Hanoi Reportedly Relaxes Stance on Cardinal Van Thuân

Would Be Allowed to Enter Vietnam, Newspaper Says

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HANOI, Vietnam, FEB. 28, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Hanoi is easing restrictions on François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, a Catholic figure associated with the former South Vietnamese regime who John Paul made a cardinal last week, the South China Morning Post reported.

Communist authorities declared the then Bishop Thuân persona non grata when he left the country in 1991.

But the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday he would face only routine immigration procedures when entering the country of his birth in future and would be afforded all the privileges normally given to overseas Vietnamese.

Cardinal Thuân served as a coadjutor bishop in Saigon and the southern port of Vang Tau while the country was divided between the Communist north and pro-U.S. south. After Hanoi´s April 1975 victory in the long civil war, he spent 13 years in prison and under house arrest.

He is a nephew of the late Ngo Dinh Diem, who was president of the U.S.-backed former Republic of South Vietnam. At the time of the Communist victory, the Catholic Church and its 8 million adherents were considered sympathetic to foreign domination.

During his incarceration, Bishop Thuân wrote extensively on spirituality, survival and hope, and his works were translated into a number of languages after he went to the West.

According to the Vatican, Bishop Thuân was declared persona non grata during a visit to Rome in 1991, where he remained and rose to the position of head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Vietnam has come under heavy criticism for alleged religious intolerance in the past month, most recently at a hearing of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago.

Witnesses before the commission said Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants were harassed, beaten and illegally detained. They called on the U.S. Congress to halt a draft trade agreement between the United States and Vietnam and to impose trade sanctions on the communist regime.

Hanoi vehemently denied the allegations, asserting that any religious figure held in custody was guilty only of «violating Vietnamese law.»

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