Lan Chu on Catholicism in Vietnam
Date: August 22nd, 2011

Despite having lived under a highly-nationalistic and communist regime for over three decades (and a half century in the northern part of the country), the Catholic Church continues to makes its spiritual and social presence felt in Vietnam.  Prof. Lan Chu, an assistant professor in the Department of Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College, explains how the Catholic Church has survived in this turbulent and often repressive environment.  We start with a brief discussion of the Catholic Church in Southeast Asia, noting how it came with Portuguese missionaries but was then largely associated with French colonization.  Prof.  Chu notes how Catholic priests assisted in forging a national identity during the Japanese occupation of the region during World War II, and then how things changed following the 1954 Geneva Accords that divided Vietnam into two separate countries, North and South.  We track both the conditions and reactions of the Church in both the North and South, noting how each developed a different culture.  Interestingly, whereas the presence of the southern Vietnamese Catholic bishops at Vatican II helped to create a more critical position of the Diem regime and a more conciliatory attitude towards communism, the bishops in the north were prevented from travelling to Rome, isolated from Vatican II’s message and subsequently developed a more hard-line stance to the communist regime.  Despite the fact that the Viet Minh regime exercised control over the selection of bishops and controlled the ordination of priests, the limited pool of candidates from which to choose from meant that Catholic leaders were still able to maintain a degree of independence.  We discuss what happens to the Church following the North Vietnamese invasion of the south and unification of the country in 1975.  Prof. Chu notes how Catholic leaders have been able to carve out a social space for themselves by using the regime’s own rhetoric on human rights to assert their own political rights and social activity in society.  The current regime has often encouraged the Church’s charitable activity as a means of providing needed social services for the population.  Throughout the interview we make comparative references to the Catholic Church in other communist countries such as Poland and Cuba.  We finish with some speculation about the likelihood that Catholics will help promote political liberalization in the country.  Recorded: August 10, 2011.


Prof. Lan Chu’s website at Occidental College.


Karrie Koesel on House Churches in China.

Karrie Koesel on Religion & Politics in China.

Roger Finke on Religious Persecution.

Catherine Wanner on Religion in Russia.

James Felak on John Paul II & Communism.




2 Responses to “Lan Chu on Catholicism in Vietnam”

  1. Joe Bruce says:

    Always enjoy your podcasts Dr. Gill! I do have one suggestion: with the popularity of call-in shows and call-in interviews, I always wish people would encourage their guests to use a landline when possible. There is a noticeable difference in sound quality. Just a suggestion – other than that great content as always!

  2. Tony Gill says:

    Great suggestions. I do encourage guests to use a landline, but we do have variable quality depending on the service provider. For instance, for our cowboy church we did use a landline from Wyoming that turned out to be terrible and we finished the interview on a cell phone. My most recent interview was with Monica Toft and we had problems with the landline quality in Boston due to the hurricane that just went through.

    There may be some problems on my side as well that I’m looking into.

Leave a Reply

Listen or Download This Episode
Search The Podcast
To search the podcast, type a term and click the Search button.

Connect With Us