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Vietnam

SOURCES SAY BISHOPS CONSIDERING CLANDESTINE ORDINATIONS OF PRIESTS

Updated: February 27, 1994 05:00 PM GMT
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Vietnamese bishops are considering clandestinely ordaining priests because the government is not approving enough priest candidates to meet pastoral needs, sources in Vietnam told UCA News in February.

Bishops have consistently rejected secret ordinations to avoid confrontation with the government and to protect those ordained, but with few ordinations allowed in the last 20 years, bishops say pastoral needs are nearly critical.

Government officials and a Vatican delegation led by Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, Vatican undersecretary for relations with states, reportedly will meet in March to discuss greater latitude for the Church to select and ordain priests.

As the need for priests grows more urgent, several bishops in the south and north are accepting the idea that they should proceed with secret ordinations and wait for the government to accept the new priests as a fait accompli.

A bishop from the north reportedly plans to ordain 20 priests this year with or without government permission. Others in the south are trying to persuade reluctant bishops to form a clear, common position to present the government.

About six months ago, a Redemptorist superior in Vietnam revealed that he had three Religious secretly ordained last year.

Government religious officials were angry, but he told UCA News he replied, "I had written you three times submitting an official application to get permission. You never answered me. Only a dog could write a fourth time!"

The government reluctantly accepted the situation, he said.

According to Nguyen Ngoc Lan, a Ho Chi Minh City Catholic academic known for criticism of government, this "is a prophetic example" for others to follow.

A priest from the north who spent 10 years in prison told UCA News, "Ordination is a Sacrament, an internal matter of the Church. The government has no right to give or not to give their permission."

About 7 percent of Vietnam´s 71 million people are Catholic.

Five of Vietnam´s 25 dioceses -- Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, Tran Hoa and Hung Hoa -- have no bishop because the government disliked Vatican choices.

Hanoi has an apostolic administrator, Bishop Paul Pham Ding Tung, who has to divide his time between Hanoi and his diocese of Bac Ninh.

Bishops in the dioceses of Da Nang, Ban Me Thout, Thai Binh, Vinh and Bui Chu are either ill or old or both but have no coadjutors.

Ho Chi Minh City has a political standoff.

In August, Bishop Nicolas Huynh Ban Hghi of Phan Thiet was named apostolic administrator of Ho Chi Minh City because Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh, 83, was ailing. But the government did not allow the bishop to do all his duties.

The government wanted the Vatican to appoint a coadjutor to replace Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who lives outside Vietnam but was named coadjutor shortly before the north captured then-Saigon in 1975. Authorities remember him as a nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, former president of South Vietnam.

The situation for priests is worse. Government control over seminary admissions, ordinations and parish appointments diminished the number of priests in pastoral work and increased their average age.

The average age of priests in Ho Chi Minh City, Religious included, is about 60. In the north, where control was imposed in 1953, the average age of priests is 77.

Ho Chi Minh City has one priest for 2,000 Catholics. Hanoi, with 350,000 Catholics, has 25 priests. Bac Ninh´s two priests, aged and ailing, care for 100,000 Catholics in communities spread tens of kilometers apart.

Yet no diocese lacks vocations. Nearly every diocese is thought to have several hundred candidates awaiting government approval to enter the seminary. Some completed seminary training years ago and still await ordination.

To encourage candidates waiting to enter seminaries, dioceses organize theological study groups and common life fraternities. These have been more or less accepted by authorities.

END

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