Cablegate: Gvn and the Vatican Discuss Normalization, Property Issues

DE RUEHHI #0736 1720910
R 200910Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: GVN and the Vatican Discuss Normalization, Property Issues

Refs: A) HANOI 0278, B) HANOI 0448, C) 07 HANOI 275

1. (SBU) Summary: The recent visit of a Vatican delegation for talks
with the Government of Vietnam (GVN) did not result in any tangible
progress on the issue of normalization of relations, although the
issue was discussed. Discussions also addressed practical concerns
of the Vietnamese Catholic community - particularly restraints on
appointment of bishops and enrollment in seminaries and disputes
over former Church properties. Despite Prime Minister Nguyen Tan
Dung's 2007 visit to the Vatican, there was no indication that a
reciprocal Papal visit to Vietnam is in the works. This recent
delegation, the 15th in a series of such visits to Vietnam,
highlights the commitment that both sides attach to working through
issues affecting Vietnam's Catholic community, the second largest in
Asia. End summary.

GVN-Vatican Relations: An Ongoing Dialogue

2. (U) On June 9-15, Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Under-secretary for
Relations with States, led a Vatican delegation to Vietnam to meet
with GVN officials and the Vietnamese Catholic community in Hanoi,
Ho Chi Minh City, and the Central Highlands. Vatican delegations
have regularly visited Vietnam for informal talks, making a total of
fourteen trips since 1989. In the past, talks have produced some
concessions, with the GVN easing restraints on the appointment of
bishops and the enrollments in Vietnamese seminaries. In 2007,
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the Vatican and
met with Pope Benedict XVI; however, details regarding progress on
normalization of bilateral relations have not been reported

Key Issues for Vietnam's Catholics Discussed

3. (U) The Vatican delegation met with Vietnam's Deputy Prime
Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, as well as with
Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) Chairman Nguyen The Doanh, the
Episcopal Council of the Vietnam Catholic Church, and the Hanoi
People's Committee. According to a communique released by the
Vatican, the two sides discussed a variety of issues including
Episcopal appointments, normalization of bilateral relations, and
the ongoing property dispute related to the Papal Nuncio property in
Hanoi (ref A). The Vatican release went on to confirm that "the
Working Group charged with defining terms and means [for the
normalization of relations] will begin its work as soon as
possible." However, Mr. Trinh Dinh Hung, Deputy Director, Europe
Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that while the
Vatican side is ready to launch the Working Group, the Vietnamese
side is "not ready yet." Mr. Hung did reveal that the Vietnamese
side to the Working Group will be lead by a high level Ministry of
Foreign Affairs official, "perhaps a Deputy Minister or Vice

4. (U) Mr. Hung, who participated in the GVN-Vatican meetings,
confirmed that the two sides discussed the ongoing land dispute
related to the Papal Nuncio property in Hanoi in meetings with CRA
and with Chairman Thao of the Hanoi People's Committee, stating that
the final decision will come from the Hanoi People's Committee. He
declined to make any prediction as to the timing of such a decision.
The Vatican statement characterized the discussions regarding the
disputed property as frank and cordial and emphasized the
"importance of continuing to pacify the situation, avoiding measures
that may create contrary effects, and to maintain dialogue between
interested parties in the search for adequate solutions."

5. (U) The trip included a visit to Quang Tri province, where the
Vatican delegation thanked local authorities on the decision to
return land surrounding the shrine of La Vang to the Church (ref B)
and also expressed gratitude for the "will to face, along with the
archdiocese of Hue, the outstanding problems for the effective
implementation of the decision." A commemorative Mass was held at
the shrine following the meeting.

6. (SBU) Comment: Regular visits by the Vatican continue to raise
hopes amongst Catholic followers that Vietnam and the Vatican are on
the verge of establishing formal diplomatic relations. Unlike last
year's visit, however, this year there was no speculation about the
delegation laying the groundwork for a Papal visit to Vietnam.
While such visits are a welcome sign of the GVN's intention to
maintain a regular dialogue with the Catholic leadership, ongoing
differences regarding land issues, Episcopal appointments and limits
on the conduct of social and charitable activities likely mean that
the achievement of full normalized relations is still a long way
off. End comment.


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