.- A blogger who was defending the Church against the state media’s distortions of Pope Benedict XVI’s June speech to Vietnamese bishops was arrested on Thursday in what some fear is the first of many arrests.
Bui Tanh Hieu is a catechumen who writes under the pen name Nguoi Buon Gio, which means “Wind Trader.” Reuters reported that he was arrested by police in Hanoi on August 27 and has not been heard from since.
Redemptorist Father Peter Nguyen Van Khai of Hanoi monastery confirmed to Asia News that the blogger was detained on Thursday. The priest described him as a catechumen of the Archdiocese of Hanoi who is studying the catechism in preparation for baptism.
Sr. Emily Nguyen from the Diocese of Vinh warned that his arrest “certainly is not the last one.”
“Many Catholic bloggers have criticized the ‘shameful distortion’ by state media against Pope Benedict XVI's speech to Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit. They are at possible risk of arrest,” Sr. Nguyen said, according to Fr. J.B. An Dang.
On August 24 the state media outlet Vietnam Net published an article titled “A good Catholic is a good citizen.” In that piece it quoted several phrases from Pope Benedict’s June 27 speech to visiting Vietnamese bishops.
Perhaps the most serious distortion of the article was its abuse of the Pope’s statement that the Church’s intention is “certainly not to replace government leaders,” Fr. An Dang said. This phrase was interpreted as evidence the Vatican had advance knowledge of a plot of Catholic priests to overthrow the government. The article called on all Vietnamese bishops to identify such attempts at once.
“The next day, television channels, radio stations, and newspapers re-broadcast the article with great emphasis and calls for urgent arrests and punishments against some Catholic priests in Thai Ha and Vinh diocese,” Sr. Emily Nguyen reported.
Another of Pope Benedict’s phrases, about how it is possible to have a “healthy collaboration” between the Church and the political community, was used to accuse Vietnamese church leaders of not following a policy of peaceful dialogue with the government and of maintaining a hostile attitude.
The Vietnam Net article also tried to interpret “healthy collaboration” as the submission of Catholics to the Communist government.
Fr. An Dang told CNA that church leaders have in fact been “very patient” in seeking peaceful dialogue with the government.
“The government has refused any dialogue,” he charged, noting that in Dong Hoi the government has allowed police and groups of thugs to roam the streets and attack those who wear visible Catholic symbols.
The recent Vietnam Net article also misused the Pope’s statement to paint a “somber picture” of the Vietnamese Church in which priests have no deep inner life and have not striven for holiness, while laymen have not been charitable, honest, or good citizens.
“It tries to make its readers to understand that Pope Benedict XVI himself had insulted the Church in Vietnam for its spiritual corruption,” Fr. Joseph Nguyen of Hanoi explained.
“It has cast shadows of sadness among Catholics,” he lamented. “We all know that His Holiness Benedict XVI did not mean that.”
According to Fr. An Dang, the distortion of the Pope’s statement has caused doubt and frustration among Catholics throughout Vietnam and abroad.
Catholics have also reacted to the distorted report through internet blogs, a unique way to express opinion because all other public media are under state control.
Some bloggers have simply presented the Vietnamese translation of Pope Benedict’s speech. Others have argued that the Church would not require her faithful to obey without question governments which promote injustices and policies that violate Church teaching.
"Surely, no Catholics should follow the policy of Population Control through Abortion as Family Planning. Rather they should condemn it," blogger An Dan wrote.
Some bloggers have even argued that a government has just power only if that power has been bestowed by the people. Communists took control of the government by violent force and no democratic elections have been held.
Vietnamese authorities’ reactions indicate a readiness to take extreme steps to silence dissent, Fr. An Dang told CNA.
The Vietnamese state media have previously distorted Catholic leaders’ statements. In September 2008 the news media misrepresented a statement by the Archbishop of Hanoi about the difficulties of carrying a Vietnamese passport to make it appear he had insulted Vietnam.
The day after the report, government-supporting thugs attacked a Marian Shrine at Thai Ha parish. Concerns about security confined the archbishop to his residence and canceled or delayed his normal activities.