Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on UCA Killings, November 20, 1989

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

November 20, 1989  

Honorable Thomas S. Foley
Speaker of the House
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-4705 

Dear Mr. Speaker: 

I am sure you share our sense of pain and outrage at the events of the past several days in El Salvador. The brutal murders of the six Jesuit priests and their co-workers, the terrible human cost of the FMLN offensive within populated areas, the indiscriminate response by the military, and the deteriorating human rights situation demand a response by the U.S. government. 

Necessary U.S. action takes on additional urgency in view of the continuing threats reported against Catholic bishops and other religious leaders. I refer to reports of specific threats against bishops and other Church workers on government controlled radio, reports of loudspeaker threats against the Archdiocese and its leaders from military personnel and now an incredible letter from the Attorney General of El Salvador calling on Pope John Paul II to remove some bishops from El Salvador for their safety because of their teaching on the Church's responsibility to the poor. A government which tolerates, condones or gives voice to such statements is unworthy of American support. The Catholic bishops of the United States and the Church around the world stand with the bishops of El Salvador. Their defense of the poor and their work for peace and justice come from the Gospel and traditional Catholic teaching, not any political ideology. The U.S. bishops have stood with the bishops of El Salvador in the determined pursuit of peace and justice for their troubled land, in their strong criticisms of both sides in this brutal war and their call for an end to the violence and the pursuit of peace and justice through dialogue and negotiations, not conflict and military force. 

The U.S. bishops' toleration of U.S. military aid to the armed forces of El Salvador has been conditioned on improvement in the human rights situation and a commitment to negotiations for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Respect for human process has been damaged, if not destroyed. Therefore, the Bishops Conference, operating through its International Policy Committee, offers general support for proposals now being discussed in Congress to withhold substantial portions of U.S. military aid while the performance of the Salvadoran government and military is tested and assessed for its commitment to protect human rights and to effectively pursue negotiations to end the conflict. U.S. policy must send a clear and unmistakable signal to the government and military of El Salvador that failure to vigorously protect human rights and to seriously pursue the path of dialogue and negotiations will cost them U.S. support and future military assistance.

A representative of the Bishops' Conference testified before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and Peace Corps Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 17 (a copy is enclosed) in which we asked that our government communicate in the most forceful way possible the following essential concerns: .

  1. Respect for human rights must be given a new priority and that the murderers of the Jesuits and their co-workers as well as those who have committed other human rights abuses be vigorously investigated and successfully prosecuted;
  2. The International Red Cross and the Salvadoran Red Cross be should granted immediate access to the wounded who require evacuation and civilians in need of food and other help;
  3. The Church reception centers for those fleeing the fighting must be respected and protected;
  4. Both the government and the insurgents must respect and protect civilian lives and move immediately to a cease fire and prompt negotiations;
  5. The discussions between the U.S. and the USSR concerning regional conflicts should give priority to the regional conflicts in Central America and their peaceful resolution;
  6. The Moakley/DeConcini bill should be enacted this year to provide legal protection and status for Salvadorans in the U.S. fleeing this bloody conflict;
  7. The way to peace and justice in El Salvador is through dialogue and negotiations and there is no military solution to that conflict; the U.S. should strongly and actively support the bishop's call for a renewed dialogue and negotiations to end the conflict;
  8. The extent, nature and appropriateness of U.S. military aid to El Salvador should be reconsidered in light of the deteriorating human rights situation and the abandonment of negotiations.

We ask the Administration and Congress to pursue the path outlined in a letter from Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, President of our Conference, sent to President Bush on November 16 as follows: 

We stand with our brother bishops in El Salvador in their call for peace instead of conflict, dialogue in place of violence and their consistent defense of human life, human dignity and human rights. We urge our government to use its considerable influence with the Salvadoran government to press for effective respect for human rights, an end to death squad activity, protection for civilians and church institutions caught up in renewed conflict and the determined pursuit of a just peace through dialogue and negotiations among all the parties. 


Most Reverend Roger Mahony
International Policy Committee
United States Catholic Conference 

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