The acting head of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador, calling for an end to U.S. military aid to his country, met yesterday with Vice President Bush, Deputy Secretary of State William Clark and congressional and church leaders.
Declaring that his country is torn by "a profound social, military and political crisis" marked by "untold human suffering and countless murders," Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas said "the help that El Salvador needs must be directed to meeting the social needs" of the country through a "non-military solution."
Rivera y Damas renewed the appeal of his predecessor, the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, who shortly before his murder a little more than a year ago called for a cutoff of American military aid to the ruling junta in El Salvador. The junta has been widely criticized, particularly in church circles, for its failure to control right-wing paramilitary units which have been blamed for much of the violence in the country.
There was no immediate response from Bush or the State Department to the bishop's appeal.
In assailing the stepped-up military aid of the Reagan administration, Rivera y Damas said that "with the same emphasis I denounce and criticize the governments of Cuba and Nicaragua" and the "countries of the Soviet bloc" for supplying arms to leftist guerrillas battling for control of the country.
The 58-year-old bishop, in his stop here after a European trip that included an official visit to the Vatican, denied reports circulating in some church circles that Pope John Paul II has been less than enthusiastic about the activist role of Latin American church leaders, including Romero, in trying to deal with political turmoil there. "If you are speaking about [Romero's] ministry of speaking out in favor of the poor," he said in response to a question, "I have been encouraged [by the Vatican] to do so, and I have been encouraged to look for a specific solution" to the prolonged violence in El Salvador.
The bishop said he was "dissatisfied" by the government's efforts in tracking down the persons responsible for the slaying of three American nuns and a lay woman social worker last December. "Lately there has not been much movement" in the investigation, he said. "I personally am not satisfied with the way it is being handled."
Rivera y Damas also said "I certainly am not satisfied with the investigation" of the assassination of Romero, unsolved after more than a year.