by Timothy Elphick
A TOP-LEVEL delegation of America's Church leaders this week met with members of the new Clinton administration to discuss how they might work together on matters of common concern.
Catholic officials said that they had been engaged in negotiations with President Bill Clinton's transition team before his inauguration ceremony in Washington on Wednesday.
An I I-member delegation of the United States National Council of Churches, fed by the Council's general secretary. the Revd Joan Campbell. and the organisation's president. the Revd Syngman Rhee, held discussions with Vernon Jordan, head of the new president's transition team.
The Council told President Clinton, a Baptist, that Churchmen in the United States expected the new administration to embark on an ambitious programme "rebuilding America's cities; giving priority to people; providing access for health care for all persons in our society".`'Our Churches can be valuable resources in meeting the human as well as the spiritual needs otpeople here and around the world," the delegation said.
The Churchmen suggested that the new links between the White House and the Christian Churches should be established by a new advisory group. The US National Council of Churches does not include the Catholic Church. but the Catholic Church stressed that it had acted in tandem with the NCC delegation and that during their own negotiations similar issues of concern had been raised.
But Churchmen in America have already become alarmed by Mr Clinton's about-turn on Haitian boat people seeking refuge in the United States.
During the presidential election campaign Mr Clinton voiced strong support for Haiti's ousted priestpresident, Fr Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and expressed a willingness to overturn President George Bush's hard-line policy on Haitians entering the United States by sea. Mr Clinton's sentiments resurrected hopes that democracy might be returned to Haiti and that the economic degeneration of the Caribbean republic might be halted by an end to economic sanctions imposed by the international community.
But last week Mr Clinton. alarmed by the prospect of thousands of new refugees. reversed his policy on Haiti's boat people. Fr Aristide's spokesman, Fr. Antoine Adrien, said the U-turn would increase the hardships of Haitians living under military rule and that Mr Clinton's duty now was to help restore democracy as a matter of urgency.