Vatican and Vietnamese officials have agreed to upgrade relations through the appointment in the near future of a permanent papal representative to Hanoi.
A Vatican delegation for a December 18-20 visit, during which the agreement was reached, was led by Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, under-secretary for relations with states.
One of the aims of the talks was to help resolve bitter disputes over confiscated church properties.
The Vatican delegation included senior Vietnamese prelates and Archbishop Marek Zalewski, non-resident pontifical representative to Vietnam.
The Vietnamese delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son.
Father Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, head of the Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, said in a statement that two sides “agreed to take detailed steps to raise their diplomatic relationships from the level of non-resident envoy to resident envoy to Vietnam.”
The Vatican started to send a non-resident pontifical representative to Vietnam in 2011, long after Vietnam cut off diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1975.
Archbishop Zalewski is the second non-resident pontifical representative to the Southeast Asian country.
Some church sources said that the local church’s former facilities and properties that were confiscated by the government constituted ongoing obstacles to improving bilateral ties. The communist government has confiscated church-run schools, hospitals, churches and other facilities.
The Holy See wants Vietnam to return all former church properties while the government only envisages giving back a few of them.
Sources said during their talks, both delegations also approved episcopal candidates for Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese and Phan Phiet Diocese.
The country’s most active archdiocese has been vacant since Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc passed away in March. The latter diocese has been vacant since Bishop Joseph Vu Duy Thong died in 2017.
Sources said the Vatican and Vietnam agreed to create a new diocese which will be separated from Vinh Diocese in north central Vietnam. Vinh Diocese serves more than 550,000 Catholics in three provinces.
Father Vu said during their three-day visit to Vietnam, Vatican delegates also met with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and officials from the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, which controls all religious organizations in the country.
He said the Vatican visitors met with Vietnamese bishops, and attended the installation of the newly-elected Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi.