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Bishops Hit U.S. Backing for Contras : Body Decries Use of Central Americans as U.S.-Soviet Pawns

November 19, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The nation's Roman Catholic bishops declared today that U.S. support of the Nicaraguan Contras is a "morally flawed" policy and that Central American lives should not be used as pawns in a superpower struggle with the Soviet Union.

The bishops, on the last day of their annual meeting, agreed by voice vote to approve the broad statement on Central America after most individual bishops who wanted to either toughen or ease the statement's criticism were persuaded to withdraw proposed amendments.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston did propose that the group reject the entire document and substitute a brief statement supporting peace efforts in the region but not leveling criticism at the U.S. government.

His effort was turned down by voice vote.

Peace Plan Praised

The approved statement praises the regional peace plan signed by Central American governments last August and urges the Reagan Administration to support all such efforts.

"We have long argued that a significant U.S.-Nicaragua problem exists but only a political solution can finally be successful in Nicaragua as in Central America generally," the statement says. "There is no politically or morally acceptable military solution."

"We should not use Central American lives as pawns in a superpower struggle" with the Soviet Union, it says.

List of Amendments

A long list of proposed amendments submitted earlier revealed striking disagreements below the surface of today's document, which was approved in a form generally in line with past statements by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. But the authors of the amendments were asked by the statement's sponsors to withdraw their proposals and avoid what could have been an emotionally charged public debate.

More than a dozen amendments had been submitted by Bishop Thomas Costello of Syracuse, N.Y., who wanted the statement toughened by stripping it of many qualifying phrases such as "we believe," or "appears to be."

For example, in one section, the original statement said, "We do believe the policy of support for the Contras to be morally flawed, however sincere the intentions of the persons who have crafted and implemented it."

He wanted the sentence to read simply: "The policy of support for the Contras is immoral."

On the other hand, Bishop David Arias of Newark, N.J., wanted a five-page section on Nicaragua completely reworked, arguing, "It presents the view of one side only and, while criticizing the policy of the U.S. government, nothing is said or proposed to counteract the policy of the other great power behind the Sandinista government."

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