Peru's New Cardinal Known for Standing with the Powerful

By Fraser, Barbara J. | National Catholic Reporter, March 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Peru's New Cardinal Known for Standing with the Powerful


Fraser, Barbara J., National Catholic Reporter


Peru's controversial new cardinal, Juan Luis Cipriani, longtime opponent of human rights activists in Peru, got a cool reception at his first Mass as cardinal here. The Mass was punctuated by shouts of "The church yes, Cipriani no," and "Christ is justice, not complicity."

The open-air Mass outside the cathedral in Lima's main square drew a sparse -- and conservative -- crowd March 4. Worshipers carrying banners of the militantly conservative New Catechumenate movement stood out, as did members of the fraternity dedicated to the Lord of the Miracles, Peru's most popular religious devotion, in their purple robes.

Behind the worshipers, a small group of demonstrators waved banners and chanted slogans.

The crowd occupied less than half the plaza, which pro-democracy protesters had packed several months earlier in celebration when the government of Cipriani's friend, President Alberto Fujimori, finally teetered and fell.

The demonstrations at Cipriani's first Mass since being made a cardinal in January were reminiscent of the pro-democracy protests. A group of women calling themselves Catholic Women for Dignity washed small replicas of the Vatican flag, just as women had washed the Peruvian flag in the plaza every Friday at noon for weeks after Fujimori was elected to a third term that was widely considered unconstitutional.

In a statement two days later, the Peruvian Conference of Bishops condemned the protesters' "disrespectful behavior" as an "anti-witness." They said that Pope John Paul Irs decision to include Cipriani in the newest group of cardinals "must be respected and accepted by the faithful. Therefore, no offense against [Cipriani] is justified, let alone during a sacred celebration."

Although it has often been noted that Cipriani is the world's first Opus Dei cardinal, the protests against him have less to do with his conservative theology than with his politics.

As bishop of Ayacucho, the small city in the central highlands that was the epicenter of terrorist activity by Peru's Mao-inspired Shining Path, from 1980 to 1992, Cipriani hobnobbed with military officers accused of human rights violations and hurled insults at human rights organizations.

On several occasions, Cipriani called human rights groups "useful fools" and in a 1991 interview with the daily newspaper, El Comercio, he said, "Most human rights organizations are just covering the tails of political movements, almost all of them Marxist and Maoist."

In the 1980s, during the governments of presidents Fernando Belaunde and Alan Garcia, the military waged a dirty war against the Shining Path in the highlands. Typically, a terrorist column would enter a rural community, hold a "people's trial," execute local authorities and request food, medicine and shelter. Anyone who refused to provide aid would be killed. Soon after the column left, a military patrol would arrive, and soldiers would torture, kill or "disappear" anyone suspected of collaborating with the terrorists.

Cipriani defended the military's actions in one of the most notorious massacres. It occurred in Cayara, a village in his Ayacucho diocese, apparently in revenge for a Shining Path ambush of a military patrol. …

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