Bishops demand freedom
NO RELIGIOUS CONFLICT
Catholic Herald Correspondents in Saigon and Paris
IN a pastoral letter issued at the height of the Vietnamese crisis, Archbishop Paul Nguyen van Binh of Saigon has deplored recent "incidents", proclaimed the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and religion, and protested against foreign press misrepresentations of the
In a statement to the Catholic Herald, Bishop Nguyen van Thien of Inh-Long has flatly declared that there is no question of a conflict between Buddhists and Catholics as such, but "only a Buddhist reaction against a government led by a Catholic. Relations between the two communities are not affected by recent events," Backing the Archbishop of Saigon, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano quotes Buddhist sources as agreeing that the conflict is not religious in character.
• THE ARCHBISHOP OF SAIGON, distinguishing between the functions of Church and State. calls on Catholics to be peacemakers in the Gospel sense, and insists that spreading the faith has nothing to do with the development of political influence.
Urging that the political authority in Vietnam is not to be confused with the spiritual power governing the Church, he adds that Church authorities have condemned recent events and he refutes "those who would have the world believe that Christians have oppressed Buddhists in recent years",
lie adds: "These calumnies. which often originate with persons living abroad. have no validity against the truth, which is that religious peace based on tolerance has reigned between Christians and Buddhists.
"This peace still reigns between them after the incidents of Hue and Saigon. I have already asked Christians to make whatever personal sacrifices may be necessary for the sake of peace. I ask this of them pow and will ask it again."
Rejoicing in the religious freedom open to Catholics and all others in South Vietnam, the Archbishop warns: "Let us rejoice in this freedom. But let us not try to add excessive `rights' and privileges to it."
The pastoral insists on the practice of charity "to foster internal peace in our country. patience to soothe angry feelings. much humility to dispel envy, mildness to mollify adversaries".
The letter has been welcomed by many Catholics and non-Catholics. because it insists on every citizen's right to free expression. Due to the long-continued hot war within Vietnam's boundaries, the government has tended to resent and quash expressions of dissenting and critical opinion. The Archbishop says: "Each man has the right to honour the just dictates of his conscience and to profess his religion in private and public life, as John XXIII clearly taught in his recent encyclical !Wein in terris. All Catholics. therefore, are bound to respect freedom of conscience.
"Catholics must be attentive against every temptation to add exorbitant rights and privileges to the freedom of worship which they enjoy."
In a passage plainly directed to the government, the Archbishop goes on: "Catholic authorities in the public service should remember that Christ and the Church oblige them to seek to reconcile the common welfare with the interests and rights of individuals. It is now more than ever urgent that charity be practised towards those who do not belong to the Catholic Church."
• BISHOP NGUYEN VAN THIEN, who is at present in France, told the CATHOLIC HERALD this week that "the Catholic Church cannot be considered a threat towards other communities in South Vietnam. in my diocese there are only 100,000 Catholics
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out of 1,600,000 people. In the whole country, there are only 1,450.000 Catholics out of a total population of 12.000,000.
"Buddhists, incidentally, are not the most numerous religious community as in Thailand. More than half the people still believe in ancestor worship."
• L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO insists that the Vietnamese bishops are working for peace and justice with the backing or Pope Paul VI, and quotes Buddhist sources as saying that the conflict is not religious in character. It disavows any connection between the policies of the government and the Catholic Church.
It also protests against newspaper references to Vietnam's "Catholic government". Out of 17 ministers. 12 arc non-Catholics, including the Vice-President. The same sort of proportions appear in the armed forces and other pressure groups.
The paper adds that many reliable sources testify to the fact that. until recently, the Buddhists were not only free to practise their religion, hut were actively helped by the Vietnamese government.
• FR. PATRICK O'CONNOR, NCWC correspondent in Saigon. writes: "During the past month, TsIgo Dinh Diem has certainly shown patience and restraint, and made approach after approach for reconciliation. The Buddhists responded with non-co-operative and even hostile tactics.
"The government's approach might have had better results if Mrs. Ngo Dinh Nhu, speaking from the presidential palace where her husband is the president's closest adviser. had not made bitter statements that exasperated many Christians as well as Buddhists."
Reports reaching the London Times seem to confirm that the excesses of the past few weeks and months stem more from the president's family than from himself. The difficulty is to assess the extent to which the president is now really Isis own man.