German Cardinal Reinhard Marx was denied access to Vinh Diocese during a weeklong visit to Vietnam in January, church officials in the communist country said. Cardinal Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, led a five-member delegation during a Jan. 9-16 visit to Vietnam, at the invitation of Vietnamese bishops. Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh in central Vietnam said the Government Committee for Religious Affairs "refused to allow the delegation to visit and celebrate religious services in Vinh as planned" without offering a reason. Under current regulations on religion, the government is required to state why they refuse permission for religious activities, Bishop Hop said. "We demand the Government Committee for Religious Affairs make clear the reason why it refused the visit, in addition, [that they] obey the law and respect religious freedom specified by the constitution and laws," Bishop Hop said in a document sent to the committee. The document was posted on the diocese's website
in mid-January. Under Vietnam's constitution, international relationships between domestic and foreign religious organizations must be respected and fostered. Vinh Diocese is considered one of Vietnam's "hot spots," where Catholics are routinely subjected to severe religious oppression. Local priests reportedly have been physically attacked, religious activities are restrained and lay Catholics have been harassed by police. In the latest incident, Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, pastor of Tan Yen parish and a noted human rights and democracy advocate, was assaulted on Dec. 31 by a group of attackers. Paul Le Son, a Catholic from Vinh, told ucanews.com that he tried to pass a letter to Cardinal Marx that detailed gross violations of religious liberty in the diocese, including the confiscation of church property. During his eight-day visit to Vietnam, Cardinal Reinhard, one of Pope Francis' nine cardinal advisers, met with church leaders and Catholics in Bac Ninh, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. He also visited the Lovers of the Holy Cross Sisters of Thu Thiem in Ho Chi Minh City's District 2, where local authorities have forced residents, including religious organizations, to leave the area to make way for building projects. While meeting with local religious leaders Cardinal Marx said: "No political and economic organizations can injure religious freedom." The cardinal said the purpose of the visit was to study the life of the Catholic Church in Vietnam, a country in the throes of social and economic change.