Brisbane Vietnamese Catholics in protest against Archdiocese

Vietnamese Catholics at surburban Inala say they are being persecuted and "bled to death" by the Archdiocese following its rejection of their miracle claims for a Virgin Mary statue allegedly weeping blood, and the subsequent transfer of their priest to the Sunshine Coast.

The Sunday Mail reports that Mass has not been celebrated at the Inala Vietnamese Catholic Community Centre since the transfer of Fr Joseph Liem in January. It says the community refuses to accept the ministry of another Vietnamese priest, Fr Vu Dinh Tuoung, of a neighbouring parish.

The centre created controversy last year, claiming to have a statue of the Virgin Mary that wept blood. It attracted thousands of people from across the world and gathered an estimated $41,000 in donations. The "miracle" was later found by a church inquiry to be the result of human intervention and the money raised was donated to needy African nations.

Since then, community members say they have been "punished" by the church for their belief in the statue and because of their increasing power. The centre has more than 3000 followers and has raised "millions of dollars" for its community. Tension peaked when followers hinted at going outside the church and holding their own Mass.

The centre has been placed under the direction of the neighbouring Catholic church, St Mark's - 300 metres away - and its priest Fr Tuong - who is refusing to hold daily Vietnamese Masses.

Vietnamese Catholic Community representatives Denise Nguyen and Jenny Nguyen (no relation) said the community felt they were being persecuted for their belief in the weeping statue.

"We thought it was a punishment the archbishop was giving us because he was unhappy with the weeping Mary," Denise said. "They can make us remove it, but we will still believe in it."

Fr Tuong said Archbishop Bathersby had told him to hold Mass only at St Mark's.

"St Mark's is the centre of the Catholic community here," he said. "There are four Vietnamese Masses a week for people to come to."

Auxiliary Bishop for Brisbane and Episcopal Vicar for Ethnic Communities, Bishop Joseph Oudeman, said the Catholic church is not punishing the community.

The tense situation in Inala had never been seen before, Bishop Oudeman said. "People don't like change, but it is not as though we want change . . . there is no other way."

He said the centre no longer has a chaplain due to a severe shortage of priests, a problem plaguing the western world.

Bishop Oudeman said there is no fault in Fr Tuong's performance of his role of St Mark's parish priest and chaplain to the Vietnamese Catholic Community Centre.

"Father Tuong is really in a dilemma and is trying the best way he can to cope, but it is very hard."

He said the Catholic church was unhappy with the community's protest, which included banners above the centre reading: "Please do not persecute us", "We do not accept Father Tuong" and "We ask for our religious freedom".

Bishop Oudeman said: "This is an act of rebellion against the archbishop as the archbishop has appointed Fr Tuong as the Parish priest and the chaplain.

"The archbishop could, if they keep protesting, remove the term Catholic from them so it is no longer a Catholic centre. I can understand their anguish, but I don't want them to take an un-Christian and un-Catholic stance in this.

"We will do everything possible to ensure peace."

Holy war in suburbs (The Sunday Mail 1/5/05)

2 May 2005