Buddhist Church of Vietnam leader backs Catholic claim to Hanoi property

by Phil Lawler, CWNews.com, Feb 28, 2008

Hanoi, Vietnam -- A leader of an underground Buddhist group in Vietnam has supported the claim of Catholics to legal ownership of a disputed building in Hanoi.

Early this month, Catholic activists secured a promise from the government that a building formerly housing the offices of the apostolic nuncio would be returned to the Church. The Catholic activists had been staging prayer vigils outside the building, which had been confiscated by the Communist government in 1959.

However, shortly after the government made that concession, a state- approved Buddhist group made its own claim to ownership of the property, charging that the French colonial government had seized property from Buddhists in 1883.

In an interview with BBC, a spokesman for the outlawed Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Thich Khong Tanh, disputed that claim. He charged that the government had encouraged the rival Buddhist group to stake a claim to the property.

“It is clear that the government is reluctant to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of Catholics," the Buddhist leader told the BBC. "Now they want to use Buddhists to confront the Catholics for them.”

Trich Khong Tanh, whose UBCV claims to represent 80% of the Buddhists living in Vietnam, said that the rival Buddhist group is "a tool of the Communist party." The UBCV was outlawed in 1981 because of its refusal to follow the dictates of the government; he himself has spent 15 years in prison for his human-rights efforts.

The underground Buddhist leader said that there is not doubt that the Catholic Church owned legal title to the disputed property in Hanoi. While the government-approved Buddhist group claimed that the Bao Thien pagoda was built on that land, Trich Khong Tanh says that the pagoda was actually at a separate location-- and in any event, was destroyed in 1426, more than four centuries before the Catholic Church gained titled to the land.