03/03/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Hanoi does not mention promises to Church, but will "consider" its requests for nunciature

by J.B. An Dang
In their first public statement, the state authorities seem to want to step back from their commitment to give the buildings to the Catholics, possibly in order to find a formula that highlights their own control. The bishop of Thai Binh attacks the pro-government "committee for Catholic solidarity".

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Signs of tension in Vietnam between the Catholic Church and the pro-government "committee for Catholic solidarity", while a representative of the prime minister, speaking for the first time of the affair of the apostolic delegation, makes no reference to the commitment expressed to give this to the Catholics, while affirming "being unable not to take into account" the request advanced by the bishops' conference.

It seems that in some way the government, if it does not want to step back, at least wants to find a formula that will place limits on the question of Church assets, while emphasising its own power.  In a meeting of the committee of Catholic union - which is part of the Patriotic Front - held on February 27, expressing the prime minister's point of view on the matter, Trân Dinh Phung, a permanent member of the front and the head of religious and ethnic affairs, made no reference to the promise already made to the Catholics.  But he described as "entirely legitimate" the Church's request to be allowed to use the complex for the activities of the bishops' conference.  "The government cannot ignore" the request from the highest leadership of 7 million Vietnamese Catholics, which for 27 years - since the creation of the bishops' conference - has collaborated together with the nation.  For this reason, the prime minister has entrusted the examination of the question to the office of religious affairs, to the competent ministers, and to the people's committee of Hanoi.  The prime minister, according to statements made the meeting, praised the Vatican and the archbishop of the capital for having brought an end to the demonstrations that risked deteriorating.  This was seen as a stance of dialogue and good will to which the government will respond by manifesting the same good will.

The meeting examined the protest of the mountain-dwelling Catholics over the ban on some priests from celebrating Christmas Mass in their areas.

But on the day after the meeting, some of the state-run periodicals, like "Catholics and people", created in 1975 - when the government tried, in vain, to create something like the Chinese patriotic association to control the Church - continue to attack the Catholics of Hanoi on the question of Church assets.  The owner of the periodical is the committee for solidarity, against which the bishop of Thai Binh, Francis Nguyen Van Sang, spoke out on March 1.  "Without the committee", he said, "the faithful of my diocese live as good citizens and good Catholics. We live in peace and harmony, and we have good relationships with all. This is a reality recognised by all". "We have no need", he added, "for any kind of committee" and "we are displeased that the committee serves only to complicate things".  The bishop asks the government to reconsider the role of the committee, which "is nothing but a burden on the national budget", in addition to creating a climate of greater suspicion and division between believers and government.

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