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Three Vietnamese priests running for election to Communist ruling body

Catholic World News - April 27, 2011

Three Catholic priests are candidates for election to the Vietnamese national assembly, the “highest organ of state power” under the nation’s constitution.

The candidacy of the three priests has prompted criticism among Vietnamese Catholics, in light of the clear Church policy against political activity by priests, and also in light of these priests’ clear support for the Communist government.

Father Tran Manh Cuong and Father Le Ngoc Hoan, of the dioceses of Ban Me Thout and Bui Chu, respectively, are already members of the current 12th national assembly; they are running now for membership in the 13th assembly, which will be elected on May 22. A third priest, Father Phan Khac Tu of the Saigon archdiocese, is running for the first time, and his candidacy has drawn more public attention.

Father Tu is chief editor of Catholics and People, a magazine that was founded with government support in 1975 and became known for its frequent criticism of Pope John Paul II and the Vatican. His election campaign has highlighted Father Tu’s involvement in the Vietnam war, even claiming that he built a secret factory to produce bombs that could be used against American soldiers. In an interview with a state-run media outlet, Father Tu voiced his pride in running such a factory inside a church in central Saigon.

The Code of Canon Law (285-3) forbids clerics from holding political office “if it means sharing in the exercise of civil power.” In an open letter to the Vietnamese hierarchy, several priests—including Father Nguyen Van Ly, a prominent dissident who has spent almost 15 years in prison—argue that membership in the national assembly falls into that proscribed category, since the group exists to legitimize decisions of the Communist Party. “It is clear from Church teachings that no true Catholic can ever be a Communist, or condone Communism,” the priests add. They ask the Vietnamese bishops to take disciplinary action against the priests who are candidates for election.

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