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'Fake' ordination scandal rocks Vietnamese diocese

Prelate disowns priest after it emerges he was 'jailed for bribery, ordained overseas without known seminary training'
Ho Huu Hoa (left), a former Vietnamese fortune teller who was jailed for brokering a bribe in 2021 was ordained a Catholic priest in December last year

Ho Huu Hoa (left), a former Vietnamese fortune teller who was jailed for brokering a bribe in 2021 was ordained a Catholic priest in December last year. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: February 14, 2023 11:23 AM GMT
Updated: February 14, 2023 11:37 AM GMT

A Catholic bishop in Vietnam has disowned a priest ordained for his diocese in the Philippines when laypeople questioned the new priest’s worthiness, saying that he was once jailed for bribery and not known to have trained in a seminary.

Bishop Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long of Vinh diocese in central Vietnam issued a statement on Feb. 10 disowning Father John Baptist Ho Huu Hoa, three months after he was ordained by Bishop Precioso D. Cantillas of Maasin in the Philippines.

Bishop Long said he was “surprised” by Hoa's ordination and asked him to “present the documents of his ordination so that he could celebrate sacraments validly, but so far I have not received any documents from him or Maasin diocese,” Bishop Long said in the statement.

A video of the Dec. 7 ordination ceremony that went viral on social media shows the priest chancellor of Maasin diocese reading out Bishop Long’s dimissorial letter — a canonical document issued by a bishop to a person in his diocese so he can be ordained by another bishop.

The letter “is completely fake” Bishop Long’s statement said adding that Hoa's ordination is “under investigation.”

The priestly ordination of 38-year Hoa came just over a year after he was released from prison, according to local reports, which shows he could not have had the mandatory four years of theology training in a seminary.

Hoa was arrested in 2019 for allegedly helping a former police intelligence colonel, Phan Van Anh Vu, to bribe Lieutenant-General Nguyen Duy Linh to the tune of five billion Dong (US$220,000) to interfere with a criminal case against him, Radio Free Asia reported.

Colonel Vu was under investigation for allegedly disclosing state secrets and other illegal acts related to the purchase, sale and transfer of public housing and land, Vietnamese daily  Việt Nam News reported in 2021.

Hoa was arrested in March 2019 and was held in temporary detention until being released in November 2021, local reports show.

Hoa was ordained as a deacon on Sept. 8, 2022, in the Philippines, just over nine months after his release.

Bishop Long’s letter is silent about the diaconate ordination of Hoa that happened more than a year ago, which also needs his dimissorial letter.

Moreover, the chancellor of Vinh diocese, Father Gerard Nguyen Nam Viet, was present at the ordination ceremony and testified for Hoa, the video shows.

He read out from a printed document that he testifies that Hoa “has been found worthy” of priestly ordination “after enquiring among the people of Christ and upon the recommendation of those concerned with his seminary training.”

Bishop Long’s statement said he was not aware of his diocesan chancellor attending the ordination ceremony in the Philippines.

Father Viet had asked for permission to go to the Philippines for three days for personal reasons, not for Hoa’s ordination, Bishop Long said.

Hoa also celebrated Mass in some Vietnam parishes.

Some priests from Nghe An province told UCA News that they were not informed about Hoa’s ordination until he was accompanied by Father Viet and Father Joseph Nguyen Van Hieu, pastor of Trai Gao Parish, and they concelebrated Masses at some local churches during the Tet festival.

Vietnamese Redemptorist Father Nguyen Van Khai said Hoa once worked as a fortune-teller but Church law does not prevent him from becoming a priest after undergoing proper training and investigation.

But he said what “is confusing and suspicious” is the quick ordination of a “person having many connections to top ... intelligence agents of the communist regime, a person who was sent to prison.”

"Why did Church authorities in Vinh diocese and Maasin diocese ordain someone who had never been trained in a seminary, and had not met the canonical requirements for morality, training time, education, and pastoral ability?” the priest asked in a social media post.

He also questioned the reason for conducting the ordination in the Philippines, when the person did not study there nor speak English.

He said Hoa's ordination and his celebration of Mass in some Vietnam parishes was “an unprecedented scandal in the history of the Church in Vietnam."

"This ordination has raised confusion among Catholics, causing various speculation, especially causing many people to lose faith in the leadership of the Church and in the sanctity of the priesthood,” Father Khai added.  

Vinh diocesan officials were not available for comments on the ordination when UCA News contacted them.

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