Petition presented by the Vietnamese Bishops to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet

Author: CEVN


Vietnamese Bishops

As customary we, the Catholic bishops of Vietnam, held our sixth annual assembly in Hanoi from Sept. 26 to Oct. 2, 1995. From this gathering we extend to you our respectful greetings and share with you our opinions about the following issues.

1. Over the past 15 years of our operation as the episcopal conference of Vietnam, we have conveyed to you five petitions to contribute our suggestions as well as to report the difficulties we have faced in implementing the government's policy on religious freedom. You have graciously responded and resolved some of the problems raised in our petitions such as the travel of bishops and priests for pastoral work within their own diocese, the reopening of the seminary college of Hue and the admission of candidates into seminaries. However, many problems remain unresolved. These problems have seriously hindered our pastoral ministry and our faithful's religious life. They have also rendered the government's policy on religious freedom less convincing.

2. On the occasion of the 50th celebration of Vietnam's national day, all social organizations and communities were elated at the reforms that loosened the restrictions on their activities. The Catholic Church in Vietnam also wishes to enjoy similar conditions in order to develop its potential and contribute to the building of a just, civilized and progressive Vietnam.

Accordingly, we submit our petitions in three areas.

Church Ministry

1. Our bishops should be free to appoint and transfer their priests, religious men and women within their own dioceses in compliance with church canon law and consistent with the spirit of your reply dated Feb. 18, 1994: "The appointment and transfer of priests are activities of the church at its request ..., but they should be jointly discussed and agreed upon with the local authorities." In reality, in acting without consultation, many local officials have imposed subjective and arbitrary decisions.

2. There should be no differentiation between "ordinary" and "extraordinary" religious activities, since in reality there is only one kind of religious activity. Hence, any religious activity should be carried out without the need for registration or permit, provided that such activity is purely religious and is in conformity with the laws of the country. This request, if approved, would prevent unnecessarily tense relations between the church and the government at all levels, especially at the local level.

3. The episcopal conference should be permitted to publish a news magazine to establish lines of communication, to report on various activities of the church and to present church teachings. Since its establishment 15 years ago, the episcopal conference has not been given permission to publish any official Catholic newspaper. The long-

standing request for this medium of communication has gone unanswered. This has caused the public in the country and overseas to lose confidence in the government's stated policy on religious freedom.

4. Dioceses, parishes and religious orders need to be free to contribute to the education of young people and to support the poor and the sick. These goals can be accomplished by establishing schools of different levels and by erecting social institutions such as hospitals, leprosaria and rehabilitation and retirement centers.

Church Personnel

1. The government can assist us in rejuvenating the college of Vietnamese bishops, whose ages are quite advanced.

a) By giving top priority to the approval of the Holy See's episcopal appointments in the dioceses still vacant such as Phu Cuong and Hung Hoa. In particular, in the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, Bishop Huynh Van Nghi should be allowed to carry out his duty as apostolic administrator, pending a more viable solution.

b) By approving the appointments of coadjutors or auxiliary bishops in places where the diocesan bishops are ailing, at an advanced age or are in need of an assistant, such as in the following dioceses: Bui Chu, Hai Phong, Lang Son, Quy Nhon, Da Nang and Thai Binh. Priority should be given to candidates with appropriate qualifications in the respective diocese or to potential native candidates presently serving in another diocese. Finally, potential candidates could be selected from anywhere throughout the country.

2. In order to alleviate problems caused by the shortage of priests throughout the country, especially in the dioceses of the north, the church should be allowed to open more seminaries. In addition, priests and religious men and women in any diocese need to be free to return to their home dioceses, either frequently or periodically, to assist with pastoral ministry there, on condition that the move is approved by the local church hierarchy.

3. Religious orders should be aided in broadening their activities and in recruiting new members. Dioceses should be allowed to revitalize the religious orders originally established there or to welcome the new ones.

4. In order to quickly and effectively deal with the priests and religious recently released from "re-education camps," permission should be granted allowing them to resume their pastoral duties. At the present time there are several priests still waiting in private homes.

5. The seminarians, whose backgrounds were examined and approved by the government when they entered the seminary, should be ordained to the priesthood at the time of their graduation.

Church Property

1. Two additional seminaries should be allowed to open as soon as possible:

—The Xuan Loc seminary: to serve the city of Xuan Loc and Dong Nai province (encompassing the dioceses of Da Lat, Phan Thiet, Xuan Loc).

—The Thai Binh seminary: to serve My Duc and the city of Thai Binh (encompassing the dioceses of Hai Phong, Bui Chu and Thai Binh). The seminaries in Ha Noi and in Ho Chi Minh City are currently serving too many dioceses.

2. Each diocese should be allowed to open an institution to prepare candidates for major seminary in both spiritual and academic components. All existing major seminaries lack adequate physical facilities and staff to accommodate the candidates' preparatory training, as suggested in the official letter No. HC/CV/TGCP dated Feb. 18, 1994, by the Committee on Religious Affairs.

3. The government should return the pontifical college in Da Lat so that the church can facilitate the education process of its religious men and women. This would help reduce the number of personnel sent abroad for further studies.

4. The government should release all of the church-owned land and property which was previously requisitioned or surrendered against the owners' will (with equivocal reasons, illegal documents, the owners' refusal or coercion into submission or during their absence, etc.). These premises are indispensable to the spiritual life and religious activities of the church, like the diocesan offices, churches, chapels, seminaries, convents, training centers and all adjacent lots originally owned by the church.

5. Although a number of economic zones, villages and places with tangible needs have already been given permission to build churches or chapels, some regions have not yet been given permission. We request that these regions enjoy the same status.

6. These petitions. if approved by your honor, need to be communicated to our Catholic episcopal conference and also to the local government at all levels, so that they will be complied with uniformly.

Your honor: The above petitions of Vietnamese Catholics are respectfully presented to you by the national Catholic episcopal conference of Vietnam. They are indispensable conditions for the normalization of religious activities and for the Catholic Church to serve our country and our people more effectively, especially during the present social situation. We hope that you will give these petitions due consideration and will help make them a reality. We sincerely thank you and respectfully wish you good health to serve our country.

Petition presented by the Vietnamese bishops to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet on Sept 29, 1995.