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Hanoi Tiptoes Around Religious Freedom

By Father John Flynn

ICC Note: There have been consistent rumors that Vietnam feels as though they can do as they please now that they are off the CPC list and into the WTO!

2/15/07 Vietnam For full story go here…..(Catholic Online) – The Vietnamese government is making an effort to improve its often-criticized record in the area of religious liberty.

In a step that the Vatican press office said marked “a new and important step toward the normalization of bilateral relations,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Benedict XVI on Jan. 25.

Relations between the Vatican and Vietnam , the communiqué continued, have “over the last few years, made concrete progress, opening new spaces of religious freedom for the Catholic Church in Vietnam .” Vietnam and the Holy See do not currently maintain diplomatic relations.

Commenting on the importance of the visit, the London-based newspaper Financial Times on Jan. 25 observed that Vietnam ‘s Communist rulers have eased some of the controls over religion in recent times. This relaxation, however, has not been extended to all groups. The paper noted that the government is alarmed by the spreading of evangelical Protestant churches in the mountain regions of the country, and has taken strong steps to prevent their growth.

Even for the Catholic Church, a number of controls remain in place. According to the Financial Times, the Hanoi authorities must approve new seminaries, the enrollment of seminarians, the organization of religious classes and conferences, the construction and renovation of religious facilities, the ordination of priests and the promotion of clergy.

Vietnamese authorities, nevertheless, are keen to defend their record. On Feb. 1 the government published a white paper on religion. A press release issued the following day by the Vietnamese Embassy in the United States argued that the government “has consistently implemented an unswerving policy of great national unity without any discrimination on the basis of belief or religion.”

According to tables at the end of the white paper, the two largest religious groups in Vietnam are Buddhists, with 10 million followers, and the Catholic Church, with 6 million. The country’s population is estimated at 84 million.