Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako. Photo: Rudaw

Leader of Iraqi Catholics Leaves Baghdad after Government’s Harassment: Vatican Intervenes

The patriarch of the Iraqi Catholic community has moved to Kurdistan. The diplomatic representation of the Vatican was called by the president of the republic.

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Elizabeth Owen

(ZENIT News / Baghdad-Erbil, 07.18.2023).- After the recent repeal of a Presidential Decree by which, since 2023, the leadership of the Chaldean Catholic Church was recognized in the figure of the Patriarch of that community, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the latter has left Baghdad’s Patriarchal See and has gone to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

For Cardinal Sako, the revocation on July 3, 2023, of a Decree dating back to 2013, implied the lack of institutional recognition, which in turn leads to a risk in the ownership of ecclesiastical properties of the Chaldean Church, in communion with the Pope.

Also implied in the revocation is the removal of Patriarch Sako’s immunity in as much as religious leader. Chaldean Catholics in Erbil support the Patriarch, whom they see as a victim of the pretensions of a pseudo-Christian leader who has in his sights the properties of the Chaldean Catholic Church, after the Government’s lack of protection in so far as ownership is concerned. In fact. President Rashid’s decision was made after his meeting with Rayan al-Kildani, leader of the nominally Christian Babylon Movement, a party and militia affiliated to the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In a letter addressed to the President, on Monday, July 10, the Patriarch exhorted him to change his mind. 

The Matter Escalates to the Diplomatic Level

On Monday, July 17, Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid, met with a representative of the Nunciature (Embassy) of the Holy See in Iraq, Father Charles Lwanga Ssuuna. 

The presidency circulated a press release stating that “The Holy See has no observation or objection in regard to the procedure of the Presidency of the Republic.” The press release also added:

His Excellency, President Rashid, reiterated to the Business Manager the reason for the abolition of the Presidential Decree No. 147 of 2013. The President affirmed that since 2018 the legal and constitutional advisers of the Presidency, as well as the State’s Judicial Authorities in the country decided that the President of the Republic of Iraq  simply does not have the power or authority to issue Presidential Decrees to Heads of Denominations.

President Rashid pointed out that the derogation of the Presidential Decree does not diminish in any way the religious or legal status of His Eminence Cardinal Raphael Louis Sako as Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon by the Holy See. 

In his comments, President Rashid made clear  that the abolition of the Presidential Decree has the sole objective of correcting a legal and constitutional discrepancy.

Deprived of legal foundations, Decree No. 147 of 2013 also put the Iraqi State and the Presidency in a dilemma, as there were numerous additional requests by other leaders of Churches and other Religious Communities for similar Presidential Decrees, which lacked any constitutional or legal backing, said President Rashid. 

The President calmed Father Charles Lwanga Ssuuna saying that His Eminence and the Chaldean community have nothing but respect on the part of the Presidency of the Republic. 

However, in a note of the Chaldean Patriarchate, after the meeting between the Vatican side and the Iraqi, the following clarification of the Nunciature was published:

The Apostolic Nunciature in Iraq laments the misunderstandings and inadequate treatments regarding the role of His Beatitude Louis Sako as Custodian of the properties of the Chaldean Church. In addition to some partial and deceitful reports on the subject, which often ignore him as a very esteemed religious figure, the Apostolic Nunciature affirms the following: 

Today the President of the Republic, H.E. Latif Rashid, requested a meeting with the Business Manager of the Apostolic Nunciature (Embassy of the Holy See/Vatican) in the Republic of Iraq, Revd. Fr. Charles Lwanga Ssuuna, in regard to his recent decree on His Beatitude Louis Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church. 

During the conversation, Fr. Ssuuna stressed that the administration of the Church’s properties — exactly as the Iraqi Constitution prescribes — must continue being exercised freely by the Heads of Churches also at the practical level, namely, before the Iraqi Courts and Government offices, while the Apostolic Nunciature does not comment if this must be guaranteed through Presidential Decrees or another appropriate way.

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