11/08/2004, 00.00
VIETNAM
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New Ordinance on Religions does not provide freedom, says the Archbishop of Huê

Archbishop Nguyên Nhu Thê says: "we still remain within a framework of asking for permission." "Pray for our Church," he adds. "The government wants to control religious sentiment," expelled missioner says.

Huê (AsiaNews) – The new Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions adopted by the government of Vietnam does not satisfy Catholic Bishops. The new rules do not grant the Church the freedom it needs to organise its own affairs. "We are still in the situation of asking for permission," Mgr Étienne Nguyên Nhu Thê, Archbishop of Huê (central Vietnam), told AsiaNews. The Bishop asked Catholics around the world to "pray for the Church in Vietnam".

According to Bishop Nguyên Nhu Thê, the Ordinance is not "sufficiently open" vis-à-vis religious freedom because "we still remain within a framework contrary to religious freedom, namely that of asking for permission that the government concedes".

Under the Ordinance, which goes into effect on November 15, people "must ask the government for permission to do anything. If it chooses not to allow something, we cannot do anything. Hence the Church cannot organise its affairs as it should," the Archbishop explained. "We do not have the right to organise ourselves as we see fit and must seek authorisation for every choice and decision. This means there is no full religious freedom," he added.

Vietnam's Bishops share the views of the Archbishop of Huê. In late September, during the General Assembly of the Bishops' Conference of Vietnam, they wrote a letter to the government's Office of Religious Affairs in Hanoi claiming that the "new ordinance on religion follows a logic that defines religious freedom in terms of 'ask and concede'. This is still far from full religious freedom because we are still under control".

Archbishop Nguyên Nhu Thê ended his interview with AsiaNews asking Catholics around the world to pray "for Catholics and the Church in Vietnam".

Contacted by AsiaNews, other bishops chose not to make any statement fearing government reprisal.

The Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions "is even more restrictive than previous ones," this according to Fr André Maïs, of the Missions étrangères de Paris, who was a missioner in Vietnam for many years before his evangelisation activities led to his expulsion.

"The new law," he said, "increases government control over religion. The authorities want to control religious sentiment as such," he added.

In essence, according to Father Maïs, this means that in Vietnam religions are under increasing restrictions and that religious freedom is increasingly limited. "Until now, the government tried to control religious worship. Now, it wants to directly determine people's religious sentiment". (LF)

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