Sun sets on Vietnamese Churches hopes to see property restored

Hanoi, Vietnam - The Vietnamese government has confirmed that it will return “nothing” of the 2,250 properties taken from the Church which was a “powerful landlord” of properties now destined for the “for the common benefit” of population. In reality, party officials seized Churches, orphanages, hospitals, schools and other facilities destined for social needs in order to put them to private use or exploit them economically to further Communist Party finances.

It is not a new issue: when the communists seized power in the north (1954) and later in the south (1975) they took possession of all of the Churches properties and lands. It was a brutally conducted takeover: an official Hanoi document reports 172,008 executions and in the same document, (The history of Vietnam economics from 1945 to 2000, Vol. 2, published in 2004 by the Vietnam Bureau of Economic Affairs), the Vietnam government admits that among those who were killed, 123,226 were actually victims of injustice. There were threats, imprisonment and much more. It was then established that all lands belonged to the State, as always for the common benefit of the population, who would then concede their use and management to organisations and private individuals.

In reality, over the past ten years Hanoi has enacted a political tug of war regarding the issue of Church properties. Few concessions, numerous rejections. Despite this the Church continues in its endeavour to see its property returned, through dialogue with the authorities, which has never completely stopped despite the January 6th note issued by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (N. 1940/CT-TTg) regarding “lands and properties in relation to religions”. The note affirmed that no properties would ever be returned, but it imposed on those who managed them an obscure clause that forbids their being used in a way that “injures the sentiments of believers”.

Now, in an interview with Radio Free Asia Nguyen Thanh Xuan, vice chief of Commission for Religious and Ethnic Affairs has stated that his government “has no intention to return any properties to the Catholic Church or any other groups of religion” citing the principle of national ownership of land.

At the same time, Xuan has described the Church as "Ð?a Ch? Nhà Chung" which literally “grand landlord” who has acquired much of the land to get rich and live luxuriously on the “blood, sweat and tears” of poor tenants. “It’s a distortion of history” responds Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi. “Most of properties seized by the government were buildings the Church used for worship, education, or various charitable activities including hospitals to provide health care for the poor” he underlines. “The Church in Vietnam has never used its land as a financial resource. In fact, the Church in Vietnam has not profited from renting or selling of any piece of properties in dispute”. “The term ‘Ð?a Ch? Nhà Chung’ is therefore an insult - a crass, immoral insult - to the Church and Vietnamese Catholics,” he adds. Labeling Catholic leaders as landlords echoes a tactic frequently used by the Vietnam government in the 1950s to seize Church properties, terrorize bishops, priests, religious and faithful, and ultimately alienate them from the public.

“Many buildings that once belonged to the Church have been administered by the State on the grounds that they were needed for social purposes. Even when their purposes are no longer met, the buildings are seldom returned to their owners”, underlines Fr. Joseph Nguyen. ”Very often, Church properties have been used either to award government officials or to produce financial support for the Party”.

Sr. Marie Nguyen, of Ho Chi Minh City emphasises “The Church has demanded the return of its properties so that they can be used to benefit society, not the Party”.