We often reduce decolonization to a single event, such as the signature of a treaty. But the transition toward independence involves different pro- cesses when we look at the political, social, cultural, or economic autonomy of a colony. What happened in Vietnam is no different. The decolonization of Catholicism involved the transformation of a Western religion into a genuinely Vietnamese faith, a greater representation of Vietnamese priests and bishops, and the creation of a hierarchy directly connected to Rome, standing on par with other national churches. These achievements did not happen overnight, nor did they coincide with Vietnam’s political independence. While these developments unfolded at a different time and pace, they influenced the role of Catholics in the struggle for independence and their relationship with the postcolonial state.

Studies of the Vietnam Wars suggest that Catholics either acted like pawns in a struggle against Communists or obeyed their Catholic prime minister like little soldiers. The Vatican’s aversion to atheism remains the core reason for the Vietnamese Catholics’ opposition to Communism and involvement in political, economic, and cultural projects. Missing from that interpretation is their struggle to decolonize their faith. This chapter argues that Catholics disagreed and competed against each other over how to best transform this Western religion into a Vietnamese one. To the Japanese military and later Chinese Communists, the decolonization of the church involved a total break with the West. Vietnamese Catholics, fearing the expansion of Communism would generate a schism, launched political and social initiatives to decolonize their faith differently. Finding the right ideas, institutions, and reforms to express the evolution of a Vietnamese church entirely independent from colonial or Western domination would not only guarantee the survival of the church, it could also become a rampart against Communism and serve as a model for other Catholics across the globe.