more of a pastoral than an academic profile. He has worked as parish priest, professor of theology and seminary rector before going on to become vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lima and then castrensian bishop in 2001.

This choice appears to be highly consistent with that of his predecessor Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, the Franciscan Archbishop of Trujillo who presided over the Episcopal Conference for two mandate periods. 

The man chosen to flank Piñeiro as first Vice-President is the Jesuit Pedro Barreto Jimeno, Archbishop of Huankayo, known for his commitment to social and environmental questions and recently nominated President of CELAM’s justice and solidarity department. CELAM is the continental organisation that encompasses all Latin American Episcopates). 

The post of second Vice-President will be held by the Archbishop of Arequipa, Javier Del Rio Alba who is linked to the Neocatechumenal Way.

The selection of the bishops of Peru is of particular significance if one bears in mind the composition and internal dynamics of the Peruvian Episcopate compared also to other Latin American Churches. Among the 48 members of this national Episcopal body, 14 belong to movements and “new” ecclesiastical entities. 

Two are from the Sodalicio De Vida Cristiana, two are members of the Neocatechumenal Way and as many as 10 of them belong to the Opus Dei. Among them is also Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, Archbishop of Lima and a dominant communications figure within the Peruvian Church.

This is the umpteenth time that Cardinal Cipriani himself can be considered the defeated party in an election round. During the vote to select a candidate for the post of president, he won 21 votes while Piñeiro got 24, plus there were two blank votes. 

Before his first electoral defeat, Cipriani ran as a “strong” candidate for the first vice-presidency as well but was beaten by Bareto on that occasion. 

For the fourth time since Cipriani became Primate of the Peruvian Church, the majority of Peruvian bishops rejected his candidacy for the role of leader of the CEP. Indeed, bishops did not co-opt for any member of the Opus Dei clergy to take the reins.
 
The electoral outcome raises old questions once again as to the internal dialectics of the Peruvian Episcopate. Indeed, the figure and performance of Cipriani has been the cause of heated tensions and division in the Peruvian Church for over fifteen years. 

The son of two Opus Dei supernumeraries, he became cardinal and has been dominating the field of communications with such protagonism that it seems eccentric in comparison to the usually reserved style of the spiritual sons of Sant’Escrivá. Even over the past year he has been at the centre of fiery controversies. 

Last spring, during the presidential election campaign, when the leftist candidate Ollanta Humala – who ended up winning – attacked his antagonist, Keiko Fujimori, rubbing into his face the fact that his father (the former president Alberto Fujimori) had carried out forced sterilisation on indigenous women during the second half of the ‘90s, Cipriani – who presented himself as a staunch defender of the right to life – defended the rightist candidate, accusing Humala of dealing “a cheap shot”.

After that indirect endorsement by the Cardinal, CEP’s President at the time Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte intervened to clarify that Cipriani’s statements were “made in a private capacity” and were not representative of the Church’s position in the Andean country. 

Even the Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, got involved, and in a stinging attack in the Spanish newspaper El País, described Cipriani as a “representative of the Church’s worst tradition, its authoritarian and obscurantist tradition.”

In recent months, Peruvian newspapers have written about the bitter arguments between the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and the cardinal, who has demanded that the Archdiocese of Lima put him in charge of the university. This intense wrestling led to Rome sending an apostolic visitor – the Hungarian cardinal Péter Erdő – to the country. This only added to the case against Cipriani and Peruvian bishops saw it as the umpteenth proof of his intention expand his influence.

The accusations made against Cipriani have taken on a slanderous tone on more than one occasion in the past. He wrote numerous compromising letters that were sent to the Vatican as “evidence” and which he has always denounced as products of manipulation.

Rumours even started going round about his involvement in the alleged murder of his predecessor, the Jesuit Augusto Vargas Alzamora who died of a brain haemorrhage. 

Once a basketball player for Peru’s national basketball team, he has always defended himself with athletic verve. Always going by the Church motto oportet ut scandala eveniant. It is better to quarrel than to encourage unanimous outward conformity, possibly criticising those bishops who according to him were “Gutierrez followers”. 

Gutierrez was a Peruvian theologian who was considered the “noble father” of the Freedom Theology.

Personal differences aside, what has been called into question now is the structure which has for a long time conditioned ecclesiastic dynamics in Latin America (and not only), particularly during Wojtyla’s Pontificate: a structure that aimed at select groups and militant elites to give back to the Church a defence force that could be culturally influential on the public scene too. 

This often offended dominant ideas within Latin American ecclesiastical sensibility, which were accused outright of favouring liberationist ideas.

 In actual fact, this preferential stance often ended up gangrening controversial polarisations and exacerbating power struggles between opposing Episcopal blocs. This, in addition to the mutual excommunications spread the venom further and in some cases compromised a healthy and natural appreciation of charisma. While this downward spiral reached feverish levels in Peru, in other contexts there was a move towards a unification of all the different ecclesiastical sensibilities.

Now, with the appeal to “pastoral conversion” made at the last Latin American Episcopal assembly in Aparecida, the power framework according to which militant groups hand out orthodoxy certificates, dividing the ecclesiastical body into “friends” and “enemies” seems even more outdated. 

The image of the Church offering itself to everyone as “a searching mother, a welcoming home” put forward during the meeting in Aparecida is not quite in tune with the spectacle put on by a clerical body that is too busy fighting a tug of war for internal command.

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