The poor tolerance of the initiatives of dissent or groups not entirely under the control of the party and government, also extends to the religions accepted by a constitution that establishes first of all state atheism.
In particular, the Vietnamese Church, persecuted for a long time because of its identification first of all with the French colonial regime and then the pro-American one, is currently experiencing a period of recovery, under a less oppressive control than that applied to the Buddhist or to some evangelical churches, in a context of international pressures on the Vietnamese government to do with the subject of human rights and religious freedoms and diplomatic opportunities for the Hanoi government.
The Catholic community in Southeast Asia, second only to that of the Philippines, is still alive with the hopes kindled by the historic visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to the Vatican on 25 January 2007. Nevertheless, if in the view of the Holy See, the issue of religious freedom and aspects related to the management of seminaries, the restitution of the confiscated properties, the curricula and management of the schools of religious inspiration, are primary, in that of Hanoi the process of normalization of relations with the Vatican has before everything else the sense of a diplomatic affirmation. Though the majority are atheists, the Vietnamese are also Buddhists (9%), and in a slightly inferior number, Christians. The Catholics, officially at around 7%, are heirs to a long tradition of evangelism and persecution begun in 1659 with the establishment of the apostolic vicariates of Tonkin and Cochin China. The Church is currently organized into 26 dioceses and 2,200 parishes served by 2,900 priests, 1,000 religious men and 10 thousand women. Baptisms are 100 thousand a year and vocations have grown exponentially in recent years.
As a consequence of its numbers and its dynamism, the role of the Church is important, especially because it has been able to establish constructive dialogue with the invested powers and other expressions of Vietnamese society, identifying in the symptoms of the religious revival not only a manifestation of greater freedom but also a useful tool to support the dynamics of Vietnamese society.
A Catholicity that has acquired in recent times areas of freedom of worship, but whose clergy is still subject to strict state guidelines. The resumption of disputes over church property and the commitment to safeguard places of the Catholic tradition from other uses, witnesses – along with a new courage of Catholics willing to take to the streets to make their voices heard – also to the difficulties in the dialogue, which, however, continues.
The episodes identified as acts of persecution have often originated in the greed or ignorance of local officials as well as in the conflicts within the party and in the tensions between central and local power. In essence, the attempt to control and the manifestations of intolerance signal the government of Hanoi’s inability to come to terms with its own ideology and history in a geographic and economic context that encourages instead a forward view in a perspective of shared development and well-being.
The indication a few years ago of Cardinal Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City that, while the Church and the Communists may have a different vision of human values, it is still possible to find ‘common denominators’ for its real dialogue on human rights and civil liberties. In fact, the corruption that touches many of its members has undermined the integrity of the image of the leading-party, impairing the foundations of the legitimacy of leadership. For this reason the Church, Cardinal Pham pointed out, cannot remain silent and must intervene, criticizing the regime for the violation of its own assumptions, highlighting how the corruption that affects ordinary people cancels the fundamental values of the Vietnamese nation. (Stefano Vecchia)