The U.S. Catholic Conference, national action arm of Roman Catholic bishops, said Thursday it will rid itself of $5.3 million in investments in American firms continuing to do business in South Africa.

The South African government has not attempted "to enter into serious and substantial negotiations with legitimate black leaders" nor made "significant progress toward dismantling the system of apartheid," the bishops said.

The Catholic announcement came one day after the Rev. Leon Sullivan, creator of the Sullivan Principle, a code of conduct for U.S. business in South Africa, acknowledged the failure of the guidelines to significantly alter apartheid and called on all U.S. firms to end their ties with the white minority-ruled nation.

In a review of events in South Africa, the bishops' report said that "the outcome of the recent 'whites only' election and the new restrictive measures enacted by the government indicate that grave abuse of human rights continues and that the situation is likely to deteriorate even further."

The report also recommends that 185 local dioceses and Catholic institutions that have investments in U.S. firms doing business in South Africa consider divestment.

"Prudent and fiscally responsible" divestment of approximately $18 million held by the conference in firms doing business in South Africa began last September but the bishops held out the possibility of ending the program if it found "significant" progress in ending aparthied.

The report urging the speedy conclusion of the process was written by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan of New York City, Archbishop Edward O'Meara of Indianapolis and Auxiliary Bishops Joseph A. Francis of Newark, and Rene A. Valero of New York City.

"It is clear on human, moral and political grounds that change must come within South Africa," the report said. "Nations and institutions that have a relationship with South Africa are part of the political and moral drama being played out in that nation."

The bishops said they addressed the issue of South African investments "as bishops and pastors of a church whose religious and moral teaching is daily contradicted by apartheid" and also as "citizens of a nation that exercises a significant influence in South African society."