BANGKOK (UCAN) — Vietnam’s bishops have affirmed that local clergy engaged in land disputes with the government in Ha Noi have not violated canon law, after the government petitioned them to deal with those clergy.
Nguyen The Thao, head of the People’s Committee of Ha Noi, petitioned the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference to “deal strictly and according to Church regulations with” Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi and Fathers Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, John Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong, Matthew Vu Khoi Phung and Joseph Nguyen Van That, Redemptorist priests stationed at Thai Ha parish.
On Sept. 23, Thao asked the country’s bishops to “transfer” Archbishop Kiet and the Redemptorists to places outside the archdiocese. The government official also accused the five of instigating other clergy and Catholics to violate laws, cause social disorder and hold illegal religious activities.
Earlier on Sept. 21 and 22, Thao issued statements warning Archbishop Kiet and the Redemptorists to “stop immediately their activities against the law.” If not, they would be dealt with according to the law, he threatened.
On Sept. 25 the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem district, where the contested former apostolic nunciature is located, fined the archbishop’s house 1,750,000 dong (US$106) for having placed a cross and a Pieta statue in the nunciature compound. The government removed the religious items from the site that same evening.
After taking the cases into consideration, “we see that these clergy have not acted against current Canon Law of the Catholic Church,” the bishops affirmed in their Sept. 25 letter to the Ha Noi People’s Committee.
The letter, issued during the biennial bishops’ conference meeting, was signed by Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat, conference president. The meeting was held Sept. 22-26 at the Xuan Loc bishop’s house in Long Khanh, 1,630 kilometers south of Ha Noi.
The bishops also presented their views on various problems in the country in a two-page statement attached to their letter. They highlighted property laws that do not honor private ownership, corruption, dishonesty in state-run media, and the spread of deceitfulness in many fields, even in education. They also warned about the increasing use of force in resolving land disputes and other problems, which they said will cause more injustice in society.
They suggested laws regarding property should be amended so that people have the right to possess what is theirs, while recognizing their social responsibilities. “That will be the basic premise of fully resolving people’s land and property disputes, and developing the country,” they said.
The Church leaders maintained information on the contested nunciature has been distorted by local media, and they urged communications workers to respect the truth and be highly cautious about reporting news and publishing photos, especially when these relate to the honor and prestige of individuals and communities. “Only when respecting the truth do media really fulfill their function of communication and education so as to build a society of justice, democracy and civilization,” they added.
Noting that Vietnamese people traditionally appreciate mutual affection and harmony, the bishops expressed their desire that all people end violence in their actions and words. People also should not look at the property disputes from a political or criminal standpoint, they said.
“A satisfactory solution would be reached only through frank, open and sincere dialogue, in peace and mutual respect for one another,” they stated.
The bishops also sent their letter and statement to the premier, the president, the government committee for religious affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local Redemptorists. These reportedly were read during Sunday Masses on Sept. 28 at all churches throughout the country, and copies distributed among local Catholics.
Many priests and Catholics from the south told UCA News they appreciated their bishops’ clear and positive views and will continue to pray for the local Church and the government to seek a proper solution to solve these cases in the near future.
Franciscan Father Guy Marie Nguyen Hong Giao, 71, told UCA News on Sept 30 that the bishops offered constructive, positive and practical suggestions. “If the government takes them into serious consideration, they surely will help bring sustainable, stable and quick development for the country.”