Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Concerns are being voiced by some Vietnamese Catholics over the appointment of Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, chairman of the Conference of Bishops, to the post of coadjutor to Archbishop of Hanoi.
This despite the fact that over the past 24 hours Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet and his office have released several statements about it. Archbishop Kiet has described the appointment of a coadjutor as "great news" and urged the faithful of Hanoi to "thank God and the Holy See for having sent him to serve the archdiocese and support my frail health." The archbishop also asked the priests to put the name of Mgr. Peter in the prayer for the local bishop offered in every church during mass.
The same Mgr. Kiet, in a recent interview said that because of his health, he had asked the Holy See to be allowed resign from his post. But neither the Holy See nor the bishops' conference agreed that he should withdraw. Archbishop Kiet insists that even in the most difficult moments of his relationship with the government, "the Holy See and the Episcopal Conference were always beside me when I was criticized."
Despite the statements of Mgr. Kiet, in some Catholic circles the appointment of an assistant seems difficult to digest. Some sites, led by Catholics, have been inundated with harsh comments against the Holy See and the Bishops' Conference. For them, the Holy See has succumbed to government pressure by agreeing to remove Archbishop Kiet - something long requested by the authorities - in exchange for the establishment of diplomats relations and a papal visit to Vietnam. Someone even went as far as to say that at such a high cost, neither the diplomatic relations nor a visit by the pope would be welcomed.
To support their case, those who does not believe the words of Mgr. Kiet emphasize the strangeness of the decision of the Holy See to appoint a coadjutor bishop who is older. They add that the archdiocese of Hanoi, with 335 thousand faithful, 143 parishes and 90 diocesan priests and religious, does not seem to have great need of three bishops (there is also an auxiliary).
The archbishop of Hanoi in these environments is depicted as a victim of an agreement between the Vatican and the Vietnamese regime intent to solve the question of Church property in its own way. The choice of the government to open up to the free market has indeed led to soaring land prices, making the properties owned by the various religious bodies particularly attractive. Using the principles according to which "all land belongs to the people and is managed by the State in the interests of the people" the rulers of a country that is officially combating, but not winning in tha fight against corruption, force religious leaders to "donate" the their land, which is more often than not transformed into luxury hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. And sometimes, to block possible legal actions by religious organisations, demolitions begin even before possible appeals.
The appointment of Mgr. Van Nhon, considered a "moderate" in this context, is seen as a sign of future negative consequences on the question of Church property.
And some, like Father Pascal Nguyễn Ngọc Tỉnh, OFM - the biblical scholar who led the group that translated the Liturgy of the hours and is dedicated to the translation of the Bible and the Roman Missal - speaks of the "solitude" of Mgr. Kiet even within the Episcopal Conference.
"The imminent replacement of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet - he says - is only a matter of time." He, says Father Tinh, has tendered his resignation for health reasons ", claiming to be suffering from a chronic insomnia that causes fatigue. "But where does the insomnia come from?".
The priest points out that September 20, 2008, when he met the People's Committee of Hanoi and uttered the famous phrase "freedom of religion is a right and not a concession," the archbishop appeared "young, vibrant and dynamic." This affirmation and his staunch defence of the land of the former apostolic delegation and the Thai Ha parish cost him a violent press campaign by state media and violence perpetrated by activists.
But, although the bishops' conference affirmed that "Archbishop Kiet has not done anything against the law of the Church," Mgr. Kiet was and is "alone".