Vietnam lets churches thrive, but keeps control

Kret Krot, Vietnam — A year after Vietnamese police rounded up members of a Catholic sect who were accused of trying to create an independent state, the leaders are in jail, followers have fled into the jungle and officers warn villagers to shun that offshoot of the faith.

But the crackdown didn't affect activities at the village's churches, where priests continue to teach young people.

The Communist government allows state-sanctioned faiths to grow and even thrive, but continues to keep a close watch on all religious institutions. All perceived challenges to its rule, religiously inspired or not, are harshly repressed.

Chris Seiple, the head of a visiting Christian delegation, said Vietnam has "moved from persecution to isolated cases of harassment."

The U.S. seeks closer ties with Vietnam, but concerns by Congress over human rights could torpedo a free-trade deal Washington is negotiating with Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific nations.