Vietnamese Government Destroys Catholic Monastery

(Remnant News Watch July 25, 2009)

Mark Alessio

(Posted 07/22/09
 The Vietnamese government has renewed its seizures of Catholic Church properties in the country, demolishing “several monasteries to build hotels and tourist resorts. The move has generated fears that the government has adopted a new and ‘harsh’ approach to Catholics,” reports VietCatholic News (June 12, 2009):

Last week the government ordered the destruction of the monastery of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Holy Family in Long Xuyen, Vietnam. A spokesman for the diocese said the former two-story home of the priests and religious of the Holy Family Order was destroyed on June 4. The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres’ monastery in Vinh Long was also recently destroyed.

The Brothers of the Holy Family monastery, built in 1971, was still in good condition and its destruction surprised Catholic officials, Fr. J.B. An Dang reports. The local government did not inform the diocese about its intention to tear down the building and has not announced its intention for the future use of the land.

The monastery’s altar and religious statues were all discarded in a garbage dump. Neither the diocese nor the religious order has been officially informed to go and retrieve the items.

The Congregation of the Brothers of The Holy Family of Banam was founded in 1931 by Bishop Valentin Herrgott, the Apostolic Vicar of Phnom-Penh, Cambodia. In 1970, the order moved to Long Xuyen, Vietnam, after a coup against Cambodian monarch Norodom Sihanouk resulted in the rise of the Khmer Republic. In 1984, the Congregation’s brothers were arrested on charges of “anti-revolutionary activities” and jailed without trial. Their monastery was also seized by the Vietnamese government.

Protests by the Congregation of the Brothers of the Holy Family over the unjust imprisonment of its members and seizure of its property have met with no success. On May 21, 2009, the government's deputy chief of religious affairs, Nguyen Thanh Xuan, declared that the state "has no intention of returning any property or goods to the Catholic Church or any other religious organization."
Fr. An Dang fears that the destruction of the Long Xuyen monastery and Xuan’s statement signal a “new, harsh policy on Church’s properties in which there would be no more dialogue .... as if the State is the true owner with full authority on Church assets.”

It was only last October (2008) that Vietnamese Prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung warned Catholics that his government would not tolerate protests over seized Church property. He made this statement after thousand of Catholics had gathered outside St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi’s largest church, to demand the return of two seized plots of church land, one located near Thai Ha Church, near the center of Hanoi, the other the site of the former Vatican Embassy, next to the Cathedral. During the previous August, Vietnamese police arrested four Catholics who had taken part in Masses and prayer vigils for the return of the seized land.

The Vietnamese government’s attacks on the Church are not limited to property only. On April 28, 2009 the Catholic News Service reported:

Vietnamese state media have “fiercely attacked” two Redemptorist priests, accusing them of critically damaging national unity and blocking the national construction and development process. In what some see as a preparation for a government crackdown, the media are accusing the priests of the capital crime of plotting to overthrow the Communist regime. The tactic is commonly practiced to target opponents whose leadership among ordinary citizens is perceived as a threat to the current regime, Fr. J.B. An Dang tells CNA.

The New Hanoi Newspaper, run by the Party Committee of Hanoi City, denounced Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai, spokesman of Thai Ha Redemptorist Monastery, for “instigating parishioners in order to cause divisions, inciting riots, falsely accusing the government, disrespecting the nation, breaking and ridiculing the law and instigating others to violate it.”

In addition, the Capital Security Newspaper accused Fr. Nguyen of teaching “false Church doctrine to incite violence against the government.” Fr. Nguyen has also been criticized for opposing construction at a 4.5 acre lakeside site which belongs to Thai Ha parish.

Another Redemptorist, Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy of Saigon, was also attacked by New Hanoi for criticizing the government’s bauxite mining plans, and establishing a web site through which Catholics from all over the world could sign an electronic petition calling for the suspension of the mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. The newspaper accused Fr. Joseph Le of “stupidity,” “ignorance,” causing critical damage to national unity, and the serious charge of plotting to overthrow the communist regime. In fact, Fr. An Dang believes that the accusations of plotting to overthrow the government could signal “that the Vietnam government has been preparing public opinions for an imminent crackdown.” The New Hanoi Newspaper has called for the Vietnamese government to enact “immediate and severe punishment” against the two priests “before they go too far.”

These media attacks on Catholic priests are nothing new. Last year, state-controlled Vietnamese newspapers and television joined the government in attacking Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet, accusing him of “illegal acts” and “instigating unrest” on account of the prayer-vigils taking place to protest the seizure of church property.

On September 19, 2009, Catholic World News reported on the Vietnamese government’s use of paid agitators masquerading as priests and lay Catholics in order to discredit the Church. On one occasion, a “Church dissident” was quoted speaking out against the protesters. It turns out that the quoted individual had already been dead for a few years at the time of his “interview.”

The Agence France-Presse news service reported that, last year (September 21, 2008), police stood by, doing nothing, as a gang attacked Thai Ha Church, which had organized protests against seizure of church property. The gang chanted slogans threatening to kill priests, religious, the faithful and the archbishop; they threw stones and destroyed every statue of the Virgin Mary they could find. According to Fr. Khoi Phung, “Everything happened clearly in front of a large number of officials, police, security personnel, anti-riot police, and mobile police – those who are in charge of keeping security and safety in the region. But they did nothing to protect us.”

The anti-Catholic campaigns launched by the Vietnamese government could be a blueprint for anti-Catholic campaigns in any country. It includes attacks on property, attacks on priests and attacks on the Church as a “dissident” entity, or an “enemy of unity.”

Can we travel that road in America?

- Look at “Bill S.B. 1098,” introduced in the Connecticut legislature on March 5, 2009. This bill would remove control of Catholic parishes from bishops and place it into the hands of a “lay” panel, which would give them legal control over church management. It’s not exactly the bulldozing of church property, but it’s a start.

- Look at “Resolution 168-08,” passed unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (March 21, 2006), which claims that the Vatican “meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great City's existing and established customs and traditions such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need.” It also describes the moral teachings of the Catholic Church as "insulting to all San Franciscans," “hateful and discriminatory,” "insulting and callous," and "insensitive and ignorant."

Interestingly, “Resolution 168-08” called upon Archbishop Niederauer and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to defy the directives of Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who said that "Catholic agencies should not place children for adoption in homosexual households.”

Now, last year in Vietnam, state-run newspapers quoted from a letter written by Hanoi Mayor Nguyen The Thao to Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet. The mayor told the Archbishop, “You have a responsibility to persuade priests and parishioners to abide by the law.” Of course, “law” here meant denouncing prayer vigils against church land seizure. The City of San Francisco and the Vietnamese government – birds of a feather?

May Our Lady of La Vang, who first appeared to the Catholics of Vietnam in 1798, and has been their special protector in times of persecution, watch over them as their trials continue.




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