Iraqi Bishops May Turn to Pope for Help on Constitution

Fear That Draft Document Would Lead to an Intolerant State

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, OCT. 18, 2005 ( In the wake of Saturday’s referendum on Iraq’s draft constitution, Church leaders remain fearful that the country is one step closer to becoming an Islamic state intolerant of non-Muslims.

Early results indicate that a majority of voters supported the draft constitution.

Last month, Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of Baghdad met the president and prime minister of Iraq to spell out the bishops’ opposition to key sections of the draft constitution, which they say «opens the door widely» to the possibility of new laws that are unjust toward non-Muslims.

In an interview Monday with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Andraos Abouna said Iraq’s leaders had ignored their concerns and that as a result the bishops were likely to call on Benedict XVI to intervene on their behalf.

«The bishops will probably have a meeting with the Pope and will ask him to call for democracy in Iraq,» said Bishop Abouna.

He said a papal intervention would step up the pressure after the Holy Father met Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in August and requested that the draft constitution respect religious rights.

«We are looking for freedom — the government must listen,» said Bishop Abouna, 62. «Otherwise the country will be like a dictatorship.»

Still hopeful

The prelate said the views reflected the widespread concerns of the faithful, many of whom, he said, were too afraid to take part in the referendum.

He added: «I am still hopeful that there will be a change to the constitution. What we have at present is a basic document, which has not been finalized.»

At issue is a fundamental contradiction which — according to the bishop — lies at the heart of the constitution: Article 2.1 (b) and 2.2 defend freedom and religious rights, but Article 2.1 (a) states: «No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed laws of Islam.»

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