Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fined For... a Family

As the church in Vietnam bade a final farewell earlier this week to Fr Phero Truong Ba Can -- the celebrated priest-journalist whose writings once saw him jailed -- the latest church-state conflict to emerge from the Communist country finds Catholics being fined for neglecting the government's mandatory two-child policy not out of defiance, but fidelity to the church's teaching on contraception:
Huong Toan villagers, just like Vietnamese elsewhere in the country, are required to have no more than two children per family since 1994, when village authorities launched a nationwide family planning program. Families with more than two children have to pay rice to the government as a fine.

Many local Catholics say they have done their best to remain true to Church teaching but some have had to resort to using contraceptives later on as they could not afford the hefty fines.

Catherine Pham Thi Thanh, 44, said that since 1996, she has been fined a total of 3,800 kilograms of rice for having six children.

Thanh, who produces rice alcohol and raises pigs to support her family, said she was fined 300 kilograms for her third child, 600 kilograms for the fourth, 900 kilograms for the fifth and 2,000 kilograms of rice for the sixth. Her children range from two to 15 years.

She pointed out that her family makes an annual profit of only 700 kilograms of rice from their 1,000 square-meter farmland the local government grants them.

Thanh said that in 2007, she decided to use an intrauterine device to save her family from having to pay 3.8 million kilograms of rice if she were to have a seventh child.

Thanh, who has studied only until the first grade, said she knows about natural family planning methods accepted by the Church, but is unable to practice them.

She recalled that in 2005, local village authorities confiscated the possessions of a family who could not afford to pay the fine for having more than two children.

Another villager, Anna Pham Thi The, 50, said she has seven daughters aged 2-29 years. The, who produces rice alcohol and raises pigs, said she is willing to be fined for having more children because her husband wants a son.

According to sources, local people who have two children have been asked to use artificial contraceptive or undergo vasectomies free of charge.

Father Joseph Nguyen Van Chanh, Huong Toan parish priest, said 90 percent of his 1,200 parishioners have agreed to pay fines as a way to be faithful to Church teaching. Local Catholics are taught natural family planning methods during marriage preparation courses, he noted.

Some local Catholics said Father Chanh is asking for donations from benefactors to support local people with large families. Huong Toan village has about 14,000 people.