in Lima: Opus Dei Cardinal Accuses Bishops and the Vatican Curia
Falsified letters, plots, and lies. The Church in Peru is at war.
The target is the archbishop of the capital, the first Opus cardinal.
And he´s fighting back.
by Sandro Magister
March 3, 2005
Archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, 61
ROMA - A taboo was overturned last June 15, the one that forbade
Opus Dei from having one of its own bishops in Spain. The nominee
is Jaume Pujol Balcells, new bishop of the diocese of Tarragona.
It was Paul VI who established the prohibition during the 1960´s,
with his trusted nuncio in Madrid, Giovanni Benelli. Spain is the
birthplace of Opus Dei, but in the view of pope Giovanni Battista
Montini, a Spanish bishop for Opus would inevitably have created
too much division. The organization founded by Josemaría
Escrivá de Balaguer seems destined to be either loved or
hated too much. Even with Pope John Paul II - who has great respect
for Opus; he made it a personal prelature and canonized Escrivá
- it took twenty-five years to get approval for their first bishop
In compensation, Opus Dei has long had a good number of its bishops
in Peru. There are presently seven of them there. In 2001, one of
them was made a cardinal: the archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani
Thorne, 61 (in the photo).
But judging by what has happened to him, Paul VI was right: Opus
cardinal Cipriani has landed squarely in the center of an explosive
disagreement among his admirers and detractors. And the aftershocks
reach all the way to the Vatican.
Cipriani is popular in Peru. A recent poll found his approval rating
to be at 52 percent, against a miserable 8 percent for the current
president, Alejandro Toledo. But things are different in the higher
echelons of politics, culture, and especially the Church. Here the
attacks against him are ferocious.
In a July 11 interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of the "National
Catholic Reporter," Cipriani listed one by one the attacks
of which he has been victim. And he counterattacked by accusing
other bishops, and even, to a small extent, the Vatican.
* * *
The first attack against Cipriani dates back to when he was bishop
of Ayacucho, in the Andes, the epicenter of the "Sendero Luminoso,"
Shining Path terrorists. Between 1980 and 1992, there were roughly
70,000 victims of repression and violence throughout Peru. Cipriani
was accused of having been complicit in a massacre of schoolteachers
that took place during an anti-terrorism operation. Since then,
he says, "it's one lie after another, for 16 years. Many of
these lies come from inside [the Church], not from outside. For
me this really hurts."
Fresh venom came along in 1997. Terrorists of the group Tupac Amaru
took hostages at the Japanese embassy in Lima. The ordeal lasted
four months, and Cipriani was the principal mediator between the
terrorists and Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori. The bishop was
accused of putting himself on show, of bringing spy equipment into
the embassy, of playing the double game. It all finished with an
armed assault during which 14 terrorists were killed, and Cipriani
was blamed even for this.
Today he denies all of these accusations en masse. He affirms that
the Vatican asked him to mediate: "I continued as a representative
of the Holy See, approved by the secretariat of state." But
he complains that the Vatican refused to confirm the matter in writing,
thus leaving room for malignant rumors. As for the spy equipment,
this was brought in by others, not by him. "I risked my life
day by day going in and coming out."
Third accusation. In 1999, Cipriani was promoted to be the archbishop
of Lima, and there were rumors that he had collaborated in the assassination
of his predecessor, Jesuit cardinal Augusto Vargas Alzamora, who
died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Fourth. In 2000, secretary of state Angelo Cardinal Sodano received
a letter on official stationery, and apparently signed by Cipriani.
It accused of immoral behavior two bishops who have since died:
the auxiliary of Lima, Alberto Aurelio Brazzini, and the former
archbishop of the capital, Juan Landázuri Cardinal Ricketts.
Cipriani notified Sodano that the letter was false, including the
signature, but at the secretariat of state they hesitated to believe
him, and during the bishops´ synod in 2001, while he was in
Rome, they subjected him to an embarrassing interrogation.
Fifth. Again in 2001, the Peruvian justice minister at the time,
Fernando Olivera, came to Rome asking to meet with the substitute
secretary of state, Argentinian Leonardo Sandri, and showed him
three letters seeming to prove a plot between the authors and the
ill-famed former head of Peru´s security forces and president
Fujimori´s henchman, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now in prison.
The first letter seemed to have been signed by Cipriani, and it
asks for the "elimination and incineration" of secret
videotapes that show him with Montesinos. The other two bore the
signature of the Vatican nuncio in Lima, Rino Passigato, believed
to be one of Cipriani´s supporters: the letters thank Montesinos
for a contribution of 120,000 dollars and ask him for more money.
In reality, these three letters were also false. Cipriani and the
nuncio attested to the fact, and the government also admitted it.
A judicial investigation of the affair was opened.
And Cipriani says he hopes that justice will be done and the guilty
parties found. He told Allen he is "completely convinced"
that "there are bishops involved," that the sheets of
paper used "were in the national [bishops´] conference"
and "we know who took them away." As for his counterfeited
signature, he says that the hand of the forger is the same for the
letter to Montesinos as for the one that Sodano received earlier.
But in the Vatican - Cipriani complains - they are afraid of unleashing
a scandal, and want to block the judicial investigation. Last May,
Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, prefect of the congregation for bishops,
wrote to the nuncio in Peru, Passigato, to "look for a peaceful
resolution to this problem." Cipriani comments: "They
prefer to sweep it under the rug, for not facing the truth. They
cannot block it, but they are trying."
* * *
Cardinal Cipriani doesn´t name names. But it is known who
the bishops are in Peru who are most opposed to him.
The most visible is Luis Armando Bambarén Gastelumendi,
76. Until a few months ago he was the bishop of Chimbote, and he
has been the president of the bishops´ conference. He is a
Jesuit, and thus a traditional enemy of Opus Dei. Moreover, he belongs
to the movement of liberation theology, which is the polar opposite
of the conservative strain personified by Cipriani and by Opus.
Liberation theology was born in Peru, with the book "A Theology
of Liberation," published in 1971 by Gustavo Guttierez, and
since then it has split the Peruvian Church down the middle. Guttierez,
who lives in Lima, became a Dominican friar in 1999, a few months
after Cipriani´s nomination as archbishop of the city, and
spends part of the year teaching in the United States. His being
a Dominican gives him more autonomy than he would have had as a
diocesan priest. Cipriani makes no mystery of considering him as
"faking" Dominican, with the sole purpose of evading his
Cardinal Cipriani is very critical of those whom he calls "the
followers of Gutierrez" in the bishops´ conference: "They
created a system of pastoral work that is now inside of the church,
and not only in Peru. Desacralization, making social work the first
thing to do, criticizing the magisterium, involving priests in politics:
it's a whole system, a parallel magisterium to the real magisterium.
This way of doing the Church, the pastoral work, is still going
on and is quite difficult to change."
One of Cipriani´s other implacable enemies is the archbishop
of Trujillo, Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, 66, a Franciscan.
Having become a bishop very early, at just 39, he was an auxiliary
of Lima and of the military chaplaincy, and does not hide his ambition
of becoming archbishop of the capital. He comes to Rome frequently,
and has connections at the Vatican. He gives them alarming accounts
of the ruptures in the Peruvian hierarchy, provoked, according to
him, by Cipriani.
The aim of Cipriani´s enemies is his removal, perhaps by
nomination to a post in the Vatican. But if their method is that
of discrediting him personally through false letters and unlikely
accusations, it is more probable that this will backfire against
its authors. The judicial investigation into the letters is underway,
and could set off a mini Watergate in the Peruvian Church.
On Cipriani´s side are, naturally, the other bishops of Peru
belonging to Opus Dei. These are the archbishop of Cuzco, Juan Antonio
Ugarte Pérez; the archbishop emeritus of Arequipa, Luis Sánchez-Moreno
Lira; the bishop of Chiclayo, Jesús Moliné Labarte;
the bishop of Abancay, Isidro Sala Rivera; the bishop of Chuquibamba,
Mario Busquets Jordá; and the auxiliary of Ayacucho, Gabino
Miranda Melgarejo. One more will soon be added to these: the new
bishop of Yauyos, a prelature that is now vacant, and which has
been assigned to Opus for 47 years.
link to article
The complete report from Lima by John L. Allen Jr., with his exclusive
interview with cardinal Cipriani, published in his weekly newsletter,
"The Word from Rome," dated July 16, 2004:
An historic test of the hostility against Opus Dei in the Church,
especially in its intellectual classes:
Council "Turned Upside-Down" and Opus Dei. Startling Revelations
from Giuseppe Dossetti (1.12.2003)
English translation by Matthew Sherry: firstname.lastname@example.org
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