Vietnam’s Redemptorist provincial superior is resisting calls from a Hanoi government official who is pushing for the Hanoi members of the Redemptorist order to be transferred out of the city. The priests have been critical of the trial of eight Catholic protesters recently found guilty by the city government.
The pressure comes after more than a year of disputes between the Church and the Vietnamese government surrounding property confiscated by the government. The government demand prompted one priest to warn the Church to “prepare for more persecutions.”
Recently, several Catholics who had protested for the return of the confiscated property were convicted of destroying property and disturbing the public order. Despite the protesters receiving suspended sentences, many local Catholics considered the trial to be a sham.
In the wake of the trial, the People’s Committee of Hanoi asked Redemptorist Superior Fr. Vincent Nguyen Trung Thanh to transfer the Redemptorists who supported the Catholics on trials out of the city.
On December 12 Chairman Thao sent a letter to Fr. Vincent Nguyen and Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, president of the Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops. The chairman demanded that the bishops and the provincial superior “educate, and immediately transfer out of the area of the capital” four priests.
The priests are Fr. Mathew Vu Khoi Phung, the superior of Hanoi Monastery; Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai, Fr. Joseph Nguyen Van That and Fr. John Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong.
The chairman said he considered the transfer to be a “necessary condition to improve state-Church relations,” VietCatholic News reports. Fr. Vincent Nguyen, writing to the committee, defended the religious involved and said they have “not done anything against current Church Canon Law,” Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA. “I have no rights to transfer my brothers who have done nothing wrong,” he stated. “In this case, they even have carried out greatly their pastoral duties,” he added. “They have devoted themselves to their priesthood. They have stood on the side of the poor and those who have suffered injustice.”
Responding to accusations from committee chairman Nguyen The Thao, the provincial superior said the religious “did not say anything wrong. They simply told the truth.”
Fr. Vincent Nguyen addressed concerns that the refusal would lead to more tensions in Church-state relations and could provoke more government crackdowns in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA). He said he did not believe submitting to government demands could help improve relations. “The Church-state relation depends on many factors. The way the government treats people, its religion policy, the land law... There are a lot,” he said.
The provincial superior called for sincere dialogue and self-restraint from government officials. “The Church needs to prepare for more persecutions,” Hanoi priest Fr. Joseph Nguyen warned, suggesting that a careful reading of Chairman Thao’s letter shows that he did not actually expect the Redemptorists to be transferred. “He expected and truly wanted the Church leaders to say no,” Fr. Joseph Nguyen claimed. “The tone of the letter was so hostile, and so demanding. It also upset readers with the word ‘god’ in small case. It was not in tune with the claimed intention. “What Thao really wants now is a good excuse for administratively coercive measures. Please pray for the Church in Vietnam. As Christmas draws near, we are still at the Golgotha on the Good Friday,” he concluded.