The sudden death of Archbishop Paul Bùi Văn Đọc of Saigon has stirred up rumours about the new leadership of the largest archdiocese in Vietnam. It’s always a sensitive issue in a country where the regime holds its veto power over the bishop appointments, and at times, its right to choose the bishops directly.

Vatican has a long, painful history of episcopal appointments to the city being rejected by the regime. Shortly before the fall of the metropolitan to the Communists (April 30, 1975), the then Bishop Nguyễn Văn Thuận was appointed its Coadjutor Archbishop. A group of rebellious priests, affiliated with the Communism, prevented him from functioning his ministry. On the feast of Our Lady of Assumption, 1975, he was arrested and held in solitary confinement for thirteen years. After being released, he was allowed to travel for meetings in Rome but, once there, was told he could not return. Later he was appointed the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and was made a cardinal in 2001. He died of cancer in a clinic in Rome, at the age of 74, without any chance to see by his own eyes his home land one more time.

In another incident, on August 10, 1993, the Holy See appointed Bishop Nicolas Huỳnh Văn Nghi of Phan Thiết apostolic administrator sede vacante of the archdiocese due to the poor health of Archbishop Paul Nguyễn Văn Bình. The regime rejected the nomination, even the prelate was a native “Saigonese” and had been an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese for 5 years before being transferred to a nearby diocese. The prelate, seen by many as a hero of faith in the recent history of the Church in Vietnam, courageously carried out his duties despite the harassment, intimidation and numerous obstacles erected by the regime and the said group of rebellious priests who had formed in the archdiocese the largest portion of the so-called “Vietnam Committee for Solidarity of Catholics” - a peripheral organisation of the Vietnamese Communist Party to set up a Chinese style state-run Catholic Church in Vietnam.

The Archdiocese of Saigon was vacant for five years after the death of Archbishop Paul Nguyễn Văn Bình. The logjam was only broken in 1998 with the appointment of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn who was made a cardinal in October 2003. A decade later, he was succeeded in March 2014 by Archbishop Paul Bùi Văn Đọc.

With the sudden dead recently in Rome of the later, many questions have been raised regarding the new leadership of the archdiocese. Among them crucial ones are those relating to Church properties. Many buildings and plots of land that once belonged to the Church have been administered by the State on the grounds that they were needed for social purposes. Even when their purposes are no longer met, these properties are seldom returned to the Church. During the last decade as, real estate prices have been continuously skyrocketing, they have been used as financial resources for government officials, not to mention that new premises have come into troubles with municipal authorities.

Would the Communist regime allow for the appointment of bishops who dare to challenge its monopoly on power; or at least raise a voice to oppose its arbitrary seizure of Church properties?