Patriarch Louis R. Sako -Photo Courtesy of the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon's Website

Cardinal-Patriarch Louis R. Sako -Photo Courtesy of the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon's Website

Dangar of Asset Ownership Following Iraqi Government’s Measure Against Cardinal Leader of Iraqi Catholics

The «revocation» is supposed to not affect the religious or legal status of the Sako patriarch and only seeks to «correct» a «constitutional» issue.

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Elizabeth Owen

(ZENIT News / Baghdad, 07.13.2023).- After decades of violence and persecution, the future of Christians in Iraq is menaced again. This time, the target of the controversy  is the country’s highest ecclesiastical authority: Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Cardinal Sako who recently was deprived of his “institutional recognition” by the Republic’s President.

The Head of State repealed Decree 147, issued by his predecessor Jalal Talabani on July 10, 2013, which established the Cardinal’s pontifical appointment as leader of the Chaldean Church “in Iraq and in the world” and as ‘administrator of the Church’s assets.” This is the key question: the “control of Christian assets and properties of the Church, which someone wants to seize .”

In response to this situation, President Abdul Latif Rashid issued a press release recently with the intention of “clarifying” the details of the controversy. “The revocation doesn’t affect the religious or legal status of Patriarch Sako,” he stressed, given that his appointment is by the Apostolic See.” According to the Kurdish Muslim leader, the decision seeks to “correct” a “constitutional” question, while the President continues respecting and appreciating the Patriarch as leader of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and in the world. 

However, in practice, the President’s decision would end up by divesting the Patriarch of the administration of ecclesiastical assets, which have been the object of interest for a long time of Rayan “the Chaldean” and the Babylon Brigades. “It’s no accident that the President’s decision came a few days after a meeting between Rashid and Ryan, the self-proclaimed Christian leader,” points out a source. “Others seek to intervene, order and confiscate,” continued the source. “There are those that want to take possession of what belongs to Christians.  

For over one hundred years, following the Pope’s appointment, a Patriarch has received recognition — first by the King and then by the President –, through a Decree that established him as leader of the Church and custodian of its properties. With the repeal of the presidential Decree, the Primate “would lose legal control over the assets and properties,” concludes the source. However, Cardinal Sako “is determined to fight and is already preparing a legal appeal to assert justice and rights.”

The controversy over the repeal of the presidential Decree is the latest episode in a series of attacks directed against the most authoritative and respected figure of the Chaldean Church in Iraq. In recent weeks, the Christian community has raised its “voice” in response to the “falsehoods” levelled against Patriarch Sako and the ecclesiastical leaders by the head of the Babylon Movement, Rayan al-Kildani. This self-styled Christian leader, backed by Shiite factions linked to foreign powers, such as Iran, seeks to establish an enclave in the Nineveh Plains, taking advantage of the Movement’s position of power and controlling four of the five parliamentary seats reserved for the minority (although the election doesn’t exclude Christians), as well as a Ministry under its influence. 

The Babylon Brigades arose during the fight against the Islamic State in the past decade and have acquired economic and political influence. 

The Bishops of the North of Iraq (Mosul and the Nineveh Plains) have energetically criticized the system of assignment of quotas for the minorities, fully backing the Patriarch’s struggle and announcing the possibility of the Christian community’s boycotting  the forthcoming elections. In May, the Chaldean Patriarch himself insinuated the possibility of appealing to international justice bodies to ensure a just distribution of parliamentary seats. These positions have provoked attacks against the Patriarch and the Institution by individuals close to the “Babylon Movement,” which has become increasingly virulent over time, which has led hundreds of Christians, both priests and faithful, to go out to the streets to show their solidarity with Cardinal Sako. 

In a joint Statement sent to AsiaNews, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Syro-Assyrian Chaldean Popular Council, the Betnahrain Patriotic Union, the Nahrain Sons Party and the Assyrian Patriotic Party express their “support” of the Patriarch. This solidarity goes beyond the religious authority and encompasses its “status as religious institution  that represents an important part  of Iraqi society.” Christian Movements describe the decision as “troubling” due to its negative repercussions,” which are added to the “direct attacks” against the Christian Community, including “displacements, murder of religious and civil leaders, abductions, bombing of churches and demographic changes.” The Statement concludes: “As national parties, we reject this Decree,” which would make possible “the manipulation of ecclesiastical assets by influential and corrupt parties with clear expropriation ambitions.”

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