North Vietnam bishop at Synod
From Fr THOMAS STACK in Rome
Bishop Trinh Van Can, Auxiliary of Hanoi, is the first bishop from North Vietnam to visit Rome for 20 years. Because of the war and the policies of the Hanoi Government the Church in North Vietnam was not allowed to take part in the Second Vatican Council or in the three previous Synods.
The bishop's presence in Rome for the Synod is therefore a sign of improved relations between the Vatican and the Communist Government in Hanoi.
North Vietnam's bishops were officially incommunicado during the war years and Pope Paul kept in touch with the local North Vietnamese church by special letters and messages often carried by international personalities on fact-finding missions.
Mr Sean MacBride, former chairman of Amnesty International in London, was one of those entrusted with a special communication from the Pope to Bishop Trinh Van Can during an Amnesty-sponsored visit two years ago. The Hanoi bishop was predictably circumspect when he addressed the Synod last week. Obviously he was allowed by the Government to attend on condition that he avoided any comments on his home situation.
He spoke of what Catholics in North Vietnam had been able to do in recent years. He spoke of the shortage of priests there (300 for one million Catholics) and the devotion of the people to the Blessed Sacrament. Cardinal Seypi, the veteran Ukranian church leader and himself an ex-prisoner of Russian labour camps, warned against the danger of forgetting the intellectuals who were languishing in Soviet jails. He spoke dramatically of the anguish of the inmates of the so-called Soviet psychiatric institutions.
He listed 12 Ukrainian writers who were lost in labour camps, including _Valentin Moroz who had recently been condemned to 15 years hard labour. Cardinal Suenens of Brussels — Malines told the Synod that women were still denied their rightful role in the official life of the Church. He pleaded that social discrimination against lay women should have no place in the thinking and administrative style of the Christian Church.
Fr Arrupe, general of the Jesuits, speaking on behalf of 1,300,000 religious (men and women) said that "women are in a nosition to exercise all the offices and ministries that the Church may entrust to them."
Fr Koser, head of the Franciscans, said there was strong feeling within the religious orders that women, presumably women religious to begin with, should be brought into the administrative offices and centralised agencies of the Church in Rome immediately. They also want women religious to be present with full voting rights at future Synods.
Attending this year's Synod is the Superior-General of the de la Salle Brothers, Brother Charles Buttimer. This is the first time that a delegate who is not a cleric has had a seat with full voting rights in the Synod.
Brother Charles's presence thus has established a precedent and there should now be no canonical or other reason why leaders of religious orders of women should not attend.
Four women are in fact participating in the discussion groups at present, but they are there only by special invitation. They include the superior-generals of the Sacred Heart, Marymount and Our Lady of Namur orders. In addition, two lay women are in attendance (one from French Canada and the other from Wahomy, Africa).
• Mr MacBride, the former Irish Foreign Minister and international jurist, was this week awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for human rights. His father, Major John MacBride, was executed after the 1916 rising in Dublin of which he was one of the leaders and Mr MacBride himself was once a member of the IRA.