Kiet, who was hospitalised here on Friday, came to Rome for additional care after receiving treatment at the Chau Son monastery in Vietnam, the report said.

News of Kiet's departure from Vietnam sparked "speculation about his possible removal" from the Hanoi archdiocese, the Rome-based news agency said.

The Vietnamese government has repeatedly pressed the Vatican to remove the 57-year-old prelate, who has spearheaded protests over seizures of Roman Catholic Church real estate by the communist authorities, Asianews said.

"We are priests, we need not fear God. If this is what God wants, we serve in faith, not in fear," Kiet told a delegation before leaving Vietnam, adding that "prayers and solidarity are the weapons of the Church", Asianews reported.

Vietnamese Catholics began protesting in December 2007 over property confiscated since the end of French colonial rule in 1954, occasionally clashing with police.

Vietnam has Southeast Asia's largest Roman Catholic community after the Philippines -- about six million in a population of 86 million, but religious activity remains under state control.

Kiet said he hoped God "will gift me the blessing of good health and I will be able to serve him", Asianews said.

Agence France Presse - March 8, 2010