Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Shockwaves" in Hanoi: Ngo Wants to Go?

In a seismic development for the suffering Vietnamese church, the country's most visible -- and controversial -- prelate has reportedly announced his intent to depart his post.

Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi (left) told his priests earlier this month that he had submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict, according to a report filed Monday on a Vietnamese church-news site.

Only 57 years of age, Ngo cited "health reasons" for the move -- a rationale the locals quickly cast doubt upon:
Judging by his appearance, the prelate seems to look healthy and has been able to keep up with a tight schedule for such a large archdiocese. For most Vietnamese Catholics, the underlying cause of his resignation is obviously the persistent pressure from Vietnam['s] government after a series of church land disputes in recent years....

Rumors on the prelate’s “must go” plan has circulated among Catholics after the "Ad Limina" visit of Vietnamese bishops in June 2009.
Since their outbreak in early 2008, the archbishop had been the guiding force behind his faithful's response to the government's seizures of church property, which saw peaceful protests reportedly met with police investigations of participants, beatings of journalists covering the vigils and threats of expulsion from school for the demonstrators' children.

Along the way, Ngo volunteered to be jailed for his flock if the government maintained its aggressive response, then -- after a campaign against him in state-controlled media -- found himself for a time under de facto house arrest as, according to one report, the authorities attempted "everything they can to intimidate [him], with the unconcealed objective of forcing his resignation or removal."

Given the backdrop, the acceptance of Ngo's resignation would appear to be further evidence of an emergent Holy See policy of sidelining outspoken prelates with an eye to winning the church an improved footing with Communist regimes. Along these lines, the ferociously candid leader of Catholic China's Beijing-skeptic faction, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, was succeeded by a significantly less political prelate earlier this year.

In his ad limina address to the Vietnamese bishops in June, B16 delivered the following, pointed message:
Lay Catholics for their part must show by their life, which is based on charity, honesty and love for the common good, that a good Catholic is also a good citizen. For this reason you must ensure that they have a sound formation, by promoting their life of faith and their cultural standard so that they may serve the Church and society effectively....

You know, as well as I do, that healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is possible. In this regard, the Church invites all her members to be loyally committed to building a just, supportive and fair society. Her intention is certainly not to replace government leaders; she wishes only to be able to play a just role in the nation's life, at the service of the whole people, in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration. By active participation in her own province and in accordance with her specific vocation, the Church can never be exempt from practising charity as an organized activity of believers, and on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice humans need, and will always need, love. Furthermore, it seems important to me to emphasize that religions do not represent a threat to the nation's unity since they aim to help individuals to sanctify themselves and through their institutions desire to put themselves generously and impartially at the service of their neighbour.
The news of Ngo's intended departure came as the Vietnamese hierarchy opened a Jubilee Year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its establishment.

In a notable gesture, the papal legate to the celebrations, retired Vatican Cardinal Roger Etchegaray -- the quintessential Vatican diplomat -- publicly gave his crozier to the Hanoi prelate at the close of the opening Mass.

In the days since, it's been interpreted by Ngo's supporters as a possible sign that the archbishop's resignation might not be taken.

Earlier today, the Vatican released a papal message for the Jubilee in which Benedict voiced his hope for "a time of grace in which to reconcile ourselves with God and our fellow man.

"To this end," the pontiff said, "we should recognise past and present errors committed against brothers in the faith and against fellow countrymen, and ask for forgiveness.

"At the same time," he added, "it would be appropriate to commit to increasing and enriching ecclesial communion, and to building a more just, united, equal society through authentic dialogue, mutual respect and healthy collaboration."