President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops
United States Catholic Conference
January 4, 1990
I very much welcome the end of a complex chapter in U.S.-Vatican diplomacy regarding the presence of Manuel Noriega in the Vatican Embassy in Panama. Several days ago, I called for a solution to this difficult problem which respects international law, Panamanian sovereignty, legitνmate U.S. interests and the unique and vital role of the Holy See in world affairs. In light of today's statements from the Vatican and Archbishop Marcos McGrath of Panama City, it appears that the decision of General Noriega to turn himself over to U.S. authorities fully meets these criteria.
I hope it is now clear to everyone that the actions of the Holy See played a decisive role in bringing an end to the violence in Panama without jeopardizing vital religious and diplomatic principles or the processes of justice. We welcome --and strongly affirm -- the public statements attesting to the competence, evenhandedness and statesmanship of the Vatican and the Papal Nuncio in these difficult days.
The Church in Panama -- in the actions of the Nuncio and the leadership of the Panamanian bishops -- has courageously sought to preserve human life, protect human rights, and pursue both peace and justice. Now, as the Panamanian bishops remind us, the essential task remains of helping the Panamanian people restore national unity and sovereignty and rebuild their democracy and their shattered economy.
Chairmen, International Policy Committee
While much of the world's media attention is focused on the future of General Noriega, it is imperative that the broader questions regarding the future of the Panamanian people and their democracy and economy not be overlooked. The Panamanian bishops, in their statement immediately following the U.S. military action (December 22), outlined five priorities which they believe are essential for rebuilding a new social order grounded on justice, human rights and concern for the poor. They include:
- The new government must start working to gain legitimacy and trust, internally and internationally.
- Restoration of social order through a police force that can guarantee security with the strictest respect for human rights.
- An end to U.S. the military role as soon as possible along with the assumption of political, police and military powers by the Panamanian civil government.
- Policies and actions to advance the unity and well-being of Panamanians, especially the poor.
- Distribution of medicine, food and housing to those suffering the direct effects of the military action.
The U.S. Bishops Conference has shared these vital concerns with the U.S. government and urged their serious consideration by those charged with policy for Panama. We have stressed the need for an end to the U.S. military role at the earliest possible time, a rapid and effective return of real authority to the civilian government and U.S. help in rebuilding the Panamanian economy shattered by the mis-rule of General Noriega, the impact of the U.S. sanctions and the events of late December.
The Bishops of the U.S. stand with our brother bishops in Panama in mourning the loss of life among both Panamanian and U.S. citizens, in their call for immediate action to help rebuild Panama's democracy and economy and in the hope that this New Year will bring real freedom, justice and opportunity to their troubled land.