05/03/2011, 00.00
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"State priests", a real challenge for the Vietnamese Church

by Kelly-Ann Nguyen
The archdiocese of Saigon has removed a priest who was a candidate for election, but the phenomenon of clergy who work more or less openly with the regime is a serious concern, because it leads to the distancing of the faithful. The case of a priest who interrupted parishioners reciting the rosary to summon them to an election meeting.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The approaching elections to the National People's Congress, with the candidacy of three priests, has again highlighted the problem of " state priests" which hurt the Vietnamese Church. People who use and abuse church property and their role to support the Communist Party, from which, in return, they receive all kinds of benefits a conduct that is distancing the faithful.

The archdiocese of Saigon has removed one of the candidates, Father Phan Khac Tu, who is in charge of "Catholics and People" magazine, founded in 1975, during the unification of the country, with the support of the government and became known for his frequent criticism of John Paul II and the Vatican. His election campaign highlighted his involvement in the war, since he claims to have operated a small factory of hand grenades for use against American soldiers during the conflict. "A decision that we appreciate," says Father Peter Nguyen, who adds: "the contrast between his behaviour and the requirements of canon law was highlighted by some Catholic agencies such as AsiaNews, Catholic World News, VietCatholic News and others in the world" .

Elsewhere, like in Thai Binh, the involvement of a priest in the election campaign has created a strong contrast with the faithful. Arriving at the church of Trung Chan, April 29, the faithful reacted with hostility towards their pastor, Father Vincent Pham Van Tuyen, who, instead of preparing for mass, was holding a meeting in a tent with senior provincial officials for the launch of his election campaign (see photo).

A local source reports that the faithful still entered the church, in the belief that the celebration would not have been cancelled. But their concentration was disturbed by the installed loud speakers for the meeting between the priest and his "comrades", which was also filmed by a Tv channel Tension grew when father Tuyen came into the church to ask his parishioners to stop their recitation of the Rosary to join the meeting outside, to make it appear on TV that there was a larger participation.

The priest, who is a prominent member of the Popular Front for the province, was previously pastor of Pho Hien, Hung Yen province, until there wasn’t a single faithful left in his church. "Since father Tuyen worked for the government - one of his former parishioners told AsiaNews - nobody wanted to go to him for confession, for fear that he would then reported to the police." "We wondered if the sacraments administered by him were valid or not" and "we stayed for years without confession and without communion, slowly we left the church."

But it would be a grave mistake to think that this is the reality of the Church in Vietnam, where most of the priests pay heavy prices, and are also ready to give their lives, to follow the path of holiness and zeal to serve God and their brothers and sisters . However it would also be naive to underestimate the subtle and vigorous efforts by which the security services are trying to infiltrate the Church to subvert and destroy it from within.

These efforts have had some results, there is a part of the priests who have become, to varying degrees, informers of the regime and who are doing their best to cooperate with the Party and hundreds of others - called "Linh muc Quoc doanh" (State priests) who do not see the need to hide their relationship with the regime. Having publicly linked themselves to the Party and other facilities connected to it, such as the Committee for Solidarity of Catholics, created in 1975 with the aim of establishing a Chinese-style "patriotic" Church, separate from Rome.

The " state priests" create dysfunction within the Church. Typically, the authorities move to undermine the bishop’s powers of governance to allow some of these priests a parallel management of the diocese. And in some cases, when state permits are needed, they overshadow the bishop.

Father Peter, who was chaplain in the army of South Vietnam, told AsiaNews that "in 1975, like other chaplains, I was put in prison, where t we remained for 12 years. On the day of my release, a member of the communist Party tells me: 'Go home, get married, have children'. I thought it was a joke, but it was not. For two years after my bishop did his best, but in vain, to assign me one of the jobs as they became available. " "But one day - the story continues - I was told to go find a priest who was a resident of the Popular Front. A few days later I had an assignment. And today I do not know who runs the diocese. "

'It is true - Father Andrew says - that we are facing this difficulty. " "Before the end of the Soviet bloc – he adds - there were priests who were true followers of communism. Their passion for Communism was a serious threat to the Church. But this has past. Now, with the exception of a small minority of priests who have collaborated with the system for their needs or for money, I believe that most of them behave the way they do out of weakness, threats, fear or blackmail. The fact is that, except for major cities, the priests are quite isolated. If they do not feel protected by their bishop, who can they look to? ".
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