Cablegate: Training Catholic Priests in Northern Vietnam

Published: Fri 20 Jun 2003 09:35 AM
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: A. Hanoi 073 B. HO CHI MINH 468
1. (U) SUMMARY. Hanoi's Catholic seminary offers training
to over 200 would-be priests over a seven year period.
Local Committees on Religious Affairs screen out some
candidates, allegedly on grounds of "personal conduct."
Virtually all graduates become priests; a small percentage
is able to continue religious training overseas. No foreign
professors are allowed. The Church seeks to open another
seminary in the north, in Thai Binh province, but remains
hampered by a long-standing impasse on opening a seventh
seminary, in southern Dong Nai province. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) The spacious grounds of the downtown Hanoi Catholic
Cathedral house one of Vietnam's six Catholic seminaries to
train the next generation of priests. Occupying both a
century-old building constructed as a seminary during the
French colonial era and a more recent adjacent structure,
the seminary (now on summer recess) provides a six-year
training program for priests from 8 northern dioceses. New
students are admitted every other year; entrance tests for
the new cycle beginning in 2004 will be given in September
3. (U) 212 students are currently enrolled in the
seminary, although no more than about 170 are in Hanoi
during the school year, given the requirement for a 9-12
month work practicum after the six years of classroom
training. (Students are also expected to intern at their
home churches during the summer holidays.) The Hanoi
seminary is second in size only to the Ho Chi Minh City
4. (SBU) According to Ngo Quang Kiet, concurrently Hanoi
Seminary Director, Hanoi Apostolic Administrator, and Bishop
of Lang Son (ref a), numbers of students have increased
substantially from 1978, when the seminary re-opened after
an 18 year gap in training. Only nine students were in the
first class, he recalled, but the 2002 class has 55 would-be
priests. He admitted that the local Committees on Religious
Affairs have an important role in the screening process; for
the 2002 class, various Committees (apparently at the
provincial level) screened out 15 individuals, mostly for
"personal conduct" issues. He stressed that family
background or "political" stances were not/not a factor.
5. (U) Would-be students must first be recommended by
local priests, and then pass a standard day-long test,
mostly dealing with religious knowledge and expertise in
either English or French. Virtually all students have
completed a four year undergraduate university degree
program; 2/3 of them typically have majored in foreign
language (with the bulk of them having studied English
rather than French). The usual maximum age for entry is 30.
After the recommendations and successful tests comes the
scrutiny by the local Committees on Religious Affairs, which
also assess the students for suitability upon graduation,
according to Bishop Kiet.
6. (SBU) About ninety percent of all graduates become
priests (and virtually all return to their home diocese),
but Bishop Kiet declined to describe whether the other 10
percent fail academically or are ruled out by local
authorities. No more than 5 percent of the graduates are
able to gain scholarships for foreign study, mostly in the
Philippines, Italy, and France. None from the north have
gone to the U.S. for study, due to a lack of available
scholarships, but Bishop Kiet confirmed that some U.S.
scholarships exist for seminary graduates in the south.
Essentially all students come from Catholic families, he
noted; he could not recall any case of a convert entering
the seminary. Nor could he recall any student ever having
been a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Unlike
universities and other secondary and tertiary schools in
Vietnam, there is no chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Youth
Federation at the seminary, he added.
7. (U) 23 religious teachers conduct the classes, all of
which are mandatory, including one new course on bioethics
as well as standard classes on church law, music, and
psychology. There are no courses yet offered on management.
(Computers are available for common use, and there is
optional training on computer use.) Only three professor-
priests are resident here, however; Bishop Kiet said that
the other 20 rotate among the various other Catholic
seminaries, giving a month's course here, a month's course
there. A cadre from the Ministry of Education also conducts
a four-year required course on "civil education." Bishop
Kiet admitted that Ho Chi Minh thought and Marxist/Leninist
ideology are a component of this course, but stressed "only
a little." Most of the course is devoted to Vietnamese
culture and law, he claimed.
8. (SBU) No foreign professors teach at the seminary,
Bishop Kiet confirmed. He said that the Church had
requested permission from the Government Committee on
Religious Affairs "about ten years" ago to bring in a
foreign professor, but this was denied. The Church has not
asked a second time, he claimed, while expressing a hope
that a foreign professor would be allowed within this
9. (SBU) Bishop Kiet recalled that, during the French era,
there were several other Catholic seminaries serving the
north, such as in Hatay and Ha Nam provinces. The Church
has requested permission from the Government Committee on
Religious Affairs for another northern seminary, to be
located in Thai Binh (where there is a suitable site
available, he noted), but Committee officials have indicated
that no additional seminary could be considered until the
long-standing impasse over opening the seventh Catholic
seminary (in southern Dong Nai province, where many of the
northern Catholics resettled in 1954) was resolved. Bishop
Kiet expressed frank puzzlement about the exact nature of
the problem in Dong Nai, admitting that the Government
Committee on Religious Affairs had clearly approved its
establishment "in principle" several years ago.
10. (SBU) Bishop Kiet assessed that the biggest change at
the Seminary over the past two decades had been a higher
quality of students and the greater international exposure
of the student body. He expressed a hope for continued
expansion of the student body here, as well as the opening
of the seminary in Thai Binh soon, in order to meet the
chronic shortage of priests.
11. (SBU) Comment: Catholics in Vietnam have arguably
easier relations with the GVN than their Protestant
colleagues, but face the same kind of official scrutiny and
oversight even the Buddhists encounter as they seek to train
clergy. Apart from the civic education, the GVN appears to
leave the Catholics pretty much to their own devices in
undertaking their curriculum. Resources appear to be modest
and the facilities basic (if once beautiful) in Hanoi. The
dedication of the leaders of the northern seminary is
unmistakable, as was their apparent discomfort in describing
their relations with the various Committees on Religious
Affairs -- even in the absence of any GVN minders.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media