Prime minister threatens Vietnamese Church, relations with Vatican
by Nguyen Hung
Receiving the leadership of the bishops' conference, the prime minister asserts that if the archbishop of Hanoi does not change his attitude about Church property, it will have "a negative impact" on relations with the episcopate and with the Holy See.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Involving the situation of the entire Vietnamese Church, and also the possibility of improved relations with the Vatican. This is the approach that Vietnamese authorities seem to be taking in the controversy opposing the people's committee of Hanoi against the archbishop of the city, Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, over the ownership of the building of the former apostolic delegation and the land of Thai Ha. The stakes were raised by the Vietnamese prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, who yesterday received (in the photo) the leadership of the episcopate: the head of the bishops' conference, Nguyen Van Nhon, Cardinal Pham Minh Man, and Archbishop Nguyen Nhu The.

According to the long account published by the official news agency VNA, the prime minister maintained that Archbishop Kiet "has challenged the state, damaged the nation, and shown disdain toward the position and status of Vietnamese citizens in their relations with the world", in addition to violating "the constitution and the law". Given this, the prime minister "has asked the Vietnamese episcopal conference to review Archbishop Kiet's behavior more thoroughly, and especially his respect for the law, for the sake of the common good". This last statement, in the language typical of the communist party, has threatening overtones. The prime minister himself made this more clear, saying that "if these activities do not end, they could have a negative impact on the good relations between the state and the Church, and in relations between Vietnam and the Vatican, which are progressing in a positive manner".

Before the attack against Archbishop Kiet, according to typical diplomacy, the prime minister, "in an open and cordial atmosphere", expressed his satisfaction with "the solidarity between Catholics and the other members of society", in addition to praising "the contribution of the Catholic community to the achievements of the country in recent years, as also during the first nine months of 2008". After a long commentary on the respect for the law and for the state demonstrated by Catholics, he stated that Vietnam does not acknowledge private property, and that therefore the requests of Archbishop Kiet are unfounded. This was followed by a list of properties that, nonetheless, have been granted to various Churches in the country.

As for the bishops, the agency reports only that "they thanked the prime minister for receiving them, and expressed the aspiration of the Catholic faithful to continue to accompany the country in its development".

Both the account by the VNA and reports on state television left out the fact that the bishops, as Fr Joseph Nguyen comments from Hanoi, "openly rejected the accusations against the archbishop of Hanoi". "The bishops also denounced the growing campaign of defamation against the prelate and other Catholic leaders and the assaults against the parishes of That Ha and Mac Thuong, as well as against the archbishop's residence". They also stressed "the dishonesty of the state media" and "the propensity of the government to use violence to discourage people who cry out against injustice".

Finally, the prime minister made no reference to the efforts by bishops in February to have the complex of the former apostolic delegation given back to the Church, nor to the "gradual restitution to ecclesiastical use of properties nationalized in the past", mentioned in the note released in June at the end of the visit to Vietnam on the part of a delegation from the Holy See.