"We urge all interested parties, here and in Cuba, to respect the rule of law and to avoid exacerbating and politicizing an already tragic situation," said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden, N.J.
Meanwhile, church officials in Rome and Washington confirmed that the Vatican's U.S. embassy might be used to transfer custody of Elian from his Miami relatives to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who was staying with Cuban diplomats near Washington since his arrival in the United States from Cuba April 6.
"Upon request of the two interested parties, the Holy See has made its nunciature in Washington available for the delivery of the boy Elian Gonzalez to his father," a Vatican spokesman said Thursday.
The embassy's role was not to mediate negotiations but only to serve as a neutral site for the transfer.
On Wednesday, Elian's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez brought the boy to the Miami Beach home of Dominican Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, president of Barry University.
In January, Sr. O'Laughlin hosted a meeting of Elian with his grandmothers from Cuba. Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno met with Lazaro Gonzalez for three hours at the nun's home. Reno, accompanied by Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner, ordered the great-uncle to give up custody of Elian by 2 p.m. Thursday.
But the deadline was ignored as the Miami relatives continued their legal maneuvering.
Friday, the government asked a federal appeals court to order Elian's Miami relatives to return the boy to his father. The relatives, turning to another court for help, invoked the U.N. human-rights charter in asking that Elian stay. The government filed a brief Friday with an appellate court, which had issued the temporary injunction Thursday that keeps the 6-year-old in the United States for now. The government said the boy's great-uncle should not get any help from the court until he obeys the federal order to surrender the boy.
Elian was rescued by fishermen off the Florida coast last November after the boat he was in capsized, drowning his mother and 10 other Cuban refugees.
Bishop DiMarzio said the case has been complicated and difficult from the start, and "people of good will can and do have different opinions" on what should be done.
"The resolution of this emotionally charged case has fallen to the INS and the federal courts, which are charged under our system of law with making these difficult decisions, giving due regard to the natural rights and responsibilities of parents," he said.
He said a "peaceful resolution" respecting the rule of law is in the child's best interests.
"Besides the death of a mother under horrendous circumstances, a family has been broken apart," he said. "We pray for healing, both in Elian's family and in the families of all who have suffered division because of social, political, or economic forces beyond their control."