The Catholic Standard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Georgetown, Guyana, is a Catholic paper unlike any other.
"City Sewerage System in Danger of Collapse," the banner headline warned with prophetic accuracy in a recent issue. Elsewhere in the same edition were articles on the nation's failure to meet production goals for rice, sugar and bauxite -- the three products crucial to the impoverished nation's econimic survival -- and on numerous human rights violations. There were reprints of accounts in British and Jamaican newspapers of fraud in Guyana's recent election, and letters from readers bitterly protesting recent killings attributed to the police.
Only four brief articles in the crudely printed eight-page weekly related to specifically religious topics.
The Catholic Church in Guyana views this unusual style of religious journalism as a needed ministry in a country where the daily press and radio stations -- there is no television -- are government-owned and "serve as organs of the ruling party" of Prime Minister Linden Forbes Burnham, according to a February human rights report from the U.S. State Department.
The Standard follows its unusual news policy "because people are starved for information," the Rev. Andrew Morrison, the editor, said in an interview during a recent visit here.
But the paper has not earned the favor of Burnham's nonaligned, socialist government. While the government has stopped short of closing down the Catholic publication -- the country's constitution guarantees freedom of speech, press and religion -- it has come close to achieving that end by other means.
Three years ago, the government-owned printing plant refused to print the Standard any longer. More recently, Morrison said, in a charge corroborated by the U.S. State Department report, the government cut off the paper's legal access to newsprint.
Functioning with makeshift printing arrangements and scrounging paper on a week-to-week basis, "We have managed to survive long after they thought we would have gone under," said Morrison. But shortly after he left Georgetown for a vacation last month, even the unofficial sources of newsprint were cut off and the paper missed its Easter issue.
Asked about Morrison's charges that the government has cut off the Standard's newsprint supply to squelch a nettlesome critic, Colin Mapp, of the Guyanese Embassy here, said last week after a consultation with officials in Georgetown that the government "has taken steps to look favorably" on the Standard's application to import paper.
Action on the application, which Morrison said has been on file since before the first of the year, would be taken "right now," Mapp said.
Morrison's assistant in Georgetown, interviewed by telephone this week, said he knew of no action on the application, but said he had just received an unexpected call informing him that he could buy for the Standard some remnants of newsprint left over by the government-owned daily, which would allow the Standard to publish once again.
Such supplies had not been available to the Standard for "two to three years," he said.
Morrison has been asking church groups in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean to pressure the Burnham government by offering to ship paper for the Standard, which is distributed principally through Georgetown churches.
The Standard's present circulation of "8-to-10 thousand" is down from its peak of 15,000, he said, but added: "Each copy is widely read, passing from hand to hand." About a quarter of the 72,000 residents of Georgetown, the nation's capital, are Catholic, he estimated.
With news stories, letters to the editor and comment reprinted from publications abroad, the paper has needled the government about a number of human rights violations. "I think we have had an enormous effect in modifying the human rights situation," Morrison said.
(Only one other publication in Guyana, The Mirror, owned by the Moscow-aligned political opposition party of Cheddi B. Jagan, is similarly independent of government control. It has the same problems with getting newsprint, according to the State Department report.)
The Burnham government's disapproval of the Standard has fallen on Morrison personally. "I have been attacked [by the government-controlled press] in the worst way," he said. Morrison, who is vicar general of the diocese as well as editor, cited one banner headline in the party newspaper calling him "The Vicar General of Lies."
Morrison and the Standard have a libel suit pending against them for printing that a high Guyanese official "violently broke up a peaceful picket line," Morrison said. "Witnesses are afraid to testify, and they will not come forward."
The diocese could survive that blow, he said. "But if we [the Standard] go under, there will be no one to report what happened."