1. Through mass media, recent land and property disputes leading to complaints and law suits have been exposed, and attracted the attention of wide sections of the population. Particularly, latest developments involving disputes between the Church and the government have caused great public concerns as they have often ended up in the government taking extreme measures including prosecuting and locking up large number of lay Catholics. Put simply, the governmental attempt to resolve land disputes by using outdated, inconsistent land laws and the application of extreme violent, and suppressive measures are absolutely unacceptable if not being viewed as barbaric by people of conscience.

The employment of 2003 Land Laws and decrees governing the process to resolve complaints and denunciations relating to land has indicated their inconsistency and their incapability to bring about just and acceptable solutions for disputes. Therefore, they must be revised to be appropriate with the current socio-economic conditions of Vietnam.

The Church in Vietnam in the document titled “The viewpoint of the Vietnamese Conference of Catholic Bishops (VCCB) on a number of issues under current circumstances" signed by Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, the President of the Conference, on Sept. 25, 2008 officially offered her opinion on the urgent need of the thorough revision of the 2003 Land Law.

In the said document, the VCCB insisted:

“Vietnam land laws must be revised to take into consideration the right to own private property as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.’ and ‘No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.’ (article17). We, therefore, assume that instead of resolving the issues by dealing with each case on an individual basis, authorities have to search for a more thorough solution, meaning to let the people have the right to own land and property. People in return must be responsible for the society. This demand becomes more urgent during the globalization process, when Vietnam has been more tuning in with the global rhythm. This should be the premise to resolve people’s complaints and denunciations on land and property; and at the same time, contributes to the economic growth and the steady development of the country.”

In any economy, land always plays key roles of asset, capital, and means of production. Land management, therefore, is one of the vital functions of the state. Unfortunately, there have been so many issues relating to the way land has been managed.

According to the current land laws, all land belongs to the people and is managed by the State on behalf of the people. With their status as the representative owner, however, the State has the absolute right to decide the fate of the land. Typically, pursuant to Rule 5 of the Land Laws, the State has the following rights: to decide the use of the land, to transfer land, to rent it out, to revoke land use, to modify the purpose of land use, to set value on land, to decide on the limit of land transfer and set time limit on land use...Should this enormous power is not tied up with any guideline and an effective body to supervise, it would be inevitable for abuse to flourish by land decision makers. The obvious problem is the abuse of power to gain personal interest, especially when land becomes a valuable commodity as it is now

Reality has shown that land has become people's ‘assets’, ‘capital’, ‘commodity’ in today's market. This is the premise or cause for desire to appropriate or to gain profits from land.

As land is undoubtedly has become a most lucrative source of profit, and subsequently the best breeding ground for corruption to take place, the goal to prevent potential abuse from happening cannot be ignored in the contents of Land Laws.

Acknowledgement and protection of individual ownership of land as well as preventing corruption to take place should be the main goals in the process of Land Laws modification.

Only when being able to reflect the above points, the Land Laws can be truly established because of and for the people.

Individual ownership of land is one of realistic solutions for untying the knots on the land issues which include those relating to the history of ownership of religions on homes, lands, schools, hospital, worshiping places confiscated or appropriated by the government.

2. As unresolved complaints and denunciations on land kept mounting, and had been transformed into massive rallies at public reception offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, came the incident at Tam Toa church (Quang Binh province) on July 20, 2009, when the effect of what happened at the Hanoi nunciature and Thai Ha was still resonating.

At the said three locations, regrettable incidents occurred including scuffles between the law enforcements and the faithful, and the subsequent campaign of defamation and distortion on the mass media.

In the wake of the pessimistic situation arising from the Hanoi nunciature and Thai Ha incidents in 2008, and, in particular, the hostile attitude created by the state media, through the said document, the VCCB voiced its comment as follows:

"In the process of solving the disputes, a number of the mass media were proven to be effective in spreading doubts and mistrust instead of bridging the nation with mutual understanding and unification,"

The bishops earnestly proposed to those working in the communication section that:

"In reality, there has been distorted and tailored information as in the land dispute at Hanoi former nunciature. We, therefore, suggest that media personnel should take precaution in broadcasting or publishing the news and pictures, especially when reputation and integrity of individuals or a community are at stake. If incorrect information was given, it should be retracted or corrected".

The above viewpoint was laid out by the VCCB during the tense setting of Hanoi nunciature and Thai Ha incidents in 2008. Though it has not been reiterated at the Tam Toa church incident, but the VCCB's viewpoint on its asking for a change in the state media and media personnel has not been altered. The fundamental spirit the VCCB has asked - not only the mass media personnel but also people from all walks of life - is the respect for the truth, as "only when the truth is respected, the media can accomplish its goal which is to inform and educate the public in order to build up a democratic, just and civil society.

The truth has to be respected. The truth has to be put above everything. The ground on which all disputes, confrontations and conflicts can be resolved is to seek, recognize, and respect the truth.

Disputes which are civil by their nature should not be politicized.
Expressing a complaint is not a criminal act by its nature. It should not be criminalized.
If the dispute involves the history of the ownership, then relevant parties should seek out and listen to the voice of the evidence.
Past and present efforts to regain the ownership of land by their nature are not an act of hostility or a political plot. They are simply an aspiration for the legitimacy of land use to be recognized.

3. Vietnamese Catholics, through their shepherds during the 2009 Ad limina visit, received Pope Benedict XVI directives on how to be a witness for the Good News in the current socio-economic settings of Vietnam: "You know, as well as I do that healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is feasible. 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 only wishes to be able to play a fair role in the nation's well being, at the service of the whole people, in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration. The Church can contribute its part into the living of the country, in order to serve its entire people" (excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI speech at the reception ceremony for the Vietnamese bishops on Jun 17, 2009 at the Vatican)

As a matter of fact, during the most intense moments between the authority and the Catholic communities at certain locations, the faithful have not lost their faith in a prospective "healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community which can be feasible" as reminded by the Pope.

Vietnamese Catholics understand thoroughly the directive of the Church: "The Church never wants to replace the government, but rather hope that a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration, can contribute its part into the life of the country, in order for everyone to be served.”

Therefore when situation arises, prompting adverse opinions, they are simply put on the table for the benefit of our country as a whole, without any ambition other than the desire to contribute to the improvement of spiritual and material lives of the people. The opposing act of all people, Catholics included, if any, should be correctly perceived as the way people exercising their rights to sincere, earnest dialogue, in the direction of serving public interest. Therefore, any intention to distort their goodwill gesture would be considered as sabotaging to people's searching for the truth, causing disharmony and disrespect among people. In addition, it can cause further damage by extinguishing sincere citizens' enthusiasm.

Catholics, like any other people of good will, understand completely that for any result to be achieved there has to be a progress. For any reform to be fruitful, time is needed.

Life in our society has long been organized in a model different from the international community. Now that the country is in the process of integration back to the world, it is impossible to achieve the global living standards within days. Therefore, along with other people of good will, Vietnamese Catholics are patiently contributing to the common progression, being tolerant to shortcomings, sharing worries as well as hopes with our fellow countrymen, including our brothers and sisters who are serving in the government machinery.

Our burning desire now is for every social class to be invited to initiate dialogues, discussions, and debates which are straightforward, open and sincere, in the spirit of peace and mutual respect.