By Kevin J. Jones
Praising improved relations, the Holy See and the government of Vietnam have announced an agreement allowing the Vatican to have a permanent resident papal representative in the communist country.
The announcement came Thursday during the visit of Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong to the Vatican. He held talks with both Pope Francis and Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
According to the Holy See Press Office’s July 27 bulletin, “the two sides expressed high appreciation for the noteworthy progress in the relations between Vietnam and the Holy See, and the positive contributions by the Catholic community of Vietnam thus far.”
A resident papal representative is considered an intermediary step in diplomatic relations, below an apostolic nuncio.
The Holy See and Vietnam have never had full diplomatic relations but have engaged in formal bilateral discussions since 2009. Since 2011, the Holy See has had a nonpermanent, nonresident pontifical representative to Vietnam. At a 2018 meeting in Hanoi, Vatican and Vietnamese delegations agreed to upgrade the status of this representative to a permanent resident. As CNA previously reported, further discussions were held at the Vatican in August 2019.
Both sides voiced confidence that the papal representative will support the Vietnamese Catholic community’s efforts “in the spirit of the law” to accompany the nation, to be “good Catholics and good citizens,” and to contribute to the development of the country.
They agreed the resident papal representative will be “a bridge to advance relations between Vietnam and the Holy See.”
Catholics make up about 7.5% of Vietnam’s 97 million people, according to a July 2018 estimate by the U.S. government. Most Vietnamese practice folk religions, followed by Buddhism.
The Vietnamese constitution guarantees individual freedom of belief and individual religious freedom. However, the law also allows significant government control over religious practice and religious freedom may be restricted in the interest of national security and social unity, according to the 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom from the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
Catholic communities in Vietnam have experienced several limitations under the communist regime that took power in 1976.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which advises branches of the U.S. government, in its 2023 reportrecommended that Vietnam be designated a “country of particular concern” due to worsening religious freedom conditions.
The report cited government persecution of religious groups, especially unregistered independent communities, including Protestant and Buddhist communities. Local authorities have also pressured some attendees of state-controlled Protestant churches to renounce their faith.
Harassment of Catholic communities increased in 2022, according to the USCIRF report. In Hoa Binh province, local officials disrupted a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi. There are also continuing land disputes between Catholics and local governments.