Police and church officials examine the sanctuary after the fire. (Photo supplied)
A motorbike taxi driver who set fire to the sanctuary of a Redemptorist-run church in southern Vietnam has not been prosecuted for his crime due to his alleged mental health problems.
On June 25, the man in the uniform of the ride-hailing and payment firm Grab walked into Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church’s sanctuary, poured diesel on the floor in front of the tabernacle and used a lighter to ignite it.
A video clip from a surveillance camera showed the culprit in sunglasses leaving the sanctuary with a knife in his hand.
Some people who prayed at the church saw black smoke, cried for help and many people tried to put out the fire.
Witnesses said the man was arrested outside the church but he remained silent as police took him to a station nearby.
After the incident, Redemptorist Father Petrus Dinh Ngoc Lam, pastor of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, asked local Redemptorists not to post photos and clips of the incident while police investigate the case. However, photos and video clips went viral on social media.
The church, open from dawn to evening for Catholics to pray, go to confession and attend Masses, is next to the headquarters of the Provincial Redemptorists in Ho Chi Minh City.
State-run media did not report the incident.
On June 27, Father Lam announced that two priests and two lay leaders from the parish, police and local government officials had visited the culprit’s family and investigated the reason why he set fire to the sanctuary.
The priest said the family is Catholic. His mother often visits the church.
“His father said he has mental problems and his family does not have money to treat his illness,” Father Lam told thousands of pilgrims who attended the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at the church.
“We would like to officially announce that the culprit has not been prosecuted for his crime because he suffers from a mental disorder.”
The priest said the man is pitiful and a victim of society. He was once sent to a drug rehabilitation center.
Before the Mass, the priest said that the man's mother had met parish priests and told them she will send him to a psychiatric hospital in neighboring Bien Hoa city. The parish offered her money to treat her son.
Father Lam urged pilgrims to pray for and make donations to heal him.
Some Catholics expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Redemptorists dealt with the incident.
They said the priests should have released the perpetrator’s name and house address so that people could verify his illness and family condition. They said the parish should probe the case independently to ascertain the facts and avoid police intervention.
Many local Redemptorists actively dedicate themselves to supporting former soldiers who fought for the US-backed South Vietnam and victims of social injustice, so the government tries to prevent their pastoral activities.
Early this month, a woman reportedly broke into the cathedral in Nha Trang city and damaged stone candlesticks in the sanctuary. Eventually she was set free after police said she suffered psychiatric disorders and her family was very poor.