The conservative military government of El Salvador is intensifying its persecution of the Catholic Church, Rep. Robert F. Drinan (D-Mass) said last Friday after returning from a five-day trip there.
Drinan a Jesuit Priests, said the major reason for the persecution appears to be the clergy's support for peasant groups urging economic and land reform. Sixty per cent of the country's farmland is owned by 4 per cent of its people.
Those with power in El Salvador - wealthy landowners, the business community, the military government - believe the Catholic Church is promoting a revolution among the country's 4 million landless and illiterate peasants, who comprise 90 per cent of the population.
Drinan was accompanied to El Salvador by Dr. Thomas P. Anderson, as American scholar, and John J. McAward of the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee, which financed the trip.
The Boston-based, church-backed committee began inquiring into El Salvador's human rights situation last May followign imprisonment of about 200 peasants and activists during demonstrations in which an unknown number of persons were killed.
Reading from a statement written by Drinan and endorsed by all three men, Drinan said that although the government of Gen. Carlos Romero "seeks to pride itself on the fact that no priests have been killed or deported since (he took office) July...a more subtle and more profound repression of religion now existis in El Salvador than at any time within recent memory.
"The persecution of the church may be less visible today ... But the war of the government against the rural poor is in effect a war against religion because most of the leadership in the struggle of the peasants against collective injustices comes from the 225 priests in El Salvador."
"We heard countless persons report to us that they are afraid to have the Catholic bible in the house, that they are afraid to listen to the Mass on the Catholic radio station and that will prompt retaliation against any people "known to have any association with religion," Drinan's statement said.
During a telephone interview this week, Drinan criticized the State Department's support for a $90 million Inter-American Development Bank loan for the El Salvador last November. He said the U.S. go-ahead on the loan was given because U.S. officials believed that human rights had improved there since General Romero took office. "On the basis of my trip, that's absolutely untrue," Drinan said.
The group met with Gen. Romero, other government officials, opposition leaders, labor union officials, peasants, church officials and Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero.
During the trip, Drinan's group concelebrated mass with a group rural peasants who said their priest was killed by the government last March. They held the mass in an isolated plot in a vast sugar plantation where military police could not find them.