he controversial Legal Aid office of the San Salvador Archdiocese has been ordered closed by Acting Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas because of serious political differences with the church leadership over its approach to fighting human rights abuses in El Salvador.
Legal Aid has shared its facilities with the Salvadoran Human Rights Commission in a little structure behind the archbishop's offices. Both organizations have been told to vacate the premises in the next two weeks, according to a spokesman for Legal Aid.
Rivera y Damas, who has worked to establish a middle road for the church among the violently conflicting sides of the Salvadoran civil war, took pains last year to distance himself publicly from Legal Aid, which had worked closely with his predecessor, archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980.
Legal Aid, along with the Human Rights Commission, reports on atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed armed forces here. The Salvadoran government and U.S. officials have accused the two organizations of exaggerating their statistics and being allied to leftist insurgents fighting the government.
Legal Aid's original function, to supply legal services and advice to El Salvador's poor, especially those who are victims of government abuses, may be taken over by a new staff or organization, a Legal Aid spokesman said.
The spokesman, who asked that his name not be published, said that Legal Aid was offered the opportunity to maintain some sort of nominal affiliation with the church.
"But that wouldn't work," he added.
"What would be the point? We won't even have the partial security we have here," he said, referring to the protection from political violence afforded by their presence on church property.