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Cablegate: Ambassador Michalak's Meeting with Cardinal Man

VZCZCXRO9985
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1221 3461517
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121517Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3426
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2348
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 0004
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0031
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3645

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 001221

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KIRF VM
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MICHALAK'S MEETING WITH CARDINAL MAN

REF: A)Hanoi 1748 B)HCMC 844 C) Hanoi 1461 and previous

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) In Ambassador Michalak's December 3 courtesy call on
HCMC's Cardinal Pham Min Man, Man described religious freedom in
Vietnam as a kind of "controlled freedom," acknowledging that
the situation for the Catholic Church has improved in general.
The Cardinal outlined ongoing issues the Church is discussing
with the GVN, including the return of confiscated properties and
permission to expand their social work activities. Cardinal Man
was skeptical of quick progress on furthering official
GVN-Vatican relations, noting the GVN's decision to establish a
Joint Working Group to explore the topic was most likely a means
of keeping the issue alive, not accelerating the process.
Having recently returned from a trip to China, the Cardinal was
similarly pessimistic about China-Vatican relations moving
forward. End Summary.

Talks with Top Leaders
----------------------

2. (SBU) During the Ambassador's courtesy call with Cardinal
Man, Man said the "cup" of freedom granted to the Church by the
GVN was "getting bigger," but many issues remain unresolved.
Over the past year, Man and other Vietnamese bishops have met
with GVN leaders, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and
President Nguyen Minh Triet, to discuss the most pressing
problems facing their dioceses. In the North, the bishops
reported discrimination in "no Catholic zones" where local
officials claimed that their localities "do not have and do not
need Catholics." The Archbishop of Hue raised the issue of
confiscated Church properties, specifically requesting that the
GVN return 20 of 25 hectares in La Vang diocese. Cardinal Man
also requested the return of the former Pontifical Institute in
Dalat. While he noted no progress on the issues raised thus
far, Man said the GVN had recently informed the Church it would
not be returning 4,000 square meters of land confiscated after
1975 adjacent to the Great Seminary in HCMC.

License for Social Work Still Pending
-------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Cardinal Man said that, while senior HCMC officials
have encouraged the Church to get more involved in caring for
victims of HIV/AIDS, obtaining the necessary permits from city
agencies to expand their social work activities has been a slow
and frustrating process. The Cardinal said the situation
recently became more complicated after local authorities in
HCMC's Can Gio district who had previously granted permission to
the Church to build an HIV/AIDS treatment center there were
sacked due to charges of corruption over land use. Two weeks
ago, HCMC authorities informed the Church it now needs to obtain
consent from the new district officials in Can Gio to build the
center. Despite these issues, the Church now has about 20
groups of volunteers that are providing hospice care to HIV/AIDS
patients around HCMC and are also directly assisting victims of
natural disasters. Cardinal Man said while the GVN has not
given them formal permission for these activities, they are also
not stopping the Church from getting more involved.

Vietnam-Vatican Relations
-------------------------

4. (SBU) On Vatican-Vietnam relations, the Cardinal said there
were two views in circulation in political and Church circles.
One view is that "Vietnam cannot go ahead of China," which
Cardinal Man said Pope John Paul II implied was the case when
they met in Rome a few years earlier. The Cardinal also heard
that the GVN "is only interested in making friends with those
who have money right now" and that the GVN's current focus is on
economic development and attracting foreign investment.
Cardinal Man believes the GVN's recent decision to form a
Commission to explore Vietnam-Vatican ties was their way of
tabling the issue for future consideration.

The Cardinal on China
----------------------

5. (SBU) Commenting on his recent trip to China, Man said Church
leaders there feel the main stumbling block to furthering
relations with the Vatican stem from the Chinese government's
perception that the Vatican does not "respect China's culture"
and is only interested in giving China "what they think China
needs." Man offered his view that the environment for Catholics
in Vietnam is much more open and permissive than in China.

FAIRFAX

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