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Vietnam: Chilly Church-State relationship
Six months after the shocking removal of Hanoi archbishop, not a tiny bit of progress has been made in Vatican-Vietnam diplomatic ties. On the contrary, after the tragic situation at Con Dau, the persecution has escalated to the extent that local authorities forbade an ordinary bishop to say Mass in his own diocese; and the lawyer who defended Con Dau Catholics were arrested and persecuted. In that context, Patriotic Catholics have just been mobilised to coerce Catholics to be "good citizens".

Speaking at the congress of the Vietnam Committee for Solidarity of Catholics held in Hanoi, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan urged priests and lay people in the group to help dissolve relationship conflicts between the State and the Church" and "organise a 'good citizen campaign' among Catholics especially on the occasion of Christmas Season 2010. The "patriotic group" disclosed in its own web site last week.

Originally called the Liaison Committee of Patriotic and Peace-Loving Catholics, the pro-government Catholic group was set up by the Communist Party in 1955 with the goal of establishing a patriotic Church along Chinese lines, separate from Rome.

Nhan, a Politburo member of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party, told the group that Vietnamese Chairman Nguyen Minh Triet would like to meet with Catholic representatives to discuss matters of common concern.

The involvement of Triet reflects a reality that Church-State relationship in Vietnam has become tense after a series of land disputes; waves of overt persecution against Catholics in Tam Toa (Quang Binh), Dong Chiem (Hanoi), and Con Dau (Da Nang); and in particular the removal of archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi.

State media had been depicted Archbishop Joseph Ngo, a thorn in the eyes of the Vietnamese government, as a blockade in the road for Vietnam-Vatican diplomatic relations. However, six months after the removal of the prelate, not a tiny bit of actual progress in the bilateral relation has been made. Particularly, the plan of the Holy See, announced on June 26, to name a non-resident representative to Vietnam is still far from reality.

Vietnamese government seems to be interested in nothing else other than the removal of the young archbishop who had been so popular to the Vietnamese public as the voice for the oppressed.

The frigidity in the Church-State relationship has become more evident. In a historic move, the 11th Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Vietnam, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, 2010, did not include a meeting with Vietnam's Prime Minister as usual.

Since the Communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, at the end of each episcopal conference, no matter where the meeting was held: right in Hanoi or thousands of kilometer away in the South, bishops went to Hanoi to meet with the Prime Minister a custom that has drawn much criticism among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

It had also been reported that during their 11th meeting, bishops were pressured by the Communist Party to include in their pastoral letter at the end of the meeting some paragraphs to promote the idea of a good Catholic is a good citizen. But the bishops refused to do so.

The phrase, taken out of its context from Pope Benedict XVIs speech to Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit on June 27, 2009, has been used by State media to urge Catholics for a complete and unconditional submission to civil authorities.

From the governments perspectives, Fr. Joseph Nguyen in Hanoi explained, good citizens are understood as those who would blindly follow its instructions, no matter right or wrong, just or unjust; who would be willing to kill their unborn children to conform to its harsh restrictive population policies, who would be ready to donate their church and their land to the Party. No Christian can urge others to do so, none at all, let alone priests

A month later, in his letter dated Nov. 21 to priests, religious and faithful of the diocese of Kontum, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh told his flock that a group of militia at KBang, Pleiku had put him in custody for hours to hinder his pastoral visit at Son Lang.

The prelate also disclosed that on Nov. 7, he celebrated Sunday Mass at a couple of houses in several villages of the rural county of Kon Chro. All house owners were arrested later and suffered hours-long interrogation rounds. In an instance, he himself was threatened by communist cadres in front of his parishioners: "If you keep coming to officiate Mass for these people you will be arrested and put in jail." The prelate wrote in his pastoral letter.

In another event, a week after his failure to represent Con Dau Catholic defendants at their trial in Da Nang, lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, himself, was arrested on Nov. 4. State media reported that police found anti-state documents on his laptop, several with calls for a multi-party system. He was arrested for "propaganda against the state" and would be detained for at least four months.

So far, none of the lawyers daring to defend Catholics in land disputes with governments could escape overt persecutions from the tyranny regime.

It would be missing not to mention that state media has just launched a campaign to attack a Catholic priest in Auckland, New Zealand, Fr. Nguyen Huu Le, for his film The Truth about Uncle Ho which has caused great shocks among Vietnamese people to the extent that it may threaten the survival of the communist party.

In his film, Fr. Nguyen, who had been in communist jails for more than 13 years, interviewed dozen historical witnesses about the role of Ho Chi Minh in the murder of millions of Vietnamese in the Vietnam War and in the land reform campaign which spread to most of the villages of North Vietnam from mid-1955 to mid-1956.

Relating to the later, in an official document titled The history of Vietnam economics from 1945 to 2000, the government reported that the land reform campaign was conducted at 3,563 villages with more than half a million people charged as landlords. Among them 172,008 were executed. It admitted that among those who were killed, 123,226 were actually victims of injustice.

Fr. Nguyens spectacular work has caused great bewilderment among communists as most of those who gave their testimonies in the film were former high-ranking Party members who had been close to Ho more than whomever during a long period. Among them were Nguyen Minh Can, the former ambassador of Vietnam in Russia, and Vu Thu Hien, a son of Vu Dinh Huynh. The later had been Hos private secretary for decades. Dismissing myths which the Party had been fabricating about Ho, they unanimously condemned the communist leader as a genocide and mass murderer.

The film, put in YouTube, can be viewed widely in Vietnam.

Joseph Dang

Posted on 29 Nov 2010

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