Academics at Rome's Tor Vergata University are in uproar over plans to build a Roman Catholic church in the centre of the campus.
A petition already signed by 130 out of 1,000 lecturers at the university has been addressed to the rector, the city authorities and Cardinal Ruini, vicar of Rome, asking that the church be placed in a less conspicuous position.
The petition reads: "The erection of a Catholic place of worship within the confines of a university of the state, which by its very nature should be non-religious and pluralistic, arouses serious reservations."
The decision to build a chapel was taken in 1992 when many academics anticipated that it would occupy a room within a larger building. Then, a few months ago, it emerged that a large piazza was to be built in the centre of the campus, dominated by the chapel, a building in its own right.
The controversy has exploded in the middle of the church's celebration of its millennium jubilee. The jubilee, with its large programme of events in and around Rome, is perceived by many Italians as a means by which the church is attempting to extend its presence into all areas of society. A typical example is World Gay Pride week, which the Vatican has strongly opposed on the grounds that it clashes with the jubilee.
Francesco Piva, professor of contemporary history at Tor Vergata, said: "It is also not clear why, in a nation in which Catholicism is no longer the religion of the state, as it was under Mussolini, and in which there are large numbers of atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Protestants and so on, the university could not have a non-denominational chapel."
Tor Vergata's rector, Alessandro Finazzi Agr, is in America and a pro rector refused to comment.