Patrick Carney and his brother James became priests to help the poor, and both ran headlong into a wall of church conservatism. Patrick gave up and married. James embraced a controversial, radical doctrine as a missionary, earning the love of his peasant flock and the wrath of the Honduran army.
One day, during the dregs of America's tropical Cold War, Father James Carney marched into the jungle with an ill-starred column of leftist guerrillas. The offensive ended quickly in captures and executions during a U.S.-aided Honduran army sweep in 1983.
That is the last trace Patrick, who lives in Los Angeles, has of his brother, though he and his five sisters have begged--and even sued--U.S. agencies to try to uncover his fate.
Finally, just before Halloween last year, the CIA sent the Carneys a declassified report, but it only opened a new Pandora's box of ghoulish confusion:
Depending on the account, Honduran soldiers tortured and dismembered the 58-year-old priest. Or he died of starvation. Or a Honduran soldier tucked Carney's skull into his knapsack--or maybe his entire head. Or he was thrown alive from a helicopter.
Most frustrating, the names of those who might know for sure--those who describe Carney's body and the tortures and executions of his companions--are blacked out, turning potential leads into dead ends.
The Carneys are not the first American family to find themselves lost in a maze of denials and shrugs when U.S. officials are confronted by evidence that implicates their anti-Communist allies in the death of a U.S. citizen. The families of three American nuns and a lay worker raped and murdered in El Salvador heard Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggest that the women had run a roadblock and got themselves in trouble. The efforts of the family of Charles Horman to trace what became of him during the 1973 military coup in Chile were made into the movie "Missing."
Patrick Carney is planning to appeal to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California for help. The Carneys would at least like to give James a Christian burial--if someone would only tell them where to find his remains.
The Carneys' renewed effort comes at a time of criticism for a U.S. Cold War agenda that placed fighting leftist insurgency ahead of human rights in Latin America. Documentation is emerging of how U.S. officials downplayed or denied information on massacres of unarmed civilians, torture and executions--even murders of U.S. citizens--by anti-Communist military allies in hot spots such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Chile.
"I think people in the Reagan administration know what happened to my brother. The Honduran army certainly knows," said Patrick, 72. "Somebody in the CIA knows more than they've told us."
Most Honduran officers involved in the 1983 sweep reportedly are still alive. And why was the Honduran army able to recover his brother's wooden chalice, Bible and stole--but not his body?
Patrick and his sisters, all seniors, cannot wait much longer.
"Our brother should be properly buried in Honduras, where he was so loved," said Virginia Carney Smith, 79, a mother of 12 and grandmother of 33 in Beverly Hills, Mich. "We'll never stop searching. It has become a part of our lives."
Dreams of Social Justice
James Francis Carney's religious journey ended in a hushed, river-laced rain forest where toucans nest and jaguars roam.
It began in Depression-era Chicago and St. Louis, where his Irish Catholic father was a salesman. The Carney kids were steeped in the kind of religious fervor that moves children to identify with the Christian martyrs of 2,000 years ago. James was 17 months older than Patrick, but the youths were so close and looked so much alike that they were often confused.
So it was no surprise when, after the brothers' World War II army stints and a St. Louis-to-Los Angeles hitchhiking lark, James enrolled at St. Stanislaus Seminary near St. Louis. Patrick followed. They were ordained together in 1961 and joined the Jesuits' Latin American mission.
Along the way, their faith was tested: by white priests who were cool to black children; by bishops in Colombia whose cozy relationship with the aristocracy mocked the brothers' dreams of social justice.
After Colombia, Patrick quit in disgust, but James became more determined to become an apostle of the poor.
When James was assigned to Honduras in 1964, he began a "complete metamorphosis of my whole mentality," he wrote in his autobiography. Based in the northern town of Progreso, Carney adopted the name Padre Guadalupe, after Mexico's virgin patroness. He drove from village to village, celebrating Mass and officiating at weddings and baptisms. He took up a machete and worked side by side with the dirt-poor peasants and even became a Honduran citizen to show he shared their fate. He said he was "trying to be like Jesus."