Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam (left) with Father Le Ngoc Thanh before his suspension. (Photo courtesy of Father Le Ngoc Thanh)
A well-known priest who works for social justice and environmental protection in central Vietnam has been removed from his parish ministry for speaking about politics.
Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, pastor of My Khanh parish in Nghe An province’s Yen Thanh district, has been suspended from administering pastoral care.
Father Francis Xavier Nguyen Hong An, head of the Office of Vinh Bishop’s House, made the announcement on June 17.
Father An said Father Nam would be replaced by Father Joseph Nguyen Xuan Vinh. He did not mention any place where Father Nam would move to.
In an audio clip posted on Facebook on June 21, Father Nam said: “I am surprised by the bishop’s decision.”
The 44-year-old priest said Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long, 67, had told him that he was suspended from his ministry for his “health problems and speaking about politics.”
Father Nam said his health does not affect his service and local Catholics’ spiritual benefits.
“I speak out for social justice and truth and protect human rights and other people’s interests. I do not do politics but I live out universal politics,” he said.
He said he condemns negative issues and social injustice in Vietnam with the aim of building a better society. In his homilies, he uses social issues to encourage Catholics to live out God’s word in their daily life and fight bad things.
“Jesus invites us to break ourselves for others to live abundantly because many people in society like to break others’ lives and like to wage war rather than to build peace,” he said during the Feast of Corpus Christi.
“I do nothing wrong,” he said, adding that he tried to live out universal politics as Pope Francis said politics is the highest charity and Catholics should partake in politics.
He said those priests who join state bodies violate canon law.
The priest, who has been constantly harassed by government authorities for his activities, said some priests disagreed with him about his work but he works for prophetic mission. His work is based on Catholic faith, moral values, canon law and the voice of conscience.
Father Nam led local Catholics to sue the Taiwanese-run Formosa unit based in Ha Tinh province for discharging toxic waste into the sea in 2016, killing many fish.
Bishop Long, head of the Episcopal Commission for Evangelization of Vietnamese Bishops, has not publicly explained the reason for Father Nam’s suspension.
In his announcement, Father An said Bishop Long had decided to reshuffle 30 priests for the Church’s pastoral needs and spiritual benefits.
Many activists said Bishop Long could have received pressure from local government authorities who have seen Father Nam as an opponent for years. The government wanted to silence dissidents before the Communist Party congress early next year.
Vinh Diocese covers Nghe An province, the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, founder of the communist country.
Many Catholic activists who struggle for environmental protection and social justice have been sentenced heavily.
Many people expressed shock at Father Nam’s suspension and said they would pray for him to be faithful to his mission under any conditions.
In 2019, Father Joseph Nguyen Duy Tan, a dissident priest who served Tho Hoa parish in Xuan Loc Diocese, was moved to a Marian center. In 2010, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, who struggled for religious freedom and returning former church properties, was forced to step down for health problems.