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2004-09-03 05:32:00
Embassy Hanoi
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002430 





E.O. 12958: N/A

Reftels: A) HCMC 622; B) Hanoi 712; C) Hanoi 1987

1. (SBU) Summary: During meetings with Senate Foreign
Relations Committee staff member Frank Januzzi in Hanoi on
September 1, a Catholic Church leader and a GVN Committee
for Religious Affairs (CRA) official depicted a steadily
improving situation for religious believers in Vietnam. Of
note, the Catholic Church is increasing the number of
seminarians studying in Hanoi this year, and hopes to expand
charitable activities when the new Ordinance on Religion
comes into effect on November 15. The CRA official said
that the process of opening new churches in the Central
Highlands was continuing without interruption, and that
seven new Protestant churches would be recognized by the end
of 2004. Mr. Januzzi's other meetings in Hanoi and visit to
Gia Lai province will be reported septel. End Summary

2. (SBU) Bishop Ngo Quang Kiet, Apostolic Administrator of
the Hanoi Archdiocese and Bishop of Lang Son diocese, told
Mr. Januzzi that religious freedom is "evolving" in Vietnam,
and noted "ten years ago we couldn't have had this meeting."
Similarly, he explained that a decade ago, ordaining new
Catholic bishops in Vietnam was "very difficult," but now
all dioceses had bishops. Bishop Kiet said that more
Catholic churches were being built in both northern and
southern Vietnam, and that Church activities were
"diversifying." For example, he cited that 5000 young
Catholics had participated in a church retreat in Hanoi just
two weeks before. He also pointed out that Catholic bishops
now had no difficulty traveling to the Vatican. In fact,
the entire Vietnam Bishops Council had visited Rome two
years ago, and Bishop Kiet would leave for his fourth trip
to Rome in five years this weekend. Bishop Kiet credited
these changes to "improved policies" by the GVN.
Nonetheless, Kiet noted that "religious activities are
easier to carry out in the south than in the north, in urban
areas rather than in rural areas, and are still difficult in
the mountains."

3. (SBU) Bishop Kiet particularly stressed that the Church
had recently been allowed to recruit more seminarians to
study in Hanoi. In the past, he said, the Hanoi seminary
had only been allowed 45-50 students entering once every two
years. In this fall's new class, however, there would be 90
new students. [Note: Restrictions on the number of
seminarians has been a point of particular frustration for
the Catholic Church in Vietnam. In addition to numerical
caps, seminarians must be approved by relevant GVN agencies
before they begin their studies, and again before they are
ordained. End note]

4. (SBU) Bishop Kiet also discussed the Church's charitable
activities. Until now, he said, such activities had been

done through Church participation in state-run programs,
through independent activities that had explicit approval by
authorities, or through "secretive activities." For
example, he noted that last year in HCMC, when the GVN found
itself unable to cope with the number of new HIV positive
patients "in their final stages," it called upon the
Catholic Church for assistance. The Church provided 150
religious workers to assist. (ref. A) "We have long
proposed that the government allow us to conduct more
activities in educational and social affairs," Kiet
explained, adding that the Church was generally restricted
only to supporting kindergartens. He said that the Church
thought "it is our responsibility to society" to operate
charitable schools and health care centers, and wanted "the
independence to do so." Bishop Kiet acknowledged that
Vietnam's new Ordinance on Religion - which would take
effect November 15 - made mention of charitable activities
by religious groups, but said "we are not sure" if the
ordinance would allow the Church the freedom of activity it

5. (U) Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Deputy Chairman of the GVN's
Committee for Religious Affairs, focused largely on religion
in the Central Highlands, in advance of Mr. Januzzi's trip
to the region the following day (septel). Xuan said that
Protestantism had first come to the Highlands in the 1930's,
that there were 60,000 Protestant believers there in 1975,
and over 100,000 today. [Note: Mission figures put the
number at 350,000. End note.] He said that the
"normalization" of the situation for Protestants in the
Central Highlands began with the recognition of the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) in 2001, and pointed
out that four highlands ministers now sat on the SECV's
board and students from the region were enrolled at the
SECV's seminary in HCMC. This process continued with the
decree on normalization of relations with the SECV, issued
in November 2003 (ref. B), and was aimed at putting SECV
activities in the Central Highlands on the same basis as in
all other parts of Vietnam. "The Central Highlands," he
said, "have been given high priority" and the process of
normalization continued unabated. [Note: This differs with
comments of CRA Chairman Thi, who told Ambassador Hanford in
June that the normalization process has been suspended as a
result of unrest in the Central Highlands in April. End

6. (U) Specifically, Xuan said that seven new Protestant
churches would be officially recognized in Gia Lai province
before the end of 2004. He did not comment on possible new
churches in other highlands provinces. Xuan noted that
there was still a shortage of pastors in the region, but
said that the CRA was planning to help the SECV's seminary
in HCMC "increase its capacity" and was continuing with
plans to carry out "on site training" in the Central
Highlands next year. This would involve uncertified
religious leaders receiving instruction from teachers from
HCMC. He added that the CRA had suggested to the SECV that
it send students to study abroad. In the meanwhile, Xuan
said that Protestant villages should register the number of
Protestant believers, the name of their church leaders, and
the schedule and location of their religious activities.
Those village congregations that did not meet all the
criteria for recognition could operate as "satellites" of
larger, officially recognized congregations, he said. "When
a village has its own pastor, it can separate and establish
an independent congregation," he added.

7. (U) Mr. Januzzi brought up the new Ordinance on Religion,
and noted that many in Washington were disappointed that it
did not contain specific language banning forced
renunciations (ref C). Xuan replied that the ordinance was
a "framework," and that it still remained for the GVN to
draft "implementing documents," which would be more
specific. "We understand that (forced renunciations) exist
in some areas, but they are the result of individual
actions," he said. He described forced renunciations as a
"psychological matter," the reaction when people with long-
held traditional beliefs were suddenly confronted with "new
phenomena." Nonetheless, "the new ordinance will overwhelm
such actions," Xuan promised. He added that the creation of
a single code to govern religion would have "significant
legal effect and significant unifying effect" and would make
the practice of religion "equal for all of Vietnam."

8. (SBU) Comment: Xuan's comments were some of the most
positive news we have heard on religion in Vietnam in some
time. So positive, in fact, that we fear he may have been
just telling his Congressional visitor what he wanted to
hear. Mission will monitor the situation in the highlands
to see if the "normalization process" for the SECV has
indeed resumed, and if new churches will open as promised.
End comment.

9. (U) Mr. Januzzi has not cleared this cable.