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US cardinal helped finalize pope’s visit with Vietnam’s president

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — U.S. Cardinal Bernard F. Law helped finalize plans for the first ever meeting of a president of communist Vietnam with a pope, according to a U.S. government cable appearing on the WikiLeaks website.

Cardinal Law, archpriest of Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, visited Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, in 2009 to meet with government officials and discuss bilateral relations between the Vatican and Vietnam, the cable said.

“It took a visit to Vietnam last week by American Cardinal Bernard Law to finalize arrangements to allow the visit (of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet) to go forward,” said the cable dated Dec. 4, 2009. The cable was released on the WikiLeaks website Aug. 30, 2011.

During a meeting with a top-level staff member of the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, Cardinal Law said the Vietnamese “expressed little interest in formal diplomatic relations, but considerable interest in ensuring the already-announced visit would go forward,” according to the cable.

Cardinal Law had been involved in Vietnamese issues for decades, starting with his work with a Vietnamese religious order, the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, in the Missouri diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, which he headed from 1973 to 1984, and also as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

In 1991, he led what was the first high-level U.S. Catholic Church group to visit Vietnam at the invitation of the Vietnamese government since 1975, and in 1990 he visited Vietnamese refugee camps in Thailand and Hong Kong.

The U.S. cardinal visited Vietnam again in December 2003 at the invitation of Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City to attend a thanksgiving Mass for the then-newly appointed Vietnamese cardinal.

Cardinal Law briefed officials at U.S. Embassy to the Vatican about the 2003 visit, according to a U.S. government cable dated Jan. 30, 2004.

He said he wrote a report for the Vatican about the visit in which “he cautioned against the international community developing a policy toward Vietnam similar to aspects of its approach to China” where economic opportunities are pursued without addressing human rights abuses, the cable said.

Cardinal Law had resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 in the wake of controversy over how he handled allegations of sex abuse made against Boston clergy. He was appointed archpriest of the Roman basilica in May 2004.

Pope Benedict XVI met with President Nguyen Dec. 11, 2009, marking an important step toward normalizing relations with the communist nation, the Vatican had said following the meeting.

A joint working group formed by the Vatican and Vietnam’s communist government announced six months later that the two sides agreed to the appointment of a papal representative who — for the time being — would not be residing in Vietnam. That representative was named in January 2011.

The Vatican and Vietnam had established a formal committee to discuss diplomatic relations after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Pope Benedict in January 2007. That meeting marked the first time a prime minister from Vietnam’s communist government met a pope and top officials from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

For years, top Vatican diplomats made annual trips to Vietnam to work out details of the church’s life in the country and for decades church leaders, particularly from the United States and France, have visited at the invitation of Vietnamese bishops.