by John Carey
The Chi'eau bishops are to make another formal approach to the government in an attempt to persuade it to allow all political exiles to return. They also intend to try to make their people more aware of the problems that exiles are facing.
The new moves are expected soon. They follow a 10-day trip overseas during which the bishops paid an ad Iimina visit to Rome to report on the situation of the Church in Chile. Several of the bishops spent some time with exiles now living in Europe.
There are now thought to be about 15,000 Chileans in exile. Bishop Tomas Gonzalez of Punta Arenas said in London on Monday: "The return of the exiles is one of the most serious problems facing us. The Church intends to request their return as soon as possible".
He said that relations between the Church and the government had been getting "colder" particularly after the government's refusal to hand over to relatives the 25 bodies found last year in a mineshaft in Lonquen.
The bodies were buried in a common grave in defiance of a court ruling ordering that they should be returned to their families. Earlier the government had promised to hand them back. About 75,000 people gathered in and around the cathedral in Santiago, the capital city the following week for a funeral Mass for the dead. Church-state relations had been one of the main problems dealt with during their visit to Rome, he said. Others were the collegiality of the bishops' conference and the training of seminarians.
"Since the military coup the college of bishops has suffered difficulties from a lack of unanimity: that has been taken advantage of by the government to weaken the moral forces of the Church. The Pope told us that we should be united in defence of the human person," Bishop Gonzalez said.
On Sunday the bishop said in a special sermon for Mission' Sunday at St Aloysius Church, Somers Town, London, that the defence of human rights was "an essential part of the doctrine of the Church."
"It is the work of the missionary Church and it cannot, as some have tried to do, simply be written off as a fashionable transitory action or an optional extra."
Recently the Chilean authorities seem to have been stepping up their activity against the Church. They reacted very. fiercely to a pastoral letter on peasant rights which, according to Bishop Gonzalez, was fairly mild.
• Cardinal Raoul Silva of Santiago in Chile is now on a twoday visit to the World Council of Churches. The visit is in response to the council's support for the work. of the churches, and especially the Catholic Church, in Chile over the past six years.