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Cablegate: Hanoi Archbishop Paints Mixed Picture On Gvn-Catholic

VZCZCXRO4820
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #1109/01 1650802
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140802Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5643
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3243
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0023

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001109

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF, DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KIRF VM

SUBJECT: HANOI ARCHBISHOP PAINTS MIXED PICTURE ON GVN-CATHOLIC
CHURCH RELATIONS

Ref: A) HANOI 495; B) HANOI 275; C) HANOI 312; D) HANOI 317

HANOI 00001109 001.2 OF 002


Summary
-------

1. (SBU) On June 13, Poloff met Hanoi Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet to
discuss GVN-Church relations. Unprompted, the Archbishop began by
noting the GVN's arrests and trials of scores of political
activists. He told Poloff it is hard to describe how his followers
feel about this matter. On a positive note, he said Ha Giang Party
officials had, after months of delay, granted the Church permission
to establish a congregation in the province. However, the
Archbishop said that the Vatican is still working on coming up with
suitable candidates for the two vacant bishoprics in Thai Binh and
Vinh dioceses and that a Holy See delegation likely will not visit
Vietnam before year's end. While the GVN remains optimistic about
establishing formal ties with the Holy See, a lot of work -- and
trust building -- remains before this becomes a reality. End
Summary.

The USG's Unique Role
---------------------

2. (SBU) On June 13, Hanoi Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet began his
30-minute meeting with Poloff by noting, without prompting, that the
GVN's arrests and trials of scores of political activists over the
last several months caught him by surprise, but have "justifiably
attracted a lot of international attention." Before Vietnam joined
the WTO, the situation was "quiet." However, things changed after
APEC and WTO entry, and it is difficult to describe his followers'
emotions about the current political environment, he said. When
President Bush attended the ecumenical service last November at the
Cua Bac Catholic Church, Kiet asked the President to be "aware" not
only of the USG's unique role in promoting economic development, but
in pushing for freedom and human rights as well. He said he wants
the USG to continue to keep this in mind. Poloff responded that
U.S. officials have made clear to the GVN our strong concerns about
the crackdown on political dissent.

Positive Developments
---------------------

3. (SBU) Kiet said that over the past six months, the situation in
Ha Giang Province has moved in a "positive direction." For one,
local Party authorities permitted church officials to visit the
province on important occasions such as Easter. In addition, on
June 12, he received an official letter from the Ha Giang provincial
Committee on Religious Affairs granting the Church permission to
establish a congregation in the province, the Archbishop relayed.
Local church officials will now begin building a church, but of
course completing it will take some time.

4. (SBU) On the issue of the pieta in Ninh Binh Province (Ref A),
Kiet said that he was happy to report that it had been "fully
restored" and that a suitable place for it had been found.
Provincial Party officials fired the commune officials who
participated in the pieta's destruction and made these officials pay
for its restoration, he relayed.

Recent Setbacks
---------------

5. (SBU) On a negative note, however, Kiet expressed frustration
about the Committee on Religious Affairs' (CRA) rejection of the
Vatican's candidates for the two vacant bishoprics in the Thai Binh
and Vinh dioceses. He said that he and his followers were surprised
when the CRA did this because, "even when relations between the GVN
and Vatican were tense, bishops were not rejected." Moreover,
Catholic leaders and laymen do not understand the CRA's reasons --
the supposed criminal records of some members of the candidates'
extended families -- for rejecting them, he lamented. (Note: During
a separate June 14 meeting with Poloff, CRA officials merely said
this issue is an "internal matter" (septel). End Note.) The Holy
See is still working on finding suitable replacement candidates for
these positions, the Archbishop relayed.

6. (SBU) Kiet said it was "more than coincidence" that these
rejections occurred around the time of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan
Dzung's historic visit to the Vatican (Ref B). Relations between
the GVN and Holy See seemed to be getting better, and then the CRA
rejected the bishops. The Archbishop alluded to "different
tendencies" among GVN senior leaders in terms of the political
crackdown and, more generally, government relations with religious
groups. He did not elaborate further. Kiet said that the Holy See
sent a delegation to Hanoi one month after PM Dzung visited the
Vatican, but that it is unlikely that another one will come to Hanoi

HANOI 00001109 002.2 OF 002


before year's end.

7. (SBU) Sounding another negative note, Kiet relayed that when a
Hanoi-based priest who had registered with local authorities arrived
to administer Easter services in the Son La Parish, local
authorities summoned him to their office. These authorities did not
let the priest preside over Easter mass, Kiet said. The Archbishop
told Poloff that he knows of no other instances in the last six
months of local authorities preventing priests from tending to their
flocks.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) The GVN continues to express optimism about establishing
formal relations with the Holy See. However, continued delays in
finding suitable candidates for the vacant bishoprics in the Thai
Binh and Vinh dioceses and Archbishop Kiet's assertion that the
Vatican is unlikely to send another delegation to Vietnam before
2008 clearly indicate that formal ties between the two sides remain
a long way off. End Comment.

MARINE

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