Vietnam: plans to establish state-run Catholic Church flounder

 Plans to establish a Chinese-style state-run Catholic Church in Vietnam have failed.

After many postponements, a meeting of the 'Vietnam Committee for Solidarity of Catholics' designed to establish a state-approved Patriotic Church' took place in Hanoi on November 19-20.

A report on the state-run Vietnam News Agency a week ahead of the meeting, said organisers were expecting 425 delegates, including 145 priests to take part. In fact it seems that far fewer people attended and at least some of the clergy who were there had been pressed into taking part.

One priest who was forced to attend, described the atmosphere as sombre, and said: "only a few dozen attended."

No pictures were allowed, he said, as this would have revealed the true facts of the meeting.

The committee decided that it would impossible to establish a Church directed by the Party rather than the Vatican. State-run media reported that the committee agreed to focus more on "calling upon Vietnamese Catholics at home and abroad to actively participate in a wide range of social activities in a myriad of areas, from work, study and business to production and humanitarian acts, and to continue working for national socio-economic development."

In fact the Church in Vietnam has actively participated for years in social activities. Moreover, bishops have repeatedly asked the government to allow the Church to participate more on some specific areas, such as education, and health care. So far their requests have been ignored.

The Vietnamese communist government has tried for many years to set up a Chinese-style state-controlled Catholic Church.

The first attempt was the 'Liaison Committee for Patriotic and Peace-Loving Catholics' established in March 1955. When this failed the government began a repressive policy of persecuting clergy and laypeople, and confiscating church property.

In 1975 after communists seized the whole country, thousands of Catholic priests, including the then Auxiliary Bishop of Saigon, Francis Nguyen Van Thuan, (who later became Cardinal and chaired the Vatican Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) .were imprisoned. In this climate of fear the government set up the 'Committee for Solidarity of Vietnamese Catholics'.

At first a significant number of Catholics joined this committee. But when the Prayer for the Pope was left out during a special Mass, in December 1976, the Holy See See wrote a letter advising clergy who had taken part to withdraw.

Fr Joseph Nguyen said: "Most bishops in Vietnam explicitly asked their priests not to join the committee." While some might have joined with good intentions of improving relations between the Church and State, Fr Joseph said: " With recent open persecutions against the Church, they now realize their presence in the committee does not help Communists to overcome their prejudices against Catholics."

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