Letter to Vietnamese Amabassador

April 28, 2004

His Excellency
Nguyen Tam Chien
Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of Vietnam
1233 20th Street, N.W.
Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

Five years ago, together with other American bishops, I had the pleasure of visiting Vietnam and meeting with our brother bishops and fellow Catholics of Vietnam. Also in meetings with government officials in Hanoi and Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, we had frank and respectful discussions about the situation of religious life in your country.

We were pleased to hear from our brother bishops of the improvements in the area of religious freedom in recent years, especially as concerns the Catholic Church. While full religious freedom for all believers seems still a future hope, we believe that the annual visits of the delegation of the Holy See have played a helpful role in these improved relations. We continue to hope that your Government will see the wisdom soon of establishing the long-desired official relationship with the Holy See.

Recent and widely reported events affecting the Montagnard or Dega people in the Central Highlands,however, are a matter of grave concern to us who wish only good for the Vietnamese people. These largely Protestant Christians have been treated brutally by the authorities for years, with the violent repression of their Easter observances this month being especially reprehensible. I ask you to convey to your Government these concerns of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Another painful issue is the continued detention of a priest whose only known offense was to submit testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom critical of Vietnam's behavior in this area. By imprisoning Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, an otherwise obscure human rights advocate, your Government has converted him into one of the world's better known prisoners of conscience and given greater reason for criticism of Vietnam's record on human rights and religious freedom.

I urge your Government to commute, not merely further reduce, Father Ly's sentence. May I ask you also to convey this additional concern of the Catholic Church here to your Government.

With sincere thanks and best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee of International Policy