In the letter dated 19 August Fr Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, superior of the Redemptorists in Vietnam, says that the authorities illegally seized the land in question and challenges accusations made in government media, calling for an immediate investigation into what Hanoi TV station Voice of Vietnam, police newspaper Capital Security, the New Hanoi, the Metropolitan Economics and other government media reported between 17 and 19 August.
These state media outlets stated that the Redemptorists of Hanoi cannot claim the land since Fr Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich donated it on 24 November 1961. They accuse Catholics of engaging in “illegal activities” and exploiting religious freedom to cause protests against the government.
“We have all necessary documents and witnesses to prove that the property had belonged completely to Hanoi Redemptorist monastery and Thai Ha parish until it was seized unlawfully by government organisations,” Father Matthew said. The Redemptorists already owned the property when the Communist government took power and Fr Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich never donated it, he said, challenging anyone to come up with papers showing that it was donated. “The government,” he insisted, “has never been able to prove that the land was confiscated lawfully.”
The dispute is over a piece of land bought by the Redemptorists in 1928. When the Communists took over in 1954 most clergymen and religious were imprisoned or deported. Only Fr Joseph Vu was left in charge of the 15 acres of land and the parish church.
Later despite complaints the authorities slowly seized the property, now reduced to half an acre, piece by piece.
“Repeatedly Fr Joseph Vu stated in words and in writing that he never donated any sections of the land”, Fr Matthew Vu said.
Citing Canon 1292 Fr Matthew Vu added that “Father Joseph Vu was only a local priest, he himself was not the owner of the property and had no authority to make such a decision.”
The letter ends vowing to fight for justice, calling on the government to respect its own laws and on state-run media to be honest with their audience.