Clergy Reshuffles In Northern Dioceses Benefit Parishioners, Priests

2006-03-07 00:00:00

The recent reshuffle of many priests in northern dioceses aids pastoral work, and the relatively easy approval process reflects a more open government policy on religion, say local Church leaders.

Ha Noi archdiocese and the dioceses of Bui Chu, Hung Hoa and Thai Binh reshuffled some of their priests in February. Hung Hoa diocese plans another reshuffle in April.

Bishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Thanh Hoa told UCA News March 1 that he is glad some northern dioceses have been able to relocate many parish priests as well as to appoint newly ordained priests to parishes. He says these changes are "extremely important" as they facilitate improvements in the local Church´s pastoral work.

Bishop Linh, head of the Vietnamese bishops´ Episcopal Commission for the Laity, explained that regular transfers of priests enable them to develop a variety of pastoral approaches and activities to suit different situations. Catholic communities also benefit from new and varied approaches as they work with different priests to develop their parish, he added. He said he has relocated 37 parish priests out of 55 diocesan priests since he started his episcopal ministry in 2004.

According to the bishop, priest transfers within northern dioceses show that local Church leaders are taking advantage of the government´s more open policy on religion to rearrange Church staff according to local situations.

Vietnam´s Beliefs and Religions Ordinance, which came into effect in 2004, declares that all religions are equal before the law and their properties protected by law. It also says that appointments, elections, ordinations and promotions should be carried out according to religious organizations´ charters and codes, and in accordance with government regulations.

According to Bishop Linh, procedures for priest transfers are now easier on the government side because of the ordinance. Now, notifications of transfers, which are sent to the government authorities at the district level, are handled within 30 days "as the ordinance requires." In the past, there was no such time limit, so a transfer could be delayed indefinitely pending approval.

The number of priests in dioceses has also increased considerably in recent years, the bishop continued. It is now possible to relocate those who have been serving in the same places for decades, and to assign priests to remote parishes that have not had a resident priest for as long as 50 years.

Bishop Joseph Nguyen Van Yen of Phat Diem told UCA News his diocese was the first in the north to carry out regular priest transfers, since 1994. "We transfer five to seven parish priests every six or seven years," he said.

Regular transfers help the Church to develop, Bishop Yen said. Parishes are able to enjoy the different kinds of expertise that different priests bring with them, such as in construction of new church buildings, development of Church associations, and in catechism and social welfare, he explained.

The 63-year-old bishop also noted that priests who are given a change of environment are more enthusiastic in serving the diocese, compared to those who have remained in the same parish for many years.

Auxiliary Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van De of Bui Chu told UCA News March 4 that his diocese reshuffled 30 parish priests and assigned over 20 newly ordained priests to parishes in February. "This is a record number of priest transfers going back to 1954," he said. That was the year when communist forces defeated colonial French troops in the north, he said.

In the past the diocese found it hard to relocate parish priests because of a shortage of priests, Bishop De noted.

Among its new priests, seven graduated from Ha Noi-based St. Joseph Major Seminary, while 21 "illegal" priests -- those ordained without government permission -- were recognized by the government after they completed a two-year refresher course in January at Stella Maris Major Seminary in Nha Trang.

Father Joseph Nguyen Duc Dung, 65, one of the relocated priests in Bui Chu diocese, told UCA News, "I am happy as the transfer has helped relieve my pastoral burden." The former Lien Phu parish priest had been serving three parishes at the same time for 12 years before moving Feb. 27 to Dai Dong parish in Giao Thuy district, Nam Dinh province. He said some priests had been serving the same parishes since the 1960s before the recent transfers.

Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi told UCA News in late December that he had decided to relocate 27 priests for the first time in his archdiocese. The transfers were completed Feb. 12.

Some Church leaders say transfers can help parishioners and priests avoid negative developments such as factionalism, discord and financial scandals.

A Catholic in Thai Binh diocese, who asked not to be named, told UCA News that his parish of almost 10,000 members has enjoyed stability and unity since the arrival of a new parish priest two years ago. The former parish priest had frequent conflicts with parishioners during 10 years as pastor, the man said.

Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong told UCA News he would reshuffle parish priests in his diocese later this year.

According to a local Church source, Hung Hoa diocese will be reshuffling 25 priests this year, some of whom have had their current parish assignment since 1973. The transfers will begin as early as April.

The same source said the numbers of priests in Bui Chu and Hung Hoa dioceses have doubled compared to five years ago. In other dioceses, the number has also increased considerably because of newly ordained priests.


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