Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Violations of Religious Freedom in Vietnam

by Rev. John Tran Cong Nghi


Testimony of Father John Tran Cong Nghi, Coordinator, VietCatholic Network, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington on Feb. 13, 2001. In this testimony Father John shows that the Catholic Church in Vietnam is not free by any means as Cardinal Francois Xavier Thuan said. The Communist regime has prohibited Father John from coming back to visit Vietnam for 11 years.

Publisher & Date

Denver Catholic Register, April 11, 2001

In comparing religious situation in Vietnam at the present time with the ones of 10 or 25 years ago, one can say that it has been improved very much, and to some degree I can say the faithful can practice their faith, they can go to the church services, they can meet with their pastors freely and they can carry out some other ministerial activities among themselves.

Religious freedom, however, understood as a fundamental human right, has been and is still seriously violated by the Communist regime in Vietnam against all believers, and particularly against the Vietnamese Catholics.

Even though the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has declared in its Constitution that everyone can be free to practice his/her faith, but the government has made numerous restrictions, deterrents, and prohibitions jeopardizing this very freedom of religion.

Through the land reform campaign in 1957 and after the Communists took over the South VN in 1975, they confiscated properties and educational institutions of the Church. Many Catholic churches and schools were converted into meeting places or silos.

Last summer I visited Vietnam and had the opportunity to witness by my own eyes many unpleasant situations regarding religious activities over there. The Communists are constantly disturbing religious worship ceremonies by installing a tower of radio broadcasting next to many churches. They broadcast propaganda and news programs using extremely high volume loudspeakers aimed at the religious facilities to over speak or to disturb religious sermons and other religious activities.

Religious organizations such as the Legio Mariae, the Holy Eucharist Youths Movement were prohibited to have their operations.

The Catholic Church in Vietnam cannot freely select the candidates for the priesthood. The selection of priestly candidates and their formation and their training of seminarians and priests, must be approved by the local government.

The appointment of a Bishop must be also approved by the central government. The Communist authority has still refused to allow the Vatican to appoint new church dignitaries to replace those who are too old or those who died. As a result, Vietnam still has no replacement for the Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung of Hanoi. Some of the dioceses in the North are vacant without a Bishop such as: Bui Chu, Bac Ninh and Hung Hoa.

The bishop as the head of a diocese cannot make an assignment and/or transfers of his priests without the approval of governmental authorities. In October, 1992, the Conference of Bishops of Vietnam sent the Communist government an open letter, demanding them to carry out basic rights of religious freedom for the Church. Since then, every year the Conference of Bishops of Vietnam repeat their requests as the following:

  • To lift all bans, restrictions and arbitrary control of religious activities, including worship, ceremonies and rituals, religious activities and organizations, transfers and movements of priests.
  • To repeal any ban, restriction and control in the recruitment, training and ordination of candidates for priesthood.
  • To return to the Church all properties, facilities and institutions confiscated by the state.
  • To lift restrictions and bans imposed on the Church of their humanitarian social, cultural, charitable and educational activities.

In short, although the Vietnamese Communists had recourse to scores of subtle measures to cause the Church's activities to be ineffective and to gradually wear out the religious leaders and the clergy, they were unable to eliminate completely the Church's activities. The communists were successful only in the creation of the "United Patriotic Catholic Committee" functioning parallel with the church. However, their measures of attrition toward the Catholic Church, in the space of the last 26 years, decreased the numbers of the priests and religious lay leadership to an alarming level: the total number of the priests in the north is about 300 and many of them are so old. For example: with the total faithful of 300,000 in the Hanoi Archdiocese, there are only 25 priests. The communist authorities expect that in 15 to 20 years, when the older priests have died, the Vietnamese Catholics will become leaderless, and the Church will disintegrate by itself. The United States of America and the international Communities should use their resources and influences to force the Vietnamese Communist authorities to live up with their declarations of the right for religious freedom of the Vietnamese people and to fulfill accordingly legitimate demands on religious freedom made by the religious leaders and the faithful of all religions in Vietnam.

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