A leading U.S. church organization said today that it was to have been an intermediary in an agreement to repatriate a 6-year-old Cuban boy at the center of an international custody dispute.

A spokeswoman for the National Council of Churches said the deal to return the boy, Elian Gonzalez, fell apart for unexplained reasons in mid-December. But the council will send two representatives to Cuba on Sunday to meet with Elian's father and grandparents and with U.S. and Cuban government officials, in hopes of securing the boy's return, council spokeswoman Carol Fouke said.

"Our concern is humanitarian, not political," said Joan Brown Campbell, who was the council's executive director for nine years and will make the trip with the Rev. Oscar Bolioli.

"We hold that except in cases of abuse, children are best served when they are with their parents, and all indications are that this is a good, loving father," Campbell said. "Those who say Elian should stay in the United States because the way of life is better, ignore the meaning of family."

Elian was rescued off the coast of Florida on Nov. 25 and is living with relatives in Miami. He had clung to an inner tube for two days after a boat full of Cubans capsized during an attempt to enter Florida illegally. His mother and 10 other people drowned.

Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who was divorced from the mother, wants his son returned to his home town of Cardenas.

The boy's Miami relatives have applied for political asylum on his behalf, claiming he would face persecution in Cuba.

When the Immigration and Naturalization Service canceled a Dec. 21 hearing on the boy's fate, his father asked the council to intervene, council officials said.