65975 5/31/2006 8:38:00 AM 06VATICAN91 Embassy Vatican CONFIDENTIAL 06NEWDELHI3548 | 06VATICAN67 | 06VATICAN86 | 06VATICAN87 | 06VATICAN91 VZCZCXRO2526RR RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHROVDE RUEHROV #0091/01 1510838ZNY CCCCC ZZHR 310838Z MAY 06FM AMEMBASSY VATICANTO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0346INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0010RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 0007RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0007RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 0005RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0374 C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VATICAN 000091 SIPDIS SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 5/26/2016 TAGS: PREL, SOCI, VT, IN SUBJECT: HOLY SEE RESPONDS TO INDIAN CRITICISM OVER CONVERSION ISSUE
REF: (A) VATICAN 086, (B) NEW DELHI 3548 AND PREVIOUS, (C) VATICAN 087, (D) VATICAN 067
CLASSIFIED BY: Christopher Sandrolini, Charge d'affaires, EXEC, State. REASON: 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Summary. Holy See contacts gave further background to Embassy Vatican on the recent controversy over remarks made by the pope criticizing anti-conversion laws in India. Our contacts suggested that the pope's remarks were neither surprising to the GOI, nor drafted in an ad hoc manner; and that the GOI's stern reaction was primarily for public consumption. The appointment of an Indian cardinal to a prominent post in Rome, at the same time that the cardinal was speaking out on the conversion issue, was a coincidence of timing but not intentionally so. We judge that the Holy See and the Church in India and elsewhere will not back down on issues it sees as fundamental to religious freedom, and to its security and survival. End summary.
2. (C) Following up on the controversy generated by Pope Benedict XVI's condemnation of anti-conversion laws in India (reftels), we spoke to Monsignor Bernardito Auza, the point man for South Asia in the Holy See's Secretariat of State. Auza -- the probable author of the Pope's May 18 remarks to Amitava Tripathi, who was presenting his credentials as India's new ambassador to the Holy See -- confirmed that the statement had been carefully drafted for balance and accuracy, praising India in various ways while also raising concerns. According to Auza, the papal nunciature in New Delhi felt that the government of India was not really unhappy about the pope's remarks, but had been compelled to make a fuss for public consumption.
3. (C) Auza said the nuncio and Indian bishops have been speaking regularly to the GOI and state authorities about these issues. The May 23 intervention of Cardinal Ivan Dias -- see para 4 below -- was his own initiative, not coordinated with Rome, but accurately reflected the Vatican's views. Auza noted that the May 20 appointment of Dias to a senior position in Rome (head of the Congregation for Evangelization) coincided with the current flap purely by accident; in fact, Ambassador Tripathi was originally to have presented his credentials in December, and the Pope's remarks on conversion would have been ready for delivery at that time. Unfortunately, the coincidence has been used in some quarters to suggest that the Holy See was playing a kind of balancing game (promoting an Indian on the one hand, to cover a tougher stand against India on the other, or even to facilitate more conversions in India); Auza said this is simply not true. Auza observed that the effect of the current flap was as yet uncertain, though in some areas (he mentioned Chhattisgarh) the reaction has already been strong. \
4. (U) In a document released on the official website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Cardinal Dias made four points: (a) religious conversion is "between God and the individual" and should not be constrained by laws or regulations that would abridge a right enshrined in the constitution of India; moreover, no forced conversion by the Catholic Church in India has ever been documented, despite various allegations. (b) Christians in India are only 2.3 percent of the total population, and of these 1.8 percent are Catholics; nevertheless Christians are responsible for large shares of primary education, community health care, and literacy programs throughout India. (c) a great many Indians of all faiths value and patronize these highly-regarded Catholic institutions, but are never asked to convert; thus after two millenia the Indian Christian community remains small. (d) those attacking the Church now should reconsider their biased behavior.
5. (SBU) We also spoke to Mons. Francis Chullikatt (ref C), a Kerala native heading off to become the papal nuncio in Baghdad. While primarily focused on Iraq, he reiterated the points made by Dias about the need to preserve religious freedom in India from poorly conceived anti-conversion laws, noting at the same time that the Catholic Church should be distinguished from various evangelical groups in India which do may respect traditional Indian culture in the way the Church does.
VATICAN 00000091 002 OF 002
6. (C) We note that the Indian controversy takes place against a backdrop of increasing concern in the Holy See with regard to religious freedom in Islamic countries. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Secretary for Relations with States (the Vatican's foreign minister), spoke May 17 to this question and criticized Muslim countries for ignoring the concept of reciprocity, calling for the Church to live its own identity to the full and not yield to extremists. Taking into account Auza's remarks, the prominent comments of senior figures like Lajolo and Dias, and the growing concern of the Holy See for reciprocity in relations with Islamic countries, we judge that the Church -- both in Rome and elsewhere -- will increasingly shed its traditional preference for quiet diplomacy when it comes to issues it deems vital for its own survival, particularly religious freedom.