From ........... Associated Press

JULY 30, 1988

LATIN AMERICAN DRUG TRAFFICKERS GIVE TO PRIEST

CARACAS, Venezuela [AP] Drug traffickers in many Latin American countries are donating money and offering drugs to parish priests, and the Roman Catholic Church is not sure what to do about it, a Venezuelan bishop said.

Monsignor Baltazar Porras, assistant bishop of Merida, 350 miles southwest of Caracas, said in a recent telephone interview that in recent years more priests are being offered the gifts for personal gain or for use in charities. But he said the church isn't sure the money should be turned down because some of the traffickers consider the donations retribution for their sins, Porras said.

The growing problem was one of the key issues discussed by Venezuelan bishops during their annual Episcopal Conference.

"Priests are being offered money and drugs, primarily at the parish level. This has been going on for several years now in Latin America," he said. "Some see it is a way to launder money they don't know what else to do with, but it is possible that the donation could be licit if it is for use in charities, to forgive sins." A Spanish-born priest from a poor parish near Caracas was arrested last April carrying 46 pounds of cocaine.

It was the first case in Venezuela of a church official being arrested for involvement in the drug trade. The priest, who confessed he had made at least two previous trips to Spain in which he carried and later sold drugs, said he used the proceeds from the sales to pay for a new chapel, improvements in the parish school and charity.

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