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Cablegate: Church Leaders Share Southern View On Religious Freedom With

VZCZCXRO2241
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0053/01 0431031
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121031Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6321
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 4203
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY PRIORITY 6564

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000053

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PGOV PREL VM
SUBJECT: CHURCH LEADERS SHARE SOUTHERN VIEW ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM WITH
DAS MARCIEL

HO CHI MIN 00000053 001.2 OF 002


1. (C) Summary: During DAS Marciel's meetings with Cardinal
Pham Minh Man and Pastor Le Quoc Huy of the Grace Baptist Church
on February 7 and 8, respectively, both religious leaders
affirmed Vietnam has made significant progress on ensuring the
majority of Vietnam's Christians can practice their faith more
freely. Both leaders, however, agreed that more needed to be
done to promote tolerance and allow religious groups to expand
their role in social work and education in Vietnam. End summary.

Cardinal Man: Climate for Catholics

-----------------------------------

2. (C) Cardinal Man told DAS Marciel during their February 7
meeting that religious issues in Vietnam were like the weather,
"mostly hot, rarely cold and sometimes cooler." Alluding to the
recent clashes between Catholics and police in Dong Chiem, the
Cardinal said things were finally "starting to cool down," but
the Church remains deeply concerned about ongoing property
issues. On GVN-Vatican relations, Man was more positive than in
previous meetings, noting that the increasing number of
high-level visits was a sign the GVN wanted closer ties. While
Man once asserted that Vietnam would not move to establish
relations with the Vatican before China, this time he said the
pace of normalization would depend on the Communist Party's
views here.

3. (C) Cardinal Man said the Church was beginning to rebuild its
social work institutions, noting two hundred of the four hundred
organizations they had prior to 1975 have now been
re-established. During President Triet's recent pre-Tet call on
the Cardinal, Man asked for more autonomy in managing the
Church's charitable programs, noting that religious workers
wanted to be 'administrators, not just employees.' On the
positive side, the Cardinal said the Church would continue its
assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS and has begun to
expand its support to the disabled. The Cardinal also said the
Church would like to get involved in education again, and
believes the Church could provide a more ethical education for
Vietnam's growing number of young Catholic professionals.

4. (C) Cardinal Man concluded the meeting by saying while
Vietnamese people enjoyed more religious freedom now than in
previous years, the government still could not guarantee the
right to practice one's faith freely. DAS Marciel assured the
Cardinal the USG would continue to encourage the GVN to improve
its dialogue with religious groups and promote the continued
expansion of religious freedom in Vietnam.

Southern Baptists Doing Alright

-------------------------------

5. (C) Pastor Le Quoc Huy, General Secretary of the Grace
Baptist Church, painted a largely positive picture during his
February 8 meeting with DAS Marciel. As part of their 50th
anniversary celebrations, Grace Baptist recently hosted a
high-level delegation from the U.S. Southern Baptist Convention,
including a visit by former President of the U.S. Southern
Baptist Convention Dr. Bobby Welch. Dr. Welch and other church
representatives had just returned from Hanoi, where they held
productive meetings with senior-level GVN officials, including
the acting Chairman of the National Committee for Religious
Affairs, the head of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and the Vice
Chairman of the Communist Party's Mass Mobilization Committee.

6. (C) Like most Protestant groups in Vietnam, Huy said times
were tough for Grace Baptist Church members after the war.
Foreign missionaries fled, and the church went underground.
Pastors were routinely called in by security forces. In the
1990's, congregations began to increase and stabilize, but
restrictions remained. While churches in urban areas had fewer
problems, provincial followers faced forced renunciations and
police intimidation. Huy said the GVN exhibited more
"flexibility" after Vietnam liberalized its laws on religion in
2006, which finally culminated in the Grace Baptist church
achieving national recognition in 2008.

HO CHI MIN 00000053 002.2 OF 002

7. (C) Grace Baptist's new status meant they could open an
official bible school, engage in more international events and
exchanges, and train new clergy. It has become easier for
congregations to register and to hold large events. The church
also has a number of properties that were confiscated after
1975, and hoped recognition would aid in negotiations with
Hanoi, though Huy felt it was unlikely the majority of
properties would be returned. Huy's optimism was tempered -- he
noted that most of the unrecognized Protestant house churches
still faced problems, including delays in registration and
harassment in some provincial, rural areas.

CPC Won't Help

--------------

8. (C) DAS Marciel noted that negative incidents like the
expulsion of Buddhist monks at Bat Nha pagoda and violence
against Catholics at Dong Chiem are leading some NGOs and
members of Congress to advocate more strongly in favor of
putting Vietnam back on the CPC list. Pastor Huy said the GVN
was a "mixed picture" -- some officials are helpful and
supportive, while some don't want to see things change. Huy
believes the GVN is "changing as fast as it can," and that
putting Vietnam back on the CPC list would not result in
significant or positive changes in GVN actions. DAS Marciel
expressed his appreciation for Pastor Huy's frank and
illuminating commentary, and hoped that Grace Baptist and other
Protestant groups would continue to play a positive role in
fostering better relations with the GVN. DAS Marciel assured Huy
that he and other USG officials would continue to advocate for
improved conditions for all religious groups in Vietnam.

9. (U) DAS Marciel did not have an opportunity to clear this
cable. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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