Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese bishops' conference has today informed that Msgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Hanoi. The appointment was published yesterday by the Vatican and is attracting a lot of discussion over the reasons behind the decision.
Some say the appointment of a coadjutor is the first step to remove the archbishop of Hanoi, Mgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, is loathed by the government. But the archbishop states: "The Holy See and the Episcopal Conference were always beside me when I was criticized." The reason behind the appointment of a coadjutor is only related to his health problems.
At present, Mgr. Van Nhon, 72, is bishop of Da Lat and president of the Episcopal Conference. From '91 to '94 he was bishop coadjutor of Dalat until he was appointed an ordinary in '94.
He has been called to collaborate and in the future replace the current archbishop of Hanoi, Mgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, 58, who has been in the capital for five years, formerly bishop of Lang Son-Cao Bang, on the border with China, since 1991.
Archbishop Kiet returned to Hanoi April 9, after a long visit to Rome, for health reasons. For at least a year it has been widely known that he suffers from poor health. The difficulties and strong opposition that he faces from the city government is also common knowledge. Archbishop Kiet has in fact always supported the complaints of Catholics over the illegal expropriation by the government of the former Nunciature of Hanoi and Thai Ha parish. To stop demonstrations and criticism, the police and thugs in their pay attacked priests and lay people, raided churches, imprisoned the faithful.
The government accuses Mgr. Kiet of being "the instigator of the riots" and this is why it has waged a press campaign and demonstrations against the prelate to force him to abandon his post, t such an extent that his arrival in Rome on 4 March was seen as a final departure from Vietnam.
The appointment of a coadjutor bishop (with right of succession) older than the ordinary has appeared a strange decision to many and has provoked the faithful to ponder the reasons behind the move. Speaking with the local press, Mgr. Kiet reassured everyone; "Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon is a very respectable bishop and is worthy of being fully responsible for the Archdiocese of Hanoi.”.
But among Catholics there are rumours that the government has convinced the Vatican and the Vietnamese bishops' conference to remove Mgr. Kiet and that they would pay "any price” to this ends, even “launch diplomatic relations" and give the go-ahead for Benedict XVI's visit to Vietnam on 6 January 2011.
According to these rumours, in order to force the Vatican to accept these terms, the government had also blocked a visit of its delegation to Rome, scheduled for this April. The principal aim of the visit was to give birth to a committee for the study of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Holy See.
The Vatican decision to appoint Mgr. Van Nhon coadjutor seems to be the first step towards the removal of Mgr. Kiet from Hanoi. The choice of Van Nhon is due to his unique "ability" to deal with government authorities.
The faithful, nuns, priests and religious in Hanoi like Mgr. Kiet very much and regret his departure, but "will continue to obey Mother Church" even with this choice. Archbishop Kiet responded to all these speculations with an interview on VietCatholic yesterday.
In it he states that, because of his health, he asked the Holy See to be removed from his position. But neither the Holy See nor the bishops' conference agreed that should step down. 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."