Why Hanoi Apostolic Delegate’s Office must be returened to the Catholic Church in Vietnam?

On 18 Oct 1951, Pope Pius XII appointed Archbishop John Jarlath Dooley, S.S.C.M.E (1906 – 1999) as the Apostolic Delegate to Indochina.

On arrival to Vietnam, Archbishop John Dooley decided to move the Indochina Apostolic Delegate’s residence from Hue to Hanoi due to the political importance of the latter.

His office was set temporarily inside Hanoi Archbishopric complex. The Apostolic Delegate’s Office had the same address as that of Hanoi Archbishop’s Palace: 40 Pho Nha Chung, Hanoi.

When Vietnam was divided into two distinct states in 1954, he remained in Hanoi.

In March, 1959 he had to leave Hanoi for medical treatment. Before leaving Vietnam, he wrote a letter in which he thanked Bishop Joseph Marie Trinh Nhu Khue (1898-1978) of Hanoi to allow him to use the building for a long time.

Father Terence O'Driscoll, an Irish priest, undertook the office temporarily while waiting for the Holy See’s instructions. However, within 2 weeks after Archbishop John Dooley left Vietnam, Hanoi deported Fr. O'Driscoll and all staff of the Apostolic Delegation.

After the deportation of the Apostolic Delegation, despite the protest of Bishop Joseph Marie Trinh, the communist government occupied the Apostolic Delegate’s Office, built a wall to separate it with the rest of the Archbishopric complex, and created a new address: 42 Pho Nha Chung.

Since then, the former Apostolic Delegate’s Office has been used for various purposes, including those as means to torture Hanoi Catholic leaders and staff who lived nearby with loudly music played late into midnight. Needless to say, the music and other activities from the building disrupt badly church services in the nearby Hanoi Cathedral.

In 1980s, Cardinal Joseph-Marie Trinh Van Can (1921-1990), Archbishop of Hanoi, had repeatedly reported the issue but the government kept torturing him with loudly music until his death.

In 2000, Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung requested the return of the building to the archdiocese. Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops have also sent petitions to the authorities for the return of the building. Yet, their petitions have gone unanswered.

The request of Vietnam Catholic Bishops is based on the facts that:

i) Archidocese of Hanoi has legal land title of the building.

ii) Article 70, Chapter 5, concerning the Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizen, in the 15th April 1992 Vietnam Constitution states that

“The citizen shall enjoy freedom of belief and of religion; he can follow any religion or follow none. All religions are equal before the law. The places of worship of all faiths and religions are protected by the law.”

iii) Directive No. 379/TTg specifies that places of worship borrowed by the authorities must be returned to the churches or their owners when their use is no longer justified. If the use of the land is not for the right purposes, then it must be returned to the churches. If the places of worship are being occupied by people, it is municipal government’s task in asking these habitants to leave the properties within specific time.

iv) Decree No. 26/1999/ND-CP provides that church properties must be kept under the management of the state, and the state should not let these places of worships be transgressed.

v) Ordinance No. 21/2004/PL-UBTVQH11 of June 18, 2004 regarding Religious Belief and Religious Organizations, Article 26 elaborates that the legal property of places of religious belief and of religious organizations is protected by law; any violation of this right is forbidden.

On 3rd December 2007, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, sent another request for the return of the building. The local government responded arrogantly by speeding up construction projects inside and outside the building.

In a letter, released on 15th December, Archbishop Joseph Ngo told his congregation that the Apostolic Delegate’s Office within the premises of his palace was seized illegally by the government since 1959. He asked the congregation to pray for the return of the building.

On 18th December, a rally was held drawing thousands Catholics to the street.

There continued to be prayer protests since 18th December.

On 30th December, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the archbishopric palace. He saw by his eyes people praying in front of the building and waiting in long queues to sign a petition for its return to the Church. However, so far, no concrete solution has been reached to satisfy the legitimate aspiration of Hanoi’s Catholics.