Vietnam Catholics facing rigours
ALTHOUGH Communist-ruled Vietnam says it has a policy of religious freedom, the Church in the country today, after 350 years of existence there, seems to be tolerated only insofar as it agrees to be transformed into a political organisation supporting the state.
Since Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, fell to the North Vietnamese Army on April 30, 1975, South Vietnam's two million Catholics, along with their 23 million fellow southerners, have experienced isolation, intense ideological regimentation and harsh drilling to create the "new man".
Keeping the faith is made difficult for Catholics, who are allowed to attend Mass only on Sundays.
To foster the transformation of the Church, the Committee for the Unity of the Patriotic Vietnamese Catholics was formed in the South after the war. It is the counterpart of an organisation created in the North in 1957.
In 1983, the Catholic committees were brought into a nationwide organisation called the Patriotic Front and led by the Vietnamese Communist Party.
So far, no bishop has approved the committee, and several have warned of the danger it presents to the unity and doctrinal orthodoxy of the Church. Archbishops Philippe Nguyen-Kim-Dien of Hue and Paul Nguyen van Binh of Ho Chi Minh City are among the critics. However, most bishops, including Cardinal JosephMarie Trinh van-Can of Hanoi, have made no public comment.
Archbishop Nguyen-KimDien, who took canonical action against one priest for refusing to leave the committee, is now under virtual house arrest.
Until 1975, Catholics in the South, although only eight per cent of the population, had a strong influence on society, especially in education, mass communications, politics and the military. There were more than 2,000 priests, 600 major seminarians and nearly 6,000 sisters.
Catholics in North Vietnam then numbered about' a million in a population of nearly 30 million. 'there were around 200, mostly elderly, priests, no seminaries and 400 nuns.
In the years since the North's victory, all seminaries in the South have been closed. The few men allowed to study for the priesthood must have their ordinations approved by the State — and that approval is seldom given. Many priests are restricted in their pastoral activities.
Also in the South, Catholic schools, orphanages or other church-run social and charitable institutions have been taken over by the government.
Religious congregations still accept novices in some parts of the South, but rules governing residence, travel restrictions and communal production activities make it hard to implement priestly formation programmes.