Since both the Vietnamese Government and the Church leaders have been quite silent in the murder of Father Joseph Tran Ngoc Thanh, OP. I like to share additional information and hope everyone shares it widely.

It was around 7:15 PM on January 29 when Fr. Thanh was attacked by Kien Nguyen. After the 6 PM evening Mass, the priest began to hear confessions at the confessional which is located at the end of the simple chapel. There Fr. Thanh sits in a chair on one side of the confessional while the confessant sits on the other side. There were some others waiting for confession as well as children playing outside the church.

As Fr. Thanh was administering the sacrament of reconciliation, Kien rushed in and slashed his head twice with a machete. The priest collapsed and everyone screamed. At that moment, a choir director Br. Phan Van Giao, a Dominican friar, was tending to his choir in the chapel wing. Kien rushed over to slash him straight in the head, for the habit he was wearing. The choir director raised a plastic chair to defend himself, the chair was split in half. The friar was so fearful for his life that he ran out toward the church’s aisle, Kien chased after him.

When he reached the middle of the church, Br. Giao saw many children crying and screaming. It came to his mind that this could be a massacre. At that decisive moment, he felt a voice coming from above or an echo of God's coming from the sanctuary, calling out for him to return, overcome his fear, and face the murderer. Kien lunged forward, raising his machete to slash him again, but very quickly the friar was able to push off Kien's arm, turn his back around and put Kien in a choke hold. He held Kien so hard that both fell to the church's brick floor. Parishioners rushed over, pressed Kien down and held him captive there.

Amazingly, Br. Giao was a man of small stature, obviously much smaller than the killer. He attributed his ability to overpower Kien to God's grace. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn't think I am capable of doing it,” he said. This friar pleaded with people not to beat Kien, the murderer, instead to restrain him and call the police, while he personally rushed to tend to the gravely injured priest and called a committee member to take him to the hospital in Ngoc Hoi township about 12 km away, then followed the vehicle which transport the priest to the provincial hospital in Kontum. He painfully witnessed Fr. Thanh passing away at 11:30 that night.


The Sa-Long religious community is made up of people from the Sedang ethnic group, but Nguyen Van Kien is one of the Kinh, the largest ethnic group in Vietnam. He is single and Catholic. However, nobody ever sees him attending Mass.

Rumor among the villagers has it that before the incident, Kien tried to prevent his mother from going to Mass with a dire warning “if you go to Mass today, there will be a homicide, someone will have to die”. The mother ignored the warning and went to Mass and the incident took a tragic turn. Thus, the plot was premeditated, and the perpetrator had determined to follow through with the murder.

Killer Nguyen Van Kien has a younger brother who has also just been paroled from prison. It was said that his brother only served 3 years even though he was responsible for a manslaughter charge. The killer also has a younger sister whose family recently sent away to the house of women religious community to learn more about vocation. Others accuse Kien of being a henchman and often hangs out with the government officials. This information may be questionable, but basically Kien is not a “mental” case as widely reported. The assessment and diagnosis of his mental issues is to be determined later on by the government.


Although the mainstream, state owned media have not reported about the news, the fact of a Catholic priest's skull was slashed while administering reconciliation sacrament to penitents have caused great shock around the country where Lunar New Year had been preparing.

There was a murder, and the consequences were horrifying, and the perpetrator was already caught. So, what's the deal that the murder has yet to be reported? Aren't we tortured by conscience? Why, and why?

As a lawyer, I know there is a due process to take place: investigation, indictment, trial and imposition. However, when a minor incident like the death of Tran Thanh's (*) cat can drive the press into a frenzy to report, why is such a terrible murder with inundated information on the internet and sources are verifiable, yet nothing is broadcasted by any of the official outlets? People are yet to learn which direction this is heading to.

As a Catholic who loves priests and the Church, I know that the Church is very merciful, doesn't judge anyone, and always forgives all sinful acts of men (just like Fr. Thanh died when he acted on behalf of God to forgive the sinners). However, the conscience of the faithfuls calls for and demands a voice to be spoken out, a truth to be told in order for people to understand the matter and justice to be served in this case.

The murder of a priest is a very big deal. The foreign media are also very interested. All need to know the truth because “The truth will set us free” (Jn 8:32).

All those who love the truth and justice are waiting for a word from both the State and the Church, demanding that the perpetrator pay the price commensurate with the crime he committed, and not expecting it swept under the rug. Because when we keep silent before evil, we are complicit in it.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end when we are silent about what should have been said.”

With this additional information, I hope the truth will soon be surfacing.

Numerous international news networks are wondering about the place of homicide: at the chapel, the church or in his residence, I would like to explain as follows: This is a new mission area, there is no big church. This is considered a chapel, but it has the Body of the Lord for adoration, is the main place of religious activities of the religious community, so it can be called either a chapel or a church (although small). Regarding the living arrangement of the priests, usually in places like this community each priest would have a private room for activities. Nevertheless, it would be in the chapel's grounds so however people call it, the nature of the incident would not be changed.

Le Quoc Quan, Attorney at Law

(*) a famous comedian in Vietnam.