Monday, May 17, 2010

Sacrificed on the altar of "quiet diplomacy"?

". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a ESV)

VIETNAM: Archbishop of Hanoi, Msgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet (57), replaced.

Those who have followed the dramatic developments in Vietnam over the recent years will know the significance of Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, Archbishop of Hanoi. Msgr. Kiet has risked his own life and liberty seeking justice and religious freedom for the church in Vietnam. In the process he inspired many hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics, as well as local Protestants and global religious liberty advocates. Consequently, Kiet became a thorn in the flesh of the repressive Communist Party dictatorship that rules Vietnam -- a regime that has spent recent years escalating repression.

BACKGROUND

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels stated in their 1848 Communist Manifesto: 'The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.' Consequently, when the Communists came to power in northern Vietnam in 1945 and in the south in 1975, they confiscated private properties, including those owned by the Church.

Vietnamese Catholics and Protestants have long sought the return of their confiscated properties. For decades the Church and State have been stuck in a cycle of political and diplomatic jostling: church petitions -- government rejections -- church petitions with international support -- minimalist government appeasement followed by more land seizures and demolitions -- more church petitions followed by frustration and discouragement.

In December 2007, as Msgr Kiet petitioned the government for the return of Hanoi nunciature (the Vatican Embassy -- a large and beautiful historic house built next to St Joseph's Cathedral -- confiscated in 1959), he decided to try a new strategy. Frustrated by years of futile political activism, Archbishop Kiet simply asked the faithful to pray. And pray they did. On 18 December 2007, as a Spirit of prayer gripped the church, the Catholic faithful poured out onto the streets of Hanoi.

The public prayer vigils initially focused on the Hanoi nunciature. Crowds grew daily until, on Christmas Eve of 2007, some 5,000 Catholic faithful sang, worshipped and prayed in the open air outside the Hanoi nunciature.

And that was merely the beginning. The prayer vigils spread to other sites across the city as Catholics came out to show solidarity and pray for justice and religious liberty. The prayer vigils in Hanoi's Thai Ha Redemptorist parish were particular large. Those participating in the prayer vigils held flowers and crosses, and candles on dark nights and umbrellas on rainy days.

By August 2008, the government was clearly stressed. Responding as dictator regimes do, they sent in riot police to break up prayer vigils; they started beating and arresting participants and journalists; they started beating and arresting their lawyers; they started sending in Communist vigilantes to do government dirty-work; and they accused Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of inciting protests.

The Catholics, however, were not bowed -- the prayer vigils continued.

Eventually the authorities agreed to return Hanoi's apostolic nunciature to church ownership if only the Catholics would end the prayer vigils.

The Catholics ended their vigils, and then, on 19 September 2008, the Communists bulldozed the Hanoi nunciature to the ground and turned the site into a public park.

". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a)

Despite the loss of the Hanoi nunciature the prayer vigils continued. On Sunday 21 September 2008, some 10,000 Catholics turned out in the street to sing, worship and pray for justice and religious liberty. It was the largest public demonstration seen in Vietnam since the Communists seized power.

The Communist Party responded with a virulent media campaign targeting Msgr Kiet and calling for his removal. The Catholic faithful responded with yet more prayer vigils, this time in support of Archbishop Kiet.

See:
Vietnam: Prayer vigils push government to breaking point.
Religious Liberty News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 16 September 2008

VIETNAM: PRAYER VIGILS CONFRONT GOVERNMENT
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLP) 496, Wed 17 Sep 2008

Vietnam: Govt belligerence escalates against Hanoi Catholics.
Religious Liberty News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 26 September 2008

Vietnamese Catholics Under Communist Iron Grip.
VietCatholic News 29 Sept 2008 (includes pictures)

Biggest protest since 1954 over Hanoi old nunciature demolition
CathNews 22 Sept 2010

State media launch campaign for Hanoi’s archbishop removal
VietCatholic News, 17 Oct 2008 (with photos)


The struggle continued through 2009, with more prayer vigils and more property destruction.

See:
VIETNAM: GREATER DESTRUCTION AS PERSECUTION ESCALATES
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 009, Wed 17 Jun 2009

VIETNAM: BRUTALITY CONFRONTED THROUGH PRAYER
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 017, Wed 12 Aug 2009


. . . and into 2010 . . .

See:
Redemptorist Superior General urges prayer for persecuted Vietnamese Catholics.
Catholic News Agency, 26 Jan 2010 (with picture)

KIET "RETIRES"

In April 2010, Msgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet (57), Archbishop of Hanoi, announced that he would "retire" for health reason. He would be replaced by Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon (72), a bishop who has the approval of the Communist Party.

Msgr. Kiet reports that his chronic insomnia and asthenia (weakness) is preventing him from fulfilling his duties as Archbishop and so he sought leave from the Vatican to retire. According to Kiet, neither the Bishop's Conference nor the Holy See wanted to accept his resignation. Eventually however, he managed to convince them. Msgr. Kiet is appealing to Vietnamese Catholics to embrace their new Archbishop and stay united.
See:
Archbishop Kiet: They did not want me to retire, I had to ask the Pope myself
by J.B. An Dang, Hanoi, AsiaNews 14 May 2010.

The Communist Party however, is singing a different tune. According to official State media reports, the Communist Party is treating the removal of Kiet as a significant victory on their "road map" to removing stubborn, dissident, religious liberty activist priests. According to State media, the Vatican agreed to remove Kiet and replace him with government-approved Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon, in exchange for a Papal visit to Vietnam and talks on normalisation of diplomatic ties.
See: Hanoi launches a press campaign, using Msgr. Kiet to discredit the Vatican
by Emily Nguyen, Hanoi, AsiaNews, 13 May 2010

The drama is dividing the church. Catholics who believe Kiet is telling the whole and absolute truth, suspect there is a government conspiracy afoot to hurt the Vatican. Others sense a government conspiracy to silence Kiet and decapitate the prayer movement, and that they secured Kiet's removal in a deal struck with the Vatican.

The division is such that the government is scoring a victory no matter what the truth of the matter. However, if Kiet is telling the whole truth, then the Pope needs to confirm his story with a public statement that will end speculation and division. The fact that the Pope has not done so only fuels suspicion that the Communist Party's version is the correct one. Clearly the Communist Party is using its media channels to stoke division -- and doubtless it is loving every minute of it.

". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a )

Asia Times Online is unambiguous in its assessment, publishing its report under the title: Vatican, Vietnam sacrifice a holy man (Asia Times Online, 7 May 2010).

The author writes, "Against this backdrop [the continuing prayer vigils and years of persistent government slander and threats against Msgr. Kiet], President Nguyen Minh Triet paid a visit to Pope Benedict XVI in December 2009, following Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's historic Vatican trip in 2007. The two sides are reported to be discussing normalization of diplomatic ties.

"Following Triet's meeting with the pope, Kiet went on medical leave and traveled to Rome for treatment. Vietnamese Catholic websites report that Triet insisted that the Vatican remove Kiet as a condition for establishing closer ties. This request, if true, would be consistent with the tone of government-controlled newspapers.

"On returning to Vietnam in April [2010], Kiet announced that he was retiring, for 'health reasons'. His stepping down, though not unexpected, was a disappointment for many Vietnamese, Catholic and non-Catholic, who admired his courageous leadership. Several online petitions have been organized calling on Pope Benedict to keep Kiet as archbishop of Hanoi."

See also :
Vietnam: Catholics shaken by new Hanoi coadjutor's appointment
VietCatholic News, 23 Apr 2010

A ceremony to install Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon of Dalat, President of Vietnam Episcopal Council, as coadjutor archbishop of Hanoi, was held on 7 May. It was however, met with angry protests.
See:
Repercussion of Hanoi coadjutor installation ceremony
VietCatholic News (09 May 2010) (includes photos)

Hanoi Catholic journalist JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, who was beaten by police in February as he was reporting religious repression, told VietCatholic News that he fears the controversy will hurt the good standing the Catholic hierarchy has had in the eyes of Catholic faithful.

Reporting on the installation ceremony he wrote: "In a strategy obviously planned to avoid a direct confrontation with protestors, the procession of bishops and clergy had to enter through a side door, not the main entrance of the cathedral as in other previous solemn ceremony.

"Likewise, at the end of the ceremony, the bishops returned to the archbishopric office by a backdoor where they could escape the sea of protestors." Further to this, reports Huu Vinh, the new coadjutor bishop of Hanoi, Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon did not give the traditional blessings to the faithful.

And so it appears likely that Archbishop Kiet has met the fate of other problematic front-line religious liberty and justice advocates and been sacrificed on the altar of "quiet diplomacy" by Church leaders who, for some reason and despite the evidence of history, continue to invest their hopes and trust in human beings and human institutions, even in traitors and destroyers whose ultimate ambition is to silence the song of God's people.