Cablegate: Ho Chi Minh City Opens the Door to Catholic Charitable

Published: Tue 9 Mar 2004 01:12 PM
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) HCMC 0075 B) HCMC 0153 C) 02 HCMC 0963 D) 03
HANOI 1257
1. (SBU) In a small dinner on March 1 at his 100-year-old
residence, Cardinal Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of HCMC, told the
Consul General that he had just received a letter from Ho Chi Minh
City authorities seeking assistance in dealing with the growing
HIV/AIDS problem. The letter, signed by the Director of the HCMC
Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (DOLISA), asked
the Cardinal to provide 150 nuns to staff four HIV/AIDS treatment
centers. The Cardinal was clearly pleased at this sudden
softening of the government's stance on social welfare activities,
but planned to approach the DOLISA proposal with caution,
particularly concerning the matter of training. In meetings with
several staffdels and other U.S. visitors over the past few
months, the Cardinal had lamented government limitations on
charitable works, matters he felt the Church should be able to
manage on its own. He had said it was sometimes easier for
Catholics to simply take on charitable activities than to have the
Church officially seek permission. One example he had provided to
Staffdel McCormick in January was that of an HIV/AIDS hospice run
by nuns in Cu Chi District (ref A). While he had helped the nuns
acquire a vehicle, he was not otherwise officially involved.
(Note: During one of Staffdel McCormick's other meetings in HCMC,
HIV/AIDS officials had actually mentioned the hospice as a
positive development. End note.)
2. (SBU) In a steady series of meetings with USG visitors since
his elevation to Cardinal in September 2003, Cardinal Man had been
generally positive on the growth of the church - approximately
7000 new converts each year since 1998. Government-imposed
restrictions on the numbers of seminarians and priests remained a
primary concern, as evidenced by the fact that only 19 seminarians
would be graduating from the seminary this year to fill over 50
vacancies in the Achdiocese, while another 250 young men waited
for places in an incoming class. Confiscated properties were
another item high on the agenda, as the Cardinal announced his
intention to continue seeking the return of former churches,
schools, and other buildings. He did not expect the GVN to return
all of the 200 properties confiscated in the years since 1975, but
expressed resentment that in some cases the GVN was still
utilizing properties it had officially returned to the Church.
The Cardinal told the Consul General over dinner that he was
excited at the prospect of regaining an old HCMC seminary property
in June 2004, and said he was laying the groundwork for the
government to allow the building to be converted into a "museum of
(Catholic) faith."
3. (SBU) Meeting with Staffdel Eikenberg in January, Cardinal Man
said he had repeatedly told the GVN that limited freedom was not
true freedom and that freedom of religion meant more than just
going to church. He stressed the need to find those who were
blocking positive change within the Communist Party and help them
overcome their objections. Still, he did not blame national
policies for the repression, but rather "the system". He thought
that some Communists in the South, at least, were good people who
would like to make changes but were not part of the system.
Others, however, feared losing power and authority if the people
were allowed more freedom. He noted that many Communist cadre
children were enrolled in a popular Catholic kindergarten run by
nuns in HCMC, and hoped those children would teach their parents
about religion. He also saw the increase in wealth and contact
with the outside world as positive changes in Vietnam, which would
stimulate change. Cardinal Man expressed his appreciation to
several visitors for the support he had received from the
Consulate General and the USG.
4. (SBU) Cardinal Man also spoke of reconciliation and dialogue
with the GVN during his meeting with a delegation from the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRFDEL) in January
(ref B). While he said there were differences of opinion within
the Catholic community on how much to accommodate the GVN, he
thought very few would support the use of force to achieve their
objectives. To demonstrate the many small steps religious groups
could take to protect their interests, he mentioned a meeting he
had organized to discuss the Fatherland Front's patriotic
association for priests. After warning the priests in his
Archdiocese of the dangers of getting involved in political
activities of any sort without permission from their bishops, many
priests had left the fledgling group. In an interesting aside, he
advised the CIRFDEL to focus on China, noting that changes in
China would bring change to Vietnam as well. The Cardinal told
the group he foresaw a negative reaction from the GVN to Country
of Particular Concern (CPC) designation in the short-term, but
thought it might be beneficial in the long-term. (Note: Well-
known activist and Redemptorist priest, Father Chan Tin,
criticized the Cardinal in his own meeting with the CIRFDEL for
not supporting Father Ly and for sending out a pastoral letter
warning of "false prophets," but thought the Cardinal had recently
started to work harder for religious freedom. End note.)
5. (SBU) The Cardinal recounted for Staffdel McCormick his meeting
in late December 2003 with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan. He
said he had utilized the meeting to encourage the GVN to ensure
that the new law on religion authorized religious groups to open
schools and take a more active role in combating "social evils."
He was clearly dissatisfied with the present system of "asking and
receiving," but did not seem hopeful the Church would be given the
green light to engage freely in charitable works in any new
legislation. Man also briefed Staffdel McCormick on meetings in
the U.S. in September 2003 with Catholic leaders from several
educational institutions, including Boston College and Loyola
University of Chicago, to discuss overseas training opportunities.
On the night of the Consul General's dinner, a Vice President of
Boston College happened to be visiting as well, exploring
opportunities for sponsoring nuns to receive nursing training in
the U.S. The Cardinal also introduced the Consul General to two
priests whom he hoped to send to the U.S. for studies related to
pastoral music.
6. (SBU) Note: Cardinal Pham Minh Man received his MBA from
Loyola Marymount University in 1971. Before his investiture as
Archbishop of HCMC in April 1998, he served as the Bishop of My
Tho Diocese in the Mekong Delta. The Vatican appointed Archbishop
Man to the rank of Cardinal on September 28, 2003, and he was
officially elevated in Rome on October 21. Then-Bishop Man was a
compromise choice for HCMC Archbishop back in 1998, when the
Vatican attempted to appoint the Bishop of Phan Thiet, Huynh Van
Nghi, as Apostolic Administrator to the city over the objections
of the GVN, which insisted on Father Huynh Cong Minh, one of the
founders of the Patriotic Committee for Catholic Solidarity. The
GVN may have believed that the Vatican was trying to appoint
Bishop Nghi as Apostolic Administrator to allow them to name
exiled priest Nguyen Van Thuan (the now-deceased Cardinal Francis
Xavier Thuan -- reftel C) as Archbishop in absentia. End note.
7. (SBU) COMMENT: Cardinal Man is generally willing to speak
openly about Church issues, his dealings with the GVN, and his
assessment of the situation for Catholics in Vietnam. While he
uses coded language on occasion, his often pointed remarks make
clear his dissatisfaction with GVN controls on the social and
educational activities of the Church. For now, at least, it does
not appear that any sense of compromise with the GVN over his
recent elevation has led him to temper his views, or his
willingness to discuss them (reftel D). His measured response to
the request from the city to take on a very visible charitable
function is in keeping with his general approach, but this is
clearly a major step forward for the Church in HCMC under his
stewardship. He was clearly pleased to have been "invited" to
provide assistance, but he also noted that providing care for
HIV/AIDS patients was something "nobody else really wanted to do."
Should the Cardinal decide to provide the "nunpower" for this
project, Post will work with Embassy CDC Office to find training
opportunities to offer him and the city.
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