04/28/2011, 00.00
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Three Vietnamese "patriotic" priests candidates for parliament

by Kelly-Ann Nguyen
Two of them were already members of the People's Congress. To make the news is the third, Phan Khac Tu, head of a newspaper known for its criticism of John Paul II and the Vatican, considered the father of two children and who boasts of having set up a bomb factory during the war inside a church.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - There will be three priests who stand in the elections for the People's Congress, the Vietnamese parliament, scheduled for May 22. Although two of them were already part of that assembly, in theory, the ultimate expression of people power, news of their participation in the vote is stirring criticism among the Catholics and raising the question of compliance with the provisions of Canon law in Vietnam.

Father Tran Manh Cuong and Father Le Ngoc Hoan, of the Diocese of Bui Chu and Ban Me Thout are already members of parliament, while Father Phan Khac Tu (pictured), from the archdiocese of Saigon, is participating for the first time in elections. His candidacy has provoked the most reaction in public opinion.

Father Tu is chief editor of Catholics and People, a magazine that was founded with government support in 1975 and became known for its frequent criticism of Pope John Paul II and the Vatican. His election campaign has highlighted Father Tu’s involvement in the Vietnam War, even claiming that he built a small secret factory to produce hand-held bombs that could be used against American soldiers. In an interview with Vietnam Net, a state-run media outlet, Father Tu voiced his pride in running such a factory inside a church in central Saigon as neither the South government nor the CIA could have suspected this.

Responding to the news, Fr. Joseph Nguyen in Hanoi told AsiaNews: “‘Thy should not kill" is a Commandment of God. Turning God’s temple into a weapon factory is a grave blasphemy. It’s immoral and unspeakable.”

However, when it comes to disciplinary actions against Fr. Tu that many have suggested; “discipline him? That’s right. But, be realistic: How and who dares to do so against such a powerful man?”.

Father Tu, a member of the Communist Party, has long been the pastor of the Vietnamese Martyrs Church of Vuon Xoai, one of the largest in Ho Chi Minh City. He is alleged to be the  father of two children with a female companion who has publicly confirmed their relationship as man and wife.

In an open letter to the Vietnamese hierarchy, several priests—including Father Nguyen Van Ly, a prominent dissident who has spent almost 15 years in prison— ask the Vietnamese bishops to take disciplinary action against the priests who are candidates for election. They cite the Code of Canon Law (285-3) which forbids clerics from holding political office “if it means sharing in the exercise of civil power.” In an open letter to the Vietnamese hierarchy, several priests—including Father Nguyen Van Ly, a prominent dissident who has spent almost 15 years in prison—argue that membership in the national assembly falls into that proscribed category, since the National Assembly exists only to legitimize decisions of the Communist Party. “It is clear from Church teachings that no true Catholic can ever be a Communist, or condone Communism,” the priests add.”.

Fr. Chan Tin, a Redemptorists in Saigon, demands the three priests immediately withdraw from the election to “save the face of the Church”. “Does the Church in Vietnam have its own Canon Law or special exemptions?” he asks. “If not, then no priests can participate in such an organ of power.”

There has been a common belief among Catholics that Vietnam is copying China’s religious policies. Fr. Tu is believed to hold a very high ranking position in the National People's Congress like Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan of Beijing who had been vice-chairman of China's parliament until his death on April 20, 2007.

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