Detailed reports on the installation ceremony of the new Hanoi coadjutor keep inflaming disputes, driving Catholics deeper into bewilderment and anxieties for the uncertain future of the Church in Vietnam.

In an orchestrated media approach, on Saturday May 8, state media outlets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City simultaneously reported the ceremony. Most reports started with an excerpt from VNA, the official state news agency: “Following the Vietnamese Prime Minister’s approval, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon of Dalat, President of Vietnam Episcopal Council, as coadjutor archbishop of Hanoi.”

The phase “Vietnamese Prime Minister’s approval” was highlighted, and repeated throughout the short report in what appeared to be a well planned strategy to send a subtle message to their readers that the Catholic Church in Vietnam is now completely under the control of the communist Party and that not only bishops in Vietnam, the Pope and the Vatican also need to bow to demands of the regime in order to get “Vietnamese Prime Minister’s approval” in Church’s activities.

State media had reportedly been instructed to be silent on the change of Catholic leadership in Hanoi. “When his transfer being underway, the media are not to publish anything as if it were a Catholics' internal affair,” said Do Quy Doan, Vice Minister of Information and Communications Ministry during a meeting with State media executives in Hanoi on April 6. “The prior strategy of State media seems to be altered to allow more attacks on the shaken trust of Catholics towards the Vatican. Probably, they want to uproot what's left over in the heart of Catholics,” said event observer John Nguyen Thach Ha from Hanoi.

Reports on the ceremony from local Catholic sources have also caused growing concerns on the life of the Church in Vietnam.

From a pastoral point of view, Fr. Dinh Cong Phuc, expressed his sorrow seeing what had happened during such a solemn ceremony. It was probably the first time ever in the history of the Church in Vietnam that a large number of faithful went to a church not to attend the Mass but rather to protest.

During the installation ceremony of the new coadjutor bishop of Hanoi, Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon in the Cathedral of St. Joseph on May 7, large groups of Catholics with a sea of placards and banners stayed outside the church to protest changes in leadership of the Hanoi archdiocese which they believed as a bow of the Vatican to Vietnamese communists toward Hanoi harsh demands of the removal of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet.

It's worth noting that days before the ceremony, the archbishopric office had issued a statement warning the faithful "not to bring to the cathedral anything not necessary", "not to say or do anything that would spoil the solemnity of the ceremony".

Reporting on “extremely odd, unprecedented things” in the ceremony, JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, the Hanoi Catholic journalist who in February was beaten into concussion following the Dong Chiem incident early this year could not hide his anxiety for the good standing of the hierarchy under the eyes of Catholic faithful.

“In a strategy obviously planned to avoid a direct confrontation with protestors, the procession of bishops and clergy had to enter through a side door, not the main entrance of the cathedral as in other previous solemn ceremony,” he revealed.

Likewise, at the end of the ceremony, the bishops returned to the archbishopric office by a backdoor where they could escape the sea of protestors,” he continued noting that the new coadjutor did not give his traditional blessings to the faithful and no one could kiss his ring as routinely done in the past.

Prior to the ceremony, there had been voices from various Catholic circles warning Mgr. Peter Nguyen of enormous challenges awaiting him in the new post, and asking him not to accept the appointment in order to defeat the plot of the regime to remove Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet.

In an open letter circulating on the Net, Dominican Father Do Xuan Que, a famous Hymn Composer, warned Mgr. Peter Nguyen that on accepting the appointment he might face “the condemnation of the history for collaborating with a regime that has caused so many miseries to our people and created various serious problems to our country.”

A biblical scholar and an outspoken Franciscan priest, Fr. Nguyen Ngoc Tinh, earnestly implored the prelate to resign “for the benefits and the unity of the Church in Vietnam.” In his analogy, the scholar expressed his concerns on the legitimacy of the appointment and the acceptance of the Christian community of Hanoi of a religious leader who came to this position under suspicious circumstances "In this situation, when anyone who replaces Msgr. Kiet has to be approved by the Hanoi government, then he would be regarded by the public as a "state's agent" no matter how talented and virtuous he is. Facing this dilemma, how can Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon find the confidence and respect, a crucial factor for his leadership?"

It was the second time in the history of the Church in Vietnam a bishop installation ceremony faced oppositions. But they are quite dirrent. If this time has shown how deeply the faithful love and concern about the wellbeing of their Church, the first one showed how much desire of the regime to put the Church into its complete control.

On April 23, 1975, a week before the fall of Saigon, Pope Paul VI named the then bishop Francis Nguyen Van Thuan Coadjutor Archbishop with rights of succession to the Archbishop of Saigon. On May 12, 1975 at the archbishop office of the city, a simple installation ceremony occurred amid a protest of a dozen of pro-communist priests. Three months later, on the solemnity of the Assumption (Aug. 15, 1975), the new Coadjutor was arrested. Without ever being tried or sentenced, he was taken to North of Vietnam where he was imprisoned for more than 13 years, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement.

On Nov. 21,1988, he was released by the communist government but kept under house arrest in the archbishop's residence in Hanoi, impeded to return to his see. He was allowed to go on a visit to Rome in 1991 but not allowed to return. In the following year he accepted a post at the International Catholic Commission for Migration in Geneva, Switzerland. On Nov. 24 1994, he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and subsequently elevated to Cardinal in 2001.