The Vietnamese government’s attempt to create a “Patriotic Church” to rival the Catholic Church in the country is now considered “completely impossible,” sources familiar with the effort have told CNA.
Though state media have allegedly concealed poor attendance at the fifth congress of the Vietnam Committee for Solidarity of Catholics, one priest forced to attend the meeting reported only a few dozen attended.
The congress had “a somber atmosphere,” according to his report.
The meeting of the Vietnam Committee for Solidarity of Catholics was originally scheduled for 2005 but did not take place until November 19-20, 2008 in Hanoi. On November 12 the state-run Vietnam News Agency claimed the fifth conference would take place “with the attendance of 425 delegates, including 145 priests,” Fr. An Dang informed CNA.
“However, after the congress had concluded, the number of attendees was intentionally not reported,” he continued. Days after the meeting, the state-run media outlet VietNamNet issued an “abnormally short report” stating that the congress elected to the committee 128 members, including 74 priests, four clergymen, and 50 others.
“It intentionally left the number of attendance for its readers to guess,” J.B. An Dang said.
While the reported numbers gave the impression that at least 128 people attended the meeting, a priest who was forced to attend the conference reported on condition of anonymity that “only a few dozens attended in a somber atmosphere” and “no pictures were allowed to be taken as they could demonstrate that the plot [to create a Patriotic Church] had failed.”
Those who attended the congress discussed a revised charter because the establishment of a Church under the directives of the communist government is now considered “completely impossible.” According to state-run media, the committee will now focus on “calling upon Vietnamese Catholics at home and abroad to actively participate in a wide range of social activities in a myriad of areas, from work, study and business to production and humanitarian acts, and to continue working for national socio-economic development.”
The committee’s efforts only imitate longstanding Catholic action.
“Ironically, not waiting for the call of the committee, the Church in Vietnam has actively participated for years in social activities,” J.B. An Dang told CNA.
“Moreover, bishops have repeatedly asked the government to allow the Church to participate more in some specific areas where the Church has been proven to be capable, such as education and health care. So far all of their petitions have gone into deaf ears.”
J.B. An Dang also provided CNA with a brief overview of the Vietnamese government’s attempts to co-opt the Catholic Church into its Communist regime, following the example of Chinese communists.
Its first effort, called the Liaison Committee for Patriotic and Peace-Loving Catholics, was born in March of 1955 but failed “thanks to the fidelity to Christ and His Church of Bishops, priests, religious and the laity.”
“While other religions were divided into an official (or state-approved) one and an underground one, there was only one Catholic Church in North Vietnam completely loyal to Christ and His Church even at the price of grave sufferings. As a result, alternative policies were applied, typically – the eradication of clergy and the Church property confiscation policies,” he explained.
The Committee for Solidarity of Vietnamese Catholics was founded in 1975 to revive the government’s efforts after the Communists had seized the whole country.
“At first, communists seemed to achieve their objective when a significant number of Catholics joined the committee, especially after the imprisonment of thousands of Catholic priests,” J.B. An Dang said.
The then Auxiliary Bishop of Saigon, Francis Nguyen Van Thuan, was one of the imprisoned clergy. Later elevated to cardinal, he chaired the Vatican Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The initial success of the Committee for Solidarity faded after the Mass at the conclusion of its first congress in December 1976.
“Concelebrating priests shocked attendees by intentionally leaving out completely the Prayer for the Pope, an act seen as a symbol of the tendency to break ties with the Vatican.”
A 1985 letter published by the Holy See admonished the clergy involved with the committee, after which most priests withdrew from the organization.
At present the committee is reportedly unpopular with most Catholics.
“Most bishops in Vietnam explicitly asked their priests not to join the committee,” Father Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi said. “For most Catholics in Vietnam, the involvement of priests in the committee confuses people –not to say it’s a big scandal.
“Many Catholics might join the committee with good intentions to bridge misunderstandings between Communists and Catholics. With recent open persecutions against the Church, they now realize that their presence in the committee does not help Communists to overcome their prejudices against Catholics.”