Kennedy's dilemma over S. Vietnam
Catholic Herald Correspondents
pOPE PAUL'S message to President Ngo Dinh .Diem, asking him to show toleration to the Vietnamese Buddhists, may have been partly prompted by a message to the Pope from President
Suggestions that Mr. Kennedy has been in touch with the Holy See come from Mr. R. S. Gunewardene, Ceylon's ambassador to the U.N., whose government has told him to put the issue before the general assembly if the situation in Victnam does not improve.
Buddhists in the Far East have appealed to both President Kennedy and U Thant for help. and the president of the General Buddhist Association in Saigon, the Venerable Thic Tinh Khiet, has cabled Pope Paul to thank him for his intervention.
At the same time. however, it is known that President Kennedy recently sent a message to Ngo Dinh Diem, assuring him of his personal confidence. It was conveyed by Ambassador Frederick Notting, who has publicly stated that, in two and a half years in South Vietnam, he has seen no evidence of religious perseeuton of the Buddhists by Diem's regime.
Meanwhile, the Apostolic Delegate to Saigon, Mgr. Salvatore Aeta has intervened to prevent a press conference being given in the Vietnamese capital by Ngo Dinh Diem's brother, Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thue of Hue.
The Archbishop has already given public addresses in his own area to refute charges that he was involved in the May incidents, when a number of civilians were killed. He pointed to the social institutions he has set up over the past few years for men of all faiths, and declared that he had never uttered a word of criticism ageinst the Buddhists.
"If today," he said on August 9. "I most raise my voice, it is not to criticise my Buddhist brothers. but only to defend my religion against unjustified attacks by a small group belonging to the Buddhist General Association. for fear that some non-Catholic brethren will be led astray and fall into a trap of national discord which can profit Communism."
More than 35 members of the Saigon University staff have resigned, and have issued an open letter protesting against the government's handling of the crisis in Hue, and the government's dismissal of the university's rector. Five Buddhist monks and one nun have now committed ritual suicide.
It is however, believed in Hue that negotiations between the Buddhist leaders and the government may soon begin. Buddhist leaders have said repeatedly that they have no quarrel with the Catholic Church as such, In view of the fact that the Buddhist demonstrations are confined to Saigon and the Buddhist centre at Hue. there is substantial reason to believe that the opposition to Diem has far less to do with religious disability, if any, than with the nature of Diem's authoritarian regime.
It is reported that he doubts the wholeheartedness of Buddhist support for the fight against the Communist Viet Cong, and that this explains his tendency to nepotism and to the extensive employment of Catholics in the administration.
There are Buddhists in the cabinet and higher military commands, but none of them or their colleagues seem to he of the calibre to unite the country in the fight against the Communists.
Diem has created new industries, resettled nearly a million refugees, and smashed the three corrupt military sects that were, at the time of his accession to power, riddling the country with dissension and vice.
But he has been severely criticised by Catholics, not least by Archbishop Nguyen van Binh of Saigon, for his handling of the crisis, and for not exercising proper control over the troops and No one believes that he ordered the excesses — poison gas, fire hoses, machine gunning the crowds and brutal interrogation. But he is criticised for his slowness in cracking down on these practices.