An agency of the United Methodist Church has set up a fund to collect donations to pay for a lawyer for the father of Elian Gonzalez, prompting confusion in some church circles that tithes and offerings were being used to compensate the lawyer.

According to a church news release, the executive committee of the church's Board of Church and Society set up the fund last month after Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the 6-year-old boy's father, asked for legal representation in his bid to have his son returned to Cuba.

Elian Gonzalez has been in Miami since November after the boat carrying him, his mother and several others capsized off the Florida coast. Only Elian survived. The boy's Miami relatives want to keep him here, but his father and Cuban President Fidel Castro want him returned to Cuba.

The National Council of Churches has been instrumental in the push to return the boy to his father. Former NCC General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell and the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, the head of the church's public policy arm, have traveled to Cuba several times to meet with the boy's father and Cuban officials.

Fassett said the fund was started to collect voluntary donations to help pay for the lawyer, former Clinton defense attorney Gregory B. White. Fassett said no church funds were being used.

"The fund is established specifically to receive voluntary contributions from those who wish to support the legal representation of Juan Miguel Gonzalez," Fassett said. "And people are giving to it. They

are giving $10. They're giving $100. They're giving $10,000."

"Rumors" had spread throughout church circles that church tithes and offerings were being used for the lawyer. Fassett said the fund is entirely voluntary, and donations are tax-deductible. Fassett said he and Campbell were concerned that Juan Miguel Gonzalez would not get fair representation in U.S. courts.

Fassett could not be reached to say how much money had been collected.

The ongoing political tug-of-war between Elian's Miami family and U.S. and Cuban officials is expected to end sometime in the next week. Juan Miguel Gonzalez has been granted a visa to come to the United States to get his son, and details are slowly being worked out over the hand-over of the boy.

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