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Vietnamese officials continue denunciations of Catholic leadership October 03, 0200

Following an October 1 meeting in which Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung lashed out at Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, other leading government officials in Hanoi have joined in denouncing the archbishop and threatening "extreme actions" against Catholics participating in public protests.

The Deputy Minister of Public Security has joined the prime minister in charging that the archbishop and Catholic protestors have “poor awareness of law.” He has added urgency to that message by saying: “Leaders of the Hanoi archdiocese have abused the policy of freedom of religious belief of the Party and the State to claim unjust and illegal interest.”

The latest official criticism of the Catholic hierarchy was released on Thursday in an interview with the state-controlled Vietnam News Agency. Nguyen Van Huong, a senior police supervisor, maintained that the prelate "has challenged the state, damaged the nation, and shown disdain toward the position and status of Vietnamese citizens in their relations with the world," in addition to violating "the constitution and the law." Huong argued that: “It is Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet who has triggered difficulties in relations between the Vatican and Vietnam.”

Father Joseph Nguyen, a Hanoi priest, took issue that that argument. "No, it's not true," he said. "It is the persecution against the Church by this government which has caused a heap of obstacles in Vatican-Vietnam relations."

Addressing the fundamental issue involved in the Church-state disputes, the ownership of land that was seized from Church ownership by the Communist government, the police official, Huong, said: "In the last century when the country was under the colonial regime, the French occupied land that was maybe originally owned by Buddhists.” The government has claimed that the land once occupied by the apostolic nunciature in Hanoi-- land that had been under Church ownership for generations-- rightfully belonged to a Buddhist group. Property records in the Vietnamese government archives do not support that claim, Church officials say; the records show that the Buddhist group held property some distance removed from the disputed site.

Father Nguyen remarked: "Huong's argument is also an evidence of how this government is very effective in spreading doubts and mistrust among religions and social groups instead of bridging the nation with mutual understanding and unification."