High level Roman catholic officials stepped up efforts yesterday to break the impasse in the 10-day-long fast by radical activist Mitch Snyder and the refusal of Holy Trinity Church to yield to his demand that it give more money to the poor.
Pressure mounted on both sides in the bitter confrontation that left the Catholic community here torn with anguish. Snyder reportedly continued to weaken as Catholic leaders urged more flexiblity by the two sides and a willingness to negotiate a settlement.
Emissaries of both the Archdiocese of Washington, which has administrative authority over Holy Trinity, and the Jesuit Province for the area, which supplies the Jesuit clergy for the church, have recently visited Holy Trinity and members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence who are supporting Snyder's fast.
"We're involved in discussions with both groups," said the Rev. Maurice Fox, director of communications for the archdiocese.
"We've been encouraging resumption of negotiations" in the nearly year-long feud between Holy Trinity and CCNV over financial priorities for the poor, said the Rev. James Collings, spokesman for the Very Rev. J. A. Panuska, Jesuit provincial for the area in Baltimore.
The 19-member Holy Trinity parish council, which triggered CCNV protests last year when it announced a $400,000 building improvement program for the aging church at 36th and O streets NW in Georgetown, scrapped an effort to hold an emergency session yesterday on Snyder's fast. It is scheduled to meet tonight, however, for its regular monthly session.
Snyder and other members of CCNV have contended that some of the building improvements are not essential and should be deferred. They have asked the church instead to make a "corporate commitment" to the poor that is "at least as great as its attention to its own parish."
Parish council members say the building repairs are essential to safety and "appropriate worship" in the building. They have refused to reduce the $400,000, noting that most of it has been pledged by individual parish members and cannot be diverted without their consent.
Though church officials were reluctant yesterday to discuss details of the reconciliation effort, it is known that the Most Rev. Thomas W. Lyons, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, visited Snyder Monday and spoke to CCNV members at their communal house at 1345 Euclid St. NW.
Also, the Rev. William Waters, an assistant to the Jesuit provincial in Baltimore, visited both CCNV and Holy Trinity leaders.
Snyder, weakened since he announced his totoal fast Dec. 24, was removed from the Euclid Street house late Monday to an undisclosed location after a psychiatrist attempted unsuccessfully to have him committed to a hospital for forced feeding.
The psychiatrist, who asked not to be identified, said he was acting on his own initiative without a court order and was not acting on any request of Holy Trinity.
Medical authorites say Snyder, who is 35, could live 12 to 20 days without food or drink.
In an effort to break the impasse, Panuska, the Jesuit provincial, issued a statement urging Snyder to terminate his fast and at the same time asking Holy Trinity to review its building improvement program and "consider ways of intensifying its outreach to the poor."
Fasting to death "is unjustified in this situation and is an obstacle to legitimate dialogue and movement," Panuska said.
"It's a mess," said Collins in Baltimore. "It's causing an awful lot of pain to the parishioners and to CCNV."
"I'm kind of speechless," said Fox of the archdiocese. "It's such a delicate and tragic thing if this man should die."
Collins said a stumbling block has been the failure of CCNV to be more specific in its demands beyond a "general commitment" to the poor by Holy Trinity. Some CCNV members suggested recently that, rather than diverting an unspecified amount of the building improvement fund to the poor, Holy Trinity could turn part of its closed high school building into a social service center. Such a proposal might be acceptable, they said.
In the final analysis, Snyder said recently, "while there are people starving in the streets, Holy Trinity has an obligation to help stop that before it fixes up its building and repairs its organ." He said his fast serves as an example of the starvation caused by Holy Trinity's inaction.
Holy Trinity members have variously called the fast "unwarranted blackmail" and an "act of arrogance." One prominent parishioner said Holy Trinity has become a "superb target for CCNV because it is the most glamorous, visible, liberal Roman Catholic institution in the city."
While Snyder remained yesterday in a secret location with a handful of close CCNV friends, a support group of 20 to 25 activists continued a liquid-only fast with hourly prayers and scriptual readings at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church at 16th and Newton streets NW. The group, including Catholic antiwar leaders Philip and Dan Berrigan, said in a statement it hoped "to bring reconciliation" between CCNV and Holy Trinity.