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Catholic Bishops to Visit Nicaragua and El Salvador

February 15, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Leading U.S. Roman Catholic bishops will leave next weekend on a new fact- finding tour of Nicaragua and El Salvador, two countries where the bishops’ national organization has found fault with U.S. government policies, a spokesman said Friday.

The trip is new evidence of American Catholic leaders’ rising interest in Latin America. It comes just a month after other touring bishops complained to Cuban President Fidel Castro of discrimination against Cuban Catholics and about six months after another prominent bishop visited Nicaragua and talked with Daniel Ortega, now leader of the Sandinista government.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has called repeatedly for a cutoff of U.S. military aid to rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government or to the Salvadoran government in its own battle against leftist guerrillas.

The bishops conference ″firmly supports economic assistance, providing it can be distributed within the constraints of human rights,″ spokesman Robert Wonderly said Friday.

He said the contingent will be led by Archbishop John O’Connor of New York, chairman of the bishops’ committee on social development and world peace, and include Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas.

They are to arrive in Managua, Nicaragua, on Feb. 24, travel to San Salvador on Feb. 27 and return home on March 2.

Both nations are traditionally heavily Catholic, but the church has not been immune from the turmoil that has gripped the area in recent years.

Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul-Minneapolis said recently that Nicaraguan church leaders complained of harassment by the leftist government during his visit last August, and he said he personally objected to Ortega.

In another sign of deep church divisions in the area, several priests serving as high officials in Ortega’s government have been suspended from the priesthood by Pope John Paul II.

In El Salvador, religious as well as political reverberations are still being felt from the 1980 slayings of four American Catholic churchwomen.

The American bishops are making their ″pastoral visit″ at the invitation of bishops in the two Central American nations, and there has been no word of possible meetings with government officials during the tour.

During the week, the Americans will also meet with fellow bishops from a regional organization representing Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama as well as El Salvador and Nicaragua.

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