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Cablegate: Hanoi Archbishop Discusses Church Issues with Ambassador

VZCZCXRO9475
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #1461/01 2261632
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141632Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6102
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3533
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0025

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 001461

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

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

SUBJECT: HANOI ARCHBISHOP DISCUSSES CHURCH ISSUES WITH AMBASSADOR

REF: Hanoi 1109

HANOI 00001461 001.2 OF 003


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) In an August 13 farewell call by the Ambassador, Hanoi
Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet praised the Ambassador's contribution to
international religious freedom, noting in particular recent
progress in northern Ha Giang Province. The Archbishop agreed with
the Ambassador's assessment that much progress had been made but
that there was still work to do, noting that the Catholic Church
faces significant challenges overcoming the limitations GVN
authorities place on education and healthcare work. The Archbishop
sees GVN-Vatican relations progressing slowly. The Ambassador
stressed that the Catholic Bishop's Council could play an important
role as a "collective voice" in dealing with the GVN. The Church
will shortly submit two new names to the GVN for vacant bishoprics
in Thai Binh and Vinh dioceses. The Archdiocese remains interested
in training religious workers in the United States, and the Embassy
will work to enhance cooperation and communication on these kinds of
cases. End Summary.


PROGRESS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BUT STILL AREAS FOR WORK
--------------------------------------------- ---------


2. (SBU) Ambassador Marine told Hanoi Catholic Archbishop Kiet in an
August 13 farewell call at the Archbishop's office that he was
pleased with the work they had done together during his term to
promote religious freedom in Vietnam. He recalled the Archdiocese's
historic cooperation with the Evangelical Church of Vietnam North
(ECVN) in November 2006 in hosting an ecumenical service at Hanoi's
Cua Bac Church on the occasion of President Bush's first visit to
Vietnam during the APEC Leader's Summit. The Ambassador also noted
his recent calls on Cardinal Man and Protestant house church leaders
in HCMC as well as GVN President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to
Washington, in which he discussed religious freedom issues with
President Bush.

3. (SBU) While much progress has been made, the Ambassador said
there was still much work to be done, including problems with
implementation of the legal framework on religion in the Northwest
Highlands; reported abuses of H'Mong Christians in the North; and
GVN limitations on the role of religious organizations in education
and social work, throughout the country. The Ambassador noted that
while his recent media roundtables tended to focus more on political
issues, he had discussed religious freedom and humanitarian issues
in his farewell calls on senior leaders and in a widely-publicized
VietnamNet web chat the previous week. It was important to make
certain that the GVN understands the USG will remain focused on the
issue of religious freedom.

4. (SBU) The Ambassador asked the Archbishop whether his generally
favorable assessment of the current status of religious freedom in
Vietnam was overly optimistic. The Archbishop responded that he had
read the Ambassador's web chat as well as comments from his recent
media roundtables in HCMC and Hanoi, and he was satisfied with the
Ambassador's analysis of the status of religious freedom in Vietnam.
The Archbishop said the Ambassador had contributed significantly to
the advancement of human and political rights and religious freedom
in Vietnam.


PROGRESS IN NORTHERN HA GIANG PROVINCE
--------------------------------------


5. (SBU) The Archbishop thanked the Ambassador and the U.S. Embassy
staff for their support to the Church in Ha Giang Province (Note:
Both the Ambassador and Embassy Political Section have taken trips
within the past year to Ha Giang Province to press local authorities
on religious freedom issues. End Note.). The Archbishop said there
had been significant progress there in the last six months, with
more Catholic congregations getting registered and priests facing no
further impediments in conducting religious services. Recently, the
Provincial People's Committee granted the Catholic congregation in
Ha Giang Town a piece of land on which to build a church, a
previously long-unanswered request.


GVN NEEDS TO COME UP TO SPEED ON SOCIAL WORK
--------------------------------------------


6. (SBU) The Archbishop said the GVN needs to improve its handling
of religious education and training and relax the ongoing

HANOI 00001461 002.2 OF 003


restrictions on the Church's ability to perform social and
charitable work, particularly in health care. Kiet said the Church
still faced many limits in these areas and needed to press the
authorities for progress.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador agreed that the GVN needed to do much more
in providing quality education to its young people in this rapidly
developing economy. He suggested that the Catholic Bishop's Council
(due to meet in session in October) may want to approach the GVN
with a "collective voice" and a specific proposal on how the GVN
could better respond to the country's educational needs and the
positive role the Church could play.

8. (SBU) On the social work and healthcare front, the Ambassador
said GVN authorities regularly tell him they want religious
organizations involved, a view President Nguyen Minh Triet had
expressed to a group of Catholic bishops back in January 2007. The
Ambassador suggested that this was also an area where the best
strategy may be for the Bishop's Council to develop a concrete
proposal and speak in a collective voice, and that this is one area
where consistent pressure on the GVN is needed.


GVN-VATICAN RELATIONS: SOME PROGRESS
-------------------------------------


9. (SBU) The Ambassador raised the issue of GVN-Vatican relations,
including the refusal by the GVN of two Vatican-nominated candidates
for two vacant bishoprics in Vinh and Thai Binh dioceses, and asked
whether possible internal tensions, within the Catholic Church, may
have had something to do with their rejection. The Archbishop said
the Church was now working on two new names for the vacant
bishoprics and would submit those names to the GVN soon. The
Archbishop did not deny that internal Church concerns about "too
many southern Bishops" may have been a factor, but concluded that
there are no disagreements or complaints about this within the
Church.

10. (SBU) The Archbishop told the Ambassador that overall he thought
there was some progress toward establishing official GVN-Vatican
relations and noted the GVN decision to establish a working
committee as a necessary step in this direction.


TRAINING RELIGIOUS WORKERS IN THE UNITED STATES
--------------------------------------------- --


11. (SBU) The Ambassador raised the issue of recent Vietnamese
seminarians who failed to get student visas to undertake religious
study and training in the United States. The Ambassador explained
to the Archbishop USG visa application policies and procedures in
this regard and suggested that it would be helpful for our consular
section to receive documentation in advance - specifically, detailed
information about the training program and a letter of support from
the sponsoring institution in the United States. He told the
Archbishop he was hopeful that we could work together to minimize
future difficulties.

12. (SBU) Kiet thanked the Ambassador for the information, and said
both his Archdiocese and the Catholic Church in Vietnam remained
very interested in sending seminarians to the United States for
training.


PLEASED WITH STATEMENTS BY INCOMING AMBASSADOR MICHALAK
--------------------------------------------- ----------


13. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that incoming Ambassador Michael
Michalak would arrive in Vietnam soon, and it would be useful for
the Archbishop to meet with him. The Archbishop agreed and noted
that he had read Ambassador's Michalak's confirmation hearing
statements on religious freedom and was very pleased with them. The
Archbishop again warmly thanked the Ambassador for his contributions
to religious freedom and political rights in Vietnam.


COMMENT
-------


14. (SBU) The Archbishop clearly would like the U.S. Mission to
continue using its influence with the GVN to encourage resolution of
problems preventing a greater role for the church in education and
social work - a message that we have heard consistently. The

HANOI 00001461 003.2 OF 003


Archdiocese also sees the United States as a place to help train
future generations of Vietnamese Catholic clergy.

MARINE

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