Vietnamese Bishops Fear New Threat to Religious Liberty

Ordinance Requires Prior Permission for Events

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HANOI, Vietnam, NOV. 10, 2004 ( The Catholic bishops of Vietnam warned about the threat to religious freedom implied in a new ordinance that takes effect Monday,

The restrictive ordinance aims to regulate religious activities and beliefs in Vietnam, so that their formation endeavors, schools, celebrations, publications and ecumenical meetings can only take place under state control.

The Permanent Committee of the country’s National Assembly adopted the ordinance last June 18.

Government control will be exercised at district, provincial and national levels. The first two will be under the jurisdiction of People’s Committees; the third will fall to the Office of Religious Affairs and the prime minister.

The Catholic bishops’ concern over these dispositions was evident during their General Assembly at the end of September, when the episcopal conference wrote a letter to the government’s Office of Religious Affairs, contending that «the new ordinance on religion follows a logic that defines religious freedom in terms of ‘ask and concede.’ This is far from religious freedom because we are still under control.»

For his part, Archbishop Etienne Nguyên Nhu Thê of Hue appealed, through the AsiaNews agency, to Catholics worldwide «to pray for Catholics and the Church in Vietnam.»

The archbishop said that the ordinance «is not sufficiently open» vis-à-vis religious freedom because «we still remain within a framework contrary to religious freedom, namely that of asking for permission that the government concedes» on matters of creed and worship.

Under the ordinance, people «must ask the government for permission to do anything,» he warned. «If it chooses not to allow something, we cannot do anything. Hence the Church cannot organize its affairs as it should.»

In statements to ZENIT, Father Giuseppe Hoang Minh Thang of Vatican Radio’s Vietnamese program, explained that «if the law is applied as it has been written, it will be the end of religious freedom.»

With this ordinance, there is an intention «to condition and use religions. In relation to the Catholic Church, the logic is to reinforce the Patriotic Front to create a national church at the service of the government and independent of Rome,» he added.

«They have already created a national Buddhist church,» the Vietnamese priest said.

Last July, Father Thang told ZENIT that the Vietnamese government’s authority would also cover «appointments of the episcopate.» Even «candidates to the priesthood must pass the examination of the Socialist authorities,» who will decide «if the seminarians can be priests,» Father Thang warned.

More than 50 million of Vietnam’s 80 million inhabitants are Buddhists; 7 million are Christians, including 6 million Catholics. Four million profess the Cao Dai religion.

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