Iraq: Patriarch Sako Denounces the Silence of the Pope and the Vatican

September 23, 2023

The Patriarch of the Chaldeans, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, gave an interview to Asia News, in which he expressed his astonishment that no one in Rome wanted to defend the Church in Iraq after the head of state withdrew his official recognition as patriarch.

The patriarch sees this non-recognition as “a project that aims to silence the voice of the Church and my person. In these 10 years as patriarch, … I have tried to protect Christians and I never wanted to justify the formation of a so-called ‘Christian’ militia.”

“I rejected all of this, hence the purpose of revenge on the part of a faction [Editor's note: Rayan al-Kildani’s Babylonian Brigades] that has an ulterior motive: to push Christians to leave, to make them emigrate in order to take possession of their homes, goods, property.… A sectarian mentality prevails in the country where people fight to have more power, visibility, and earn more money. There is no will to build a state based on law and justice, but confusion and anarchy prevail.”

This confusion manifests itself in the functions and attributes of the highest institutions, explains Cardinal Sako: “The President of the Republic does not have the power to withdraw decrees issued in the past, he can issue them but he certainly cannot cancel them arbitrarily. Moreover, he  goes against a centuries-old tradition, dating back to the Abbasid Caliphate, then the Ottoman Empire, and finally the Republic.”

“In one second, the head of state wanted to erase 14 centuries of history and tradition, but I am not afraid and I have nothing to lose... maybe my life, but I am ready for that too. All this is being done to intimidate the Christians, to make them leave the country, and that is why I encourage them again, and more strongly, to stay and hope!”

The patriarch adds that he is fighting for all Iraqis: “the Christian community is at my side and supports me in this fight.. . . At this stage, we experience cohesion, strong support, and unity at the level of the people and the Christian community, while there are divisions between the churches.”

And the patriarch describes the new threat as compared to the Islamic State, “This is another style, another method perhaps more hidden and subtle but with the same objective: to push Christians to leave. A different approach from ISIS, but with the same underlying logic.”

The Patriarch admits that he is “disappointed by the position of the Holy See, which in almost five months has not intervened to disavow the actions of the President of the Republic, to reject the attacks against the person of the Patriarch, to distance itself from those who call themselves Christian leaders.” He deplores that Rayan al-Kildani [the Chaldean] met Francis in St. Peter's Square at the end of the Wednesday audience.

Rayan “loudly reposted [the meeting] on his own social channels, seeking legitimacy by using ecclesiastical authority. . . he presented himself once again as the true representative of Christians; he and not the patriarch whose resignation [according to Ryan the Chaldean] the pope allegedly accepted. To remain silent in the face of such statements is unacceptable.”

For Sako, this silence legitimizes this usurper: “the Holy See could have taken the floor, could have said that this gentleman's propaganda is not true, could have tried to calm the people, the many Christians and Muslims in Iraq who are suffering from these new attacks, from these lies that hurt our community first of all. The apostolic nuncio invites me to dialogue, not to humiliate the president... but here it is the president who is humiliating the Church and its people.”

The patriarch continues bitterly, the nuncio “says that we must leave the decree and accept a court ruling. But he must understand the local mentality and support the Church; he could deny the instrumentalization and lies of Rayan, ask the bishops who receive money from him to stop, find a solution that is not against the Chaldean Church.”

“Complaints are filed against me on an almost weekly basis in the courts, and in the coming days I will have to appear in court and will not be able to attend the Mediterranean Meetings in Marseille. I wrote to Pope Francis after Rayan's visit to the Vatican, he has still not replied.”

He concludes wearily: “We are a persecuted Church, for a long time… fighting to survive but to do this we also need support, closeness, solidarity. . . The Church must show its presence, its closeness, it must find the word that has been sorely lacking until now.”