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State Dept. Official Scores U.S. Churches’ Sympathy for Central American Marxists

Times Staff Writer

The Reagan Administration’s chief strategist for Latin America charged Thursday that some U.S. churches have allowed themselves to be used “as window dressing” by Marxists and asked clergymen in “Podunkville” to stop criticizing Administration policies in Central America.

The official, Assistant Secretary of State Langhorne A. Motley, also said he found Congress and the media unexpectedly difficult to educate about Central America.

“You buy ‘em books and buy ‘em books, and all they do is eat the covers,” he said.

“Religious persons should not use the credibility they enjoy because of their religious roles to market personal secular ideological and philosophical beliefs,” Motley told a group of reporters in a speech billed as his parting shot before he leaves the Administration to return to private business next week.

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“The pulpit, I believe, is misused when devoted to secular political causes,” he said. “Marxist groups in Latin America have consciously sought out clerical groups to use as window dressing.”

Motley has run the State Department’s bureau for the Western Hemisphere for the last two years--a period that included the 1983 invasion of Grenada, a major increase in U.S. support for El Salvador’s fight against leftist guerrillas and a long struggle in Congress to win funding for anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua.

Even Motley’s opponents concede that the scrappy former Air Force officer, Alaska real estate developer, Republican Party activist and ambassador to Brazil has been an effective advocate for the Administration, especially on Capitol Hill.

But he vented some frustrations Thursday, with church activists, Congress, the media and the federal bureaucracy his main targets.

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Motley has previously complained that liberal church groups have become an unexpectedly effective lobby against the Administration’s policies in Central America, in part because “we don’t know how to deal with them.”

“I believe that the growing involvement of religious groups in international politics has generally been driven by well-meaning people, both lay and clergy, many of whom have devoted their lives to fighting misery and poverty,” Motley said.

A ‘No-No’

But he added: “The issue of whether they’re correct or not correct is not debated. It appears to be a ‘no-no’ subject. . . . I think it should be debated.”

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Motley said that while church groups in the United States have lobbied against U.S. policies, the Roman Catholic church hierarchy in Nicaragua and El Salvador has been more sympathetic.

“Why don’t the people listen to what the churches say in El Salvador instead of the guy in Podunkville?” he asked.

Motley complained that the expansion of congressional staffs has made Capitol Hill “a playground for thousands to ride ideological hobbyhorses.”

‘Breakdown in Discipline’

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And he charged that “a breakdown in discipline” in Congress has allowed some members to meddle in foreign policy by attempting to act as negotiators.

Motley named no names, but he appeared to be referring to a controversial visit to Nicaragua in March by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), which stirred a furor in the Senate.

He said the free-lance diplomats would probably be stopped by “their own ineptitude.”

“A couple of guys may think twice again before they’re going to fill out their application for the Nobel Peace Prize,” Motley said.

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