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Vietnamese priests elected to government bodies

CWN - June 03, 2011

Seven Catholics priests have been elected to Vietnam’s national assembly and provincial councils, according to official results of the voting conducted on May 22. At least 20 priests won election to local “people’s councils.”

The participation of priests as candidates for election provoked a lively debate among Catholics in Vietnam. Canon law forbids priests from holding 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—argued that membership in Communist ruling bodies falls into that proscribed category, since these organs exist to legitimize and carry out decisions of the Communist Party. “It is clear from Church teachings that no true Catholic can ever be a Communist, or condone Communism,” the letter said.

Despite the criticism, Father Tran Manh Cuong of the Ban Me Thout diocese, and Father Le Ngoc Hoan of Bui Chu won their bids for membership in the national assembly. However, the priest whose candidacy raised the greatest public outcry, Father Phan Khac Tu of Saigon, was defeated in the polls.

Father Phan Khac Tuc is the editor of Catholics and Nation, a magazine that was founded in 1975 with support from the Vietnamese government, and has frequently criticized the Vatican. He is also vice-chairman of a Committee for Solidarity of Vietnamese Catholics, a group apparently modeled after China’s Patriotic Catholic Association. He has boasted that during the war against the US he ran a clandestine bomb factory out of his parish church.

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