Iraq’s president dismisses Chaldean Catholic Church patriarch

Chaldean Catholic Church

Cardinal Louis Sako is no longer recognised as the Chaldean Catholic Church patriarch, says Iraq’s President Abdul Rashid.

Rashid has revoked a former president’s 2013 decree recognising Sako’s position as the Chaldean church’s leader.

After Saturday’s shock announcement, Sako said he will move to a monastery in Kurdistan, an autonomous Iraqi region of Iraq.

He says he will continue to lead the Chaldean Church from there.

In a statement last Saturday, Sako called the president’s action “unprecedented” and “unfair”.

He said Rashid has called into question his ability as church leader to control Iraq’s Church assets.

“It is unfortunate that we in Iraq live in the midst of a wide network of self-interest, narrow factionalism and hypocrisy that has produced an unprecedented political, national and moral chaos, which is rooted by now more and more,” Sako said in his statement.

“Therefore, I have decided to withdraw from the patriarchal headquarters in Baghdad.

“I call on Christians to remain in their faith which is their consolation, strength, light and life, and on their national identity until the storm passes with the help of God.

“May God help the helpless Christians and Iraqis.”

Sako and the Chaldean Catholic Church

Former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani pronounced Sako as patriarch and head of the Church in 2013.

The 75-year old Sako is also a member of the College of Cardinals and patriarch of Baghdad.

The Chaldean is an Eastern rite church in full communion with the Holy See.

It numbers hundreds of thousands of members worldwide and about 300,000 in Iraq, representing about 80 percent of Iraq’s Christians.

“Martyrdom is the charisma/charm of the Chaldean Church because since its founding it has been through persecution by Persians, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans and today by extremists like al-Qaeda and ISIS,” Sako said in 2021.

Rashid and Sako

Rashid says revoking the 2013 decree corrected a constitutional error.

As president, Rashid says has no right to appoint or recognise religious leaders.

The revocation does not change Sako’s status as patriarch, however. Rashid explains that’s because Pope Francis duly elected and confirmed his position as patriarch.

Sako, however, says the president is targeting him.

He thinks Rashid’s decision was part of Christian minority leader Rayan al-Kildani’s effort to usurp his authority and gain control of Church offices and assets.

Sako wrote to Rashid on 10 July, saying he is appealing the decree’s revocation to Iraq’s judiciary.

“I believe the legal advice that was given to Your Excellency is incorrect and it wanted to undermine your stature and the Christian component,” he said.

Chaldean bishops across the globe have written to Rashid urging him to reverse his decision.

Sako and Kildani

There has been an ongoing conflict between Sako and Kildani, a Christian Iraqi lawmaker and paramilitary “Babylon Brigades” leader.

In his letter, Sako accused Kildani of extorting Christians in the Nineveh Plains.

In 2019, the US Department of the Treasury sanctioned Kildani because he was engaged in “serious human rights abuses” in his capacity as head of a paramilitary group.

Sako has also reportedly accused Kildani of seizing Christian seats in the Iraqi Parliament without real representation for Christians.

Kildani has taken Sako to court for slander. The proceedings are ongoing.


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