The bishops of Vietnam have broken their silence and are determined to put pressure on the members of Parliament against a new law.
The members of the Vietnamese Parliament are gathered in Hanoi for the third plenary session of the National Assembly from May 22 to June 21. The Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam has taken advantage of the opportunity to voice, in a document published on June 1, a number of openly critical remarks of the new “Law on Belief and Religion”, that was voted on last year by the members of Parliament and approved on November 18, 2016.
The first fear of the Vietnamese bishops regards their work in education and healthcare. Article 55 of the new law seems to them to use “particularly vague and general wording”: it stipulates that “religious organizations may take part in educational, health-related, social, charitable, and humanitarian activities, according to the provisions of the law in effect.”
This provision, the bishops lament, is not enough to guarantee clearly-defined rights for free Catholic education. It is a particularly sensitive matter, since the Catholic Church has been demanding the right for her religious institutions to open schools ever since the reunification in 1975.
Their second fear is a restriction of the religious liberty that the Church legitimately claims in a Communist State. In the new law, religious activities are subject to “xin-cho”, the system of “asking and granting”. Concretely, the law prescribes that all religious activities are to be “registered” with the competent bodies and that they must wait for a written answer. In recent years, this practice has caused many difficulties in organizing religious activities, creating a real obstacle to the freedom of the Church.
The Law on Belief and Religion is to come into effect on January 1, 2018, but the decrees for the application of the law have not yet been published. In this ambiguous situation, the Church wishes to apply all the pressure she can so as not to see her most elementary liberties reduced ever further. In this country with a population of 93 million, 7% of whom are Catholic, the bishops wish to participate in the elaboration of the rules concerning the Church’s activities and the religious practice of her members, and to pay close attention to their application.