"Yet any U.S. statement-episcopal or otherwise-critical of conditions in Vietnam is bound to be hampered by the sad history of a quarter century of U.S. military and political involvement in Vietnam. One example can make the point: U.S. episcopal criticism of religious repression in Vietnam today would carry more weight had the U.S. bishops been vocal in condemning the repressive moves against the Buddhists by the U.S.-supported Saigon regime of [Roman] Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem in the late 1950s and early 1960s."
From ................ NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER
BISHOPS' REPORT PAVES WAY FOR VIETNAM HEALING
WE WELCOME the report of the U.S. bishops' delegation to Vietnam [story, page 5]. It is a hopeful and helpful initiative containing much needed seeds for Christian reconciliation.
To understand its significance, some background may be helpful. Healing the war wounds has been a complex task hampered by a continued U.S. belligerence toward Vietnam. The U.S. government, for example, refuses to recognize the Hanoi government despite Vietnam's requests for normal ties.
This has hindered Vietnamese family reunification efforts and caused untold pain to a million Vietnamese refugees-many bitterly anticommunist-living in the United States. And nearly a decade and a half after the fighting has ceased, the United States forbids public or private economic assistance to Vietnam. This has crippled Vietnam's slow and painful reconstruction efforts.
Stumbling blocks in establishing better ties with the West have been Vietnam's military occupation of Cambodia, now being phased out, and the continued exodus of boat people, filling up Southeast Asian refugee camps.
While the refugees have often cited political reasons for fleeing Vietnam, motives have increasingly been tied to the country's desperate economic plight. Meanwhile, many have pleaded for a complete Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, but few want it to happen as long as an armed Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader responsible for more than a million Cambodian deaths, remains within that country. It took a Vietnamese invasion to unseat him and end the bloodshed.
In dealing with Indochina matters, reconcilers have been outnumbered and have toiled against great odds. Yet, progress has been made.
For whatever reasons, Vietnamese offcials have in recent years been more willing to forget the past than have their U.S. counterparts. For the past three years, Hanoi has been inviting U.S. government and private delegations to visit Vietnam, receiving scholars, former Vietnam volunteer workers, members of Congress, veterans and, most recently, a delegation of U.S. bishops headed by Arehbishop Roger Mahony, chairman of the bishops' international policy committee.
After a six-day trip to Vietnam, the Mahony delegation last week issued an initial report on its meetings with church and government officials. The report will serve as a platform on which the bishops will craft a broader statement on U.S.-Vietnam relations in June, when the episcopal conference meets in South Orange, N.J.
The delegation's report calls for more normal diplomatic ties between Vietnam and the United States. It also calls for a lifting of U.S. restrictions that inhibit humanitarian aid to Vietnam. The report praises a recent relaxation of restrictions on the church in Vietnam and cites Vietnamese officials as saying these moves are "irreversible." The U.S. bishops, meanwhile, ask that further steps be taken along these lines.
The tone of the report is moderate and open-ended, attempting, it appears, to honestly address recent gains in Vietnamese church-state relations while pointing a course for the rest of the journey.
Yet any U.S. statement-episcopal or otherwise-critical of conditions in Vietnam is bound to be hampered by the sad history of a quarter century of U.S. military and political involvement in Vietnam. One example can make the point: U.S. episcopal criticism of religious repression in Vietnam today would carry more weight had the U.S. bishops been vocal in condemning the repressive moves against the Buddhists by the U.S.-supported Saigon regime of [Roman] Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
History has its lessons. Under the French and Americans, Vietnamese [Roman] Catholics often were favored by friendly government officials, while other religious leaders suffered discrimination. The excesses of the 1980s cannot be seen as unrelated to the excesses of the 1960s.
This is not to justify religious repression in any form. Rather, it is to argue a case for the strongest possible criticism of every human-rights violation wherever it occurs.
The U.S. bishops have shown themselves capable of tackling complex and sometimes bewildering issues. They have admirably risen to the occasion in crafting peace  and justice  pastorals. Similar care and homework are now required in writing another potentially historic pastoral Ñ the reconciliation pastoral of 1989. The Mahony committee, members and staff, with the breadth and depth required, is up to the task. They know true reconciliation must be carried out with utter honesty and humility. That's the challenge. But, if successful, the seeds of the effort will bear fruits not only for our still suffering generation, but also for others yet to come.