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

November 16, 1994

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the slum priest whose fiery championship of the poor often pitted him against dictators and his Roman Catholic superiors, is leaving the priesthood.

The Vatican, long at odds with the populist priest, pressured Aristide to resign, a church source said Wednesday. Two government officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Aristide would leave the priesthood.

There was no immediate comment by Aristide or specific reason given for his departure.

He spent the day meeting with Haitian business leaders and Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former president of Costa Rica who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

At a news conference, Arias urged Haitians to follow his country's model and abolish the army, which has been blamed for condoning thousands of political killings in the last three years.

Aristide's withdrawal from the priesthood is not likely to hurt his support among Haiti's poor, many of whom associated the conservative church hierarchy with the old military regime.

Aristide spokesman Yvon Neptune acknowledged there had recently been friction with the church.

The Salesian order expelled Aristide in 1988, saying his liberation theology teachings were inciting class war. The Vatican never formally defrocked him, but sources say Aristide is now being pressured by Rome to relinquish his collar.

Aristide, who swept U.N.-supervised elections four years ago, returned to Haiti on Oct. 15 after three years in exile following a September 1991 military coup. Thousands of U.S. soldiers came to the Caribbean nation to help restore his government.

The church official, who requested anonymity, said Aristide will send a letter of resignation to the Vatican, but he did not say when. Aristide decided it would be better for predominantly Catholic Haiti if he resigned because the Vatican is so influential, the official said.

Years ago, Aristide attacked the Catholic hierarchy in Haiti as part of the privileged class that misruled it, calling the bishops "Macoutes" in a reference to the former Duvalier family dynasty's deadly militia.

On a radio talk show in November 1988, he showed his contempt for the church hierarchy by saying bitterly:

"What luck for the Haitian church, Rich, thanks to the poor

In a country that is poor because of the rich."

Aristide has appeared more moderate since returning to Haiti, repeatedly calling for unity and reconciliation.

At a public appearance last week in Cap-Haitien, the country's second-largest city, Aristide embraced and shook hands with Bishop Francois Gayot, a prominent clergyman who was hostile to his return. Some in the crowd booed.

Although Aristide's priestly mystique has gained him support, some of his backers said they would not be troubled by his resignation.

Aristide, whose relations with the business community were once strained by his leftist ideology, got a warm reception Wednesday from hundreds of business executives.

"Without you, it means failure. With you, success," Aristide told the gathering.

Jacques Deschamps, head of the chamber of commerce, promised to cooperate in economic reconstruction of Haiti. Aristide embraced Deschamps to loud applause.

Meanwhile, the death toll from Tropical Storm Gordon, which lashed Haiti with heavy rains and flooding early Monday, continued to rise.

Tropic FM reported 114 dead in Leogane, about 20 miles west of the capital. Radio Metropole reported 300 dead in the southeast port of Jacmel and 40 in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Radio Signal FM reported 400 dead overall, although government officials said they had no overall count because of poor communications.

Navy Lt. Jeff Gordon, a U.S. military spokesman, reported 36 confirmed deaths in Jacmel and 100 missing in the southeast town.