The leader of Iraq’s largest Christian community has condemned a Presidential order overturning a decree which recognises him as Patriarch, calling the move “offensive” and the climax of a campaign to seize control of the Church’s assets.
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako said Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid’s decision to revoke his predecessor’s pronouncement acknowledging him as Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church means that in the eyes of the state he lacks the authority to lead his people and administer ecclesiastical properties.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Patriarch said that reversing the decree was part of a political campaign to silence him, render him powerless and seize control of churches and other Chaldean buildings.
The Chaldean leader, who says his faithful represent 80 percent of Christians in Iraq, said: “Withdrawing the decree is very bad. For 15 centuries, there were decrees recognising the Patriarch as head of the Church and administrator of the properties of the Church.”
“Revoking it is a humiliation for the Church. Those behind this move want to put their hands on the properties of the Church and administer them separately from the ecclesiastical authorities. We cannot accept that.”
The Patriarch, who last month left his Patriarchal See in Baghdad for Erbil in Kurdish northern Iraq, said that he had lodged a complaint with the supreme court about the reversal of the decree.
He added: “If I do not have the decree, I have no rights so far as the state is concerned. It is like killing me off in terms of my moral authority. It is offensive.”
Patriarch Sako accused politicians and militia groups of being implicated in a campaign of intimidation against him, seizing the homes of Christians and conspiring to take control of Church properties. He said: “These politicians want to silence me and stop me from speaking up for human rights and the dignity of human beings.”
The prelate is calling for a new decree to be put in place using slightly different wording but in effect re-instating the terms of the old one and giving official recognition both to him and other patriarchs. He called on Church leaders, Governments, politicians and other influencers around the world to back calls in favour of a new decree.
The Patriarch said: “I have had many, many statements of solidarity from many Muslims as well as Christians.” The Patriarch said he was heartened by the show of support from the faithful in Iraq who both in Erbil and in the Nineveh Plains had held demonstrations against the cancellation of the decree.
Massive migration over the last 20 years has decimated the Christian population in Iraq, especially since the Daesh (ISIS) Islamist insurgency of 2014-16, but the Patriarch said that although the faithful were alarmed by the withdrawal of the decree they were encouraged by the strength of support from so many people, including Muslim leaders.
He said: “Christians in Iraq know they cannot be bought. They have their own dignity, their rights, just like anyone else.”