State priests: a challenge for the Church in Vietnam
Kelly-Ann Nguyen5/1/2011

Abusing Church property by a priest resulted in a verbal clash with his parishioners. The incident highlights challenges that the Church in Vietnam has to face when hundreds of priests devote their time, and efforts, and Church resources to passionately support for the Communist government.

Commnunist meeting in the Church's yard
Launch campaign for the National Assembly election
Parishioners who went to Trung Chau church in the diocese of Thai Binh on April 29 were very annoyed to see their pastor, Fr. Vincent Pham Van Tuyen not preparing for the evening Mass, but instead busy erecting a large canopy to hold a meeting with high ranking officers of Hung Yen provincial government to launch a campaign for "the National Assembly election". Local Catholic source reported.

Those, whose optimism allowed them to foster the hope that the Mass would not be cancelled, went inside the church to recite their daily prayers before Mass. But their prayers were drowned out frequently by the noise blaring from the local government's loud speakers installed for the meeting between Fr. Tuyen and his communist comrades that was live broadcast on a state TV channel.

Tension built up by the long wait for the Eucharist celebration finally reached to its boiling point and resulted in a verbal clash between the parishioners and Fr. Tuyen when the priest asked them to stop reciting the Holy Rosary to join the meeting so that the TV crewmen could videotape a larger crowd for propaganda purposes.

Fr. Tuyen, a high ranking member of the provincial Father Frontland, had been the pastor of Pho Hien, Hung Yen province until no Catholics in the parish went to the church. A few former Catholics of Pho Hien, a parish with long history, gave Asia-News explanations for their renunciation: "Since Fr. Tuyen works for the government, no parishioner would want to come to him for confession for fear of being reported to the police. After so many years of skipping confession and communion, we gradually got drifted away". Older generations among parishioners subtly expressed their concern: "We wonder if sacramental received from him would be licit or not”.

It’s a great mistake to detract from the overall image of the Church in Vietnam where majority of priests have to pay great costs even by their own life for their pursuit for holiness, and their zeal in the service of God and their brothers and sisters. However, it’s also so naive to underestimate vigorous and snaking efforts of the communist security forces to infiltrate into the Vietnamese Catholic Church to subvert and destroy the Church from within.

These efforts have resulted in a segment of clergy having been informers for the regime at varying degrees who try their best to hide their collaboration with the Party, and some hundreds of other priests known collectively as State priests (linh mục quốc doanh – in Vietnamese) who do not see the need to hide their relationship with the regime. They publicly join the Communist Party and other organs with close links to it including the Committee for the Solidarity of the Catholics founded by the regime with an impetus to establish a Church breaking up with Rome piece by piece.

"State" priests have long been known as a source of dysfunctions of the Church. Typically, the atheist government has deprived the legitimate power of bishops and granted to some State priests who have been unofficially and effectively running the Church in parallel with the bishops. Rumour has it that they are even overshadowing the bishops in some cases where permission from the State is needed.

Fr. Peter (who like others interviewed would only allow his full name to be used), a former chaplain in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) told Asia-News: “In 1975, like other army chaplains, I was arrested and imprisoned for 12 years. On the day I was released, a communist cadre told me: ‘Go home, get married and have some children,’ I thought it was just a joke but it was not.” “In the next two years,” he added, “the diocesan bishop tried his best but failed to appoint me to any vacant posts. One day, I was told to see a priest who was then the chairman of the Father Frontland. Within a few days, I got my appointment. Who actually runs this diocese? I keep wondering.”

“Let us face this difficult, and shameful matter in truth,” said Fr. Andrew. “In decades before the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s, there were priests who were real fans of the Communisms. These ‘communist priests’ posed a great threat for us by publicly exposing their faithlessness while passionately advocating for the Communism. But, it’s over. Now, with the exception of a minority of priests who have collaborated with the regime for their career and money, I believe most of them have been compelled to do so due to their weakness, a long-term persecution, fear, or blackmailing. The fact is that except at major cities, in other areas, priests are quite lonely. If they cannot seek protection from his bishops, where they turn towards now?” the priest asked.

In another development, the archdiocese of Saigon has just removed Fr. 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.

“We welcome the move and really appreciate efforts of Catholic News Agencies around the worlds which have raised the question of compliance with the provisions of Canon law in Vietnam,” said Fr. Peter Nguyen.

The priest also warned that: “As long as the life of the Catholic Church is still disrupted and controlled so dramatically by the communists, as long as we, Catholics bishops, priests and faithful, still do not dare to bear witness with courage and perseverance to the greatness of God and Christian values; and not to stand on the side of the poor, the marginal, the weak, we still face great threats. The unstoppable decline in percentage of Catholics per state population is a typical one.”

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