The ongoing property dispute between the Catholic Church in Vietnam and government officials has continued with the Chairman of the People’s Committee of Hanoi asserting that the Archbishop of Hanoi must be transferred.
The chairman, who could become Vietnam’s next prime minister, claimed the prelate lacks a “good reputation” and credibility with the faithful. Catholic leaders quickly responded by insisting that the archbishop is “an outstanding leader of the Church in Vietnam.”
Over the past year, Catholic clergy and laity have sought the return of church properties confiscated by communist government officials. Catholic protesters have faced harassment and attacks by government-backed gangs, while an Associated Press reporter was detained and beaten by police when he tried to report on a September demonstration held at the former papal nunciature.
Nguyen The Thao, Chairman of the People’s Committee of Hanoi, on Wednesday met with foreign diplomats to defend the attacks on the Church and to probe their reactions on further potentially extreme actions, J.B. An Dang tells CNA.
Speaking to ambassadors, deputy ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions, Chairman Thao claimed that the main reason behind the property disputes in Hanoi was “a poor awareness of the law amongst the Catholic demonstrators.”
Attacking the Catholic leadership, he added: “a number of priests, led by Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet, took advantage of parishioners’ beliefs and their own low awareness of the law to instigate unrest, intentionally breaking the law and acting contrary to the interests of both the nation and the Church.”
According to J.B. An Dang, the Saigon Liberated newspaper incorrectly reported that foreign diplomats thanked the chairman for the information and “highly praised” the Committee’s solution for land disputes with the Church.
Father John Nguyen from Hanoi criticized the Saigon Liberated article, saying:
“No one from a civilized society can ‘highly praise’ overt persecutions against peaceful believers. You can be assured that had a diplomat spoken about something in favor of this government’s deeds then surely his name would be on all state media no later than the next day.”
“The obvious question is why, to implement such a good solution, the Vietnamese government had to deploy hundreds of police armed to the teeth, aided by professionally trained dogs; and was prepared to attack anyone who dared to disclose their plot to the outside world, even an American reporter?”
According to the Saigon Liberated, at his meeting with the foreign diplomats Chairman Thao spoke ill of Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet.
“Hanoi Archbishop must be transferred out of Hanoi as he has neither a good reputation nor creditability with the city’s citizens, including Catholic faithful,” the chairman reportedly said.
J.B. An Dang reports that the chairman’s statement was a “blatant lie” in the view of Father Pascal Nguyen Ngoc Tinh, a Franciscan from Saigon.
The priest said that for Catholics and many non-Catholics the archbishop is “an outstanding leader of the Church in Vietnam.”
“What is the real reason underneath this extremely begrudging attitude toward the prelate?” he asked.
He suggested the reason for the chairman’s attitude was the archbishop’s comments at a September 20 meeting with the Hanoi People’s Committee. There the archbishop had insisted that religious freedom is a “legal right, not a privilege,” according to the priest.
“In my opinion, the very reason that made the communists jump up crazily, as if they had been electrically shocked, is that the prelate has the nerve to cry out for rights. When I stand up to demand my rights, it means my rights have been taken away. They have been deprived from me,” he concluded.
Father John Nguyen has expressed serious concern that the Archbishop of Hanoi will face more problems from Chairman Thao in the future.
“Thao has been seen as a shining star in Vietnam’s political theatre,” he explained, according to J.B. An Dang’s report to CNA.
“The Politburo has explicitly appreciated his tough attitude and actions against Catholics. Many members of the Party’s Central Committee had no hesitation to throw their full support behind him.
“Recently, there have been rumors that he is going to replace the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung who has been seen as a poor choice for that post. The fact that he had greeted foreign diplomats confirmed these rumors. In Vietnam’s diplomatic protocol, it’s very unusual for a mayor to meet with foreign diplomats.”