Cablegate: Vatican Delegation Sees Progress in Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 03 VATICAN 5352


1. (SBU) Vatican representatives who visited Vietnam April
27 - May 2 were pleased by their surprisingly cordial
reception by Vietnamese officials. Authorities allowed the
delegation to visit the diocese of Xuan Loc for the first
time, as well as Ban Me Thuot, where there were clashes in
April between police and Montagnards. Although the
delegation was "closely watched" at times, it was able to
meet with both religious personnel and laity. The Holy See
sees the increased access the delegation enjoyed and
indications of a growing role for the Catholic Church in
civil society as signs of progress, but believes more is
needed. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Increased Access for Delegation and a "Cordial" Reception
--------------------------------------------- ------------

2. (SBU) A Vatican delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister
Pietro Parolin visited Vietnam April 27-May 2 for an annual
meeting with officials of the government's Office for
Religious Affairs and came away pleased by the increased
access allowed to previously off-limits areas of the country.
Vietnamese authorities allowed the delegation to visit the
diocese of Xuan Loc for the first time, as well as Ban Me
Thuot, where there were clashes in April between police and

3. (SBU) Luis Montemayor, Holy See Country Director for
Vietnam, told us May 12 that the increased access came as a
surprise. In Hanoi, he said, the delegation had a great deal
of freedom of movement, whereas outside of the major cities
the group was "closely watched." Montemayor nevertheless saw
the simple fact that the delegation could visit outlying
areas as progress. The GOV had not allowed twelve previous
Vatican delegations to visit Xuan Loc, the largest diocese in
Vietnam, where, he said, Catholics made up some 30 percent of
the population. In Ban Me Thuot, the delegation met with
laity and with nuns who work with the Montagnards, some of
whom, Montemayor noted, are Catholics. Speaking to the
press, Parolin described the visit to the Ban Me Thuot
cathedral as "particularly moving," as the delegation came
upon a church "packed" with Catholics who had gathered there
when word of the visit leaked out. Montemayor summarized the
delegation's reception by Vietnamese authorities as
"surprisingly cordial," especially in light of last fall's
flap over the elevation of a new cardinal for Vietnam

Montagnard Killings

4. (SBU) Although the delegation was well aware of reports
of atrocities in the Ban Me Thuot area, Montemayor told us
the group had not seen any signs of destruction there. "Of
course, they were hardly going to let us see anything
sensitive," he said, but the delegation did its best to see
what it could. In speaking to French diplomats and others on
his trip, Montemayor could not get a good sense of how severe
the April violence had been. "It's very hard to get at the
truth," he said. Several villages were said to be missing
people, but total numbers were hard to ascertain. "I'm not
sure we'll ever know exactly what happened," Montemayor

Vatican Sees Progress

5. (SBU) In another positive sign of GOV openness to the
Church, Montemayor told us that some local authorities had
recently asked orders of Catholic nuns to take up care for
HIV/AIDS patients. In one location, the authorities returned
Church property that they had previously confiscated in order
for the nuns to pursue the project. To the Holy See, this
represents an important step toward allowing the Church to
take its proper place in civil society. Parolin told the
press that he hoped that "with increased dialogue" the
government of Vietnam would realize that the Catholic Church
"asks only to be able to exercise its mission freely, placing
itself at the service of the country and its people."

Comment: "A Long Road Ahead"

6. (SBU) While Deputy FM Parolin and Montemayor were upbeat
about their reception in Vietnam and the progress in
religious freedom they had seen there, they noted that many
concerns remained. Vietnamese authorities had yet to resolve
issues relating to restrictions on the naming of bishops, the
selection of seminary students, and the mobility of religious
personnel. Moreover, while the government's treatment of
Catholics was wanting, its persecution of Protestants was
generally worse, Montemayor pointed out. "One cannot deny
that progress has been made," Parolin concluded, "but there
is still a long road ahead."



2004VATICA01988 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

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