For Vietnamese bishop, no progress in religious freedom can be expected from Hanoi
Kon Tum (AsiaNews) – At present, "there is no hope for better freedom of religion” in Vietnam, says Mgr Micae Hoàng Đức Oanh, bishop emeritus of Kon Tum (central highlands of Vietnam) in an interview with AsiaNews.
Currently in the United States for a period of study and work, the prelate talks about the recent meeting in the Vatican between Pope Francis and Vietnamese President Trần Đại Quang, which raised "hope for freedom of worship". However, none of these meetings “brought any result people expected”. No one can rule out that the situation might get worse.
Mgr Micae Hoàng Đức Oanh (pictured right) was born 23 October 1938 in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. After entering the Minor Seminary in Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon), south Vietnam’s largest city, in 1952, he continued his studies in theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Institute in Đà Lạt between 1960 and 1969.
Ordained priest in Kon Tum on 22 December 1968, he has worked in schools, parishes and in the diocesan minor seminary. In 1996 he became vicar and on 16 July 2003, John Paul II appointed him bishop. His ordination took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on August 28.
As head of the diocese he has always defended religious freedom with vigour and pride from the interference and violence of Vietnam’s local and central communist authorities. In October 2015, he published an open letter in which he denounced abuses, including the demolition of a church. He also spoke on several occasions against a proposed reform to the country’s controversial religious law.
Here is the interview Mgr Micae Hoàng Đức Oanh had with AsiaNews:
Your Excellency, your comment on the visit of the Vietnam president to the pope. It has been years of meeting and visits of delegations, but can we say something on some progress on religious freedom and freedom for the Church?
Our hope for freedom of worship soars every time there is a prospect of high profile meetings between Vietnam leaders and the Vatican. We are eager to see progress. But speaking from experience, despite numerous visits from Vietnam leadership at all levels paid to the Pope, both in the past and at present time, none of them brought any result people expected to see. The situation may become even worse than before the meetings.
What about the new law on religious activities, approved just days before the meeting of the president with the pope?
In my experience, under communist rule there have been so many ordinances on religion. But this ordinance is seen by many as the worst. It’s worse even than the original ordinance of 1946.
You may know, in Vietnam there is no such thing as Trias Politica or the Separation of Powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. You all can see that no matter how well the laws are written, local authorities and cadres act as a law onto themselves. Believers, whose religious lives are affected by the ordinance, will suffer. The ordinance created vices for those who believe in "the end justifies the means" principle. They easily became more vulnerable to bribery to achieve privileges for their religion.
I think in a society where people are respected and well taken care of, everyone would be equal under the law; hence, there is no need for such ordinance for the faithful.
How would you define the situation of the Church in Vietnam? We report lot of activities in the field of charity; we have also reports of Catholic activists imprisoned; we have declarations against pollution (Formosa group); in support of sovereignty on the South China Sea islands, what about the evangelization of Vietnam society?
Thank you, Asia News, and other international media outlets, for paying attention and broadcasting the situation of the Church in Vietnam. We pray that your report will provide an accurate portrait of our Church's and our country's situation for others to see.
Statistics have shown that evangelization in Vietnamese society has been going downhill. The indicator - see latest statistics - is that the Church in Vietnam is losing the title of "eldest daughter of the Church in Asia" and ranks 5th behind the Philippines, (South) Korea, East Timor, and Lebanon.
The indicator of a Church which has not evangelized or neglected evangelism is when she neither pays attention to nor stands on the side of the poor; in particular, when the Church neglects the poor, the oppressed, ordinary citizens, as indicated by the statistics.
The Vietnamese government seems taken in between the old style of communism (and old friends, like China) and an attempt to show modernity and openness, to attract more foreign investments and deal with new friends (USA). Where does the Vietnamese government stand?
Regrettably, Vietnam is a small country next to a big one. We all heard the expression "the big fish eats the small". In addition, for so many years Vietnamese political activists have been choosing the path of Marxist-Leninism, causing the civil war between the North and the South for years. Vietnam ha lagged so much behind and is at its worst. Many people told me Marxist-Leninism among Vietnamese leaders nowadays is only a façade. They are indeed tired of it. People now say " classlessness, proletarians" are no longer relevant. Cadres today become red capitalists who are filthy rich and can be even more feudal and dictatorial than any feudal rich men in the old days.
The decision to follow which (or whose) political direction is a tough one for Vietnamese leaders to deal with, dubbed "swinging between powers policy". We ought to pray for Vietnamese leaders to be wise and lucid in navigating the country in the right direction while respecting, caring, and siding with the people, since they cannot accomplish anything without the people. Things can only be accomplished with the people's support. No matter how mighty the adversary's power might be, we must deal with the support of the people, and rest assured that we can keep our territory and our independence intact and build our beloved country of Vietnam stronger, as well as bring happiness to all Vietnamese. On the condition that they must respect and side with the people before freedom of religion can be recognized. Under current conditions, there is no hope for better freedom of religion.