Friday, June 14, 2024

Iraq reinstates Cardinal Sako as head of Chaldean Catholic Church

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako holds up the decree from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani. Photo: Chaldean Catholic Church

The Iraqi government has reinstated Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako as head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, a title he was stripped of last year after a dispute with an influential Christian MP who also leads a militia.

The church announced the decision late on Tuesday along with a decree issued by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani.

Mr Sako was embroiled last year in a war of words with Rayan Al Kildani, the US-sanctioned leader of the Babylon Movement, in which each accused the other of exploiting their influence to illegally seize Christian-owned properties.

Mr Al Kildani gained influence after his militia fought as part of state-recognised Popular Mobilisation Forces, a network of largely pro-Iran paramilitaries, in the 2014 to 2017 war against ISIS. He has since forged strong alliances with powerful Iran-allied Shiite militias.

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid last year revoked a 2013 presidential decree that recognised Mr Sako as the head of the Baghdad-based Chaldean Church. The decree had allowed him to administer the community's endowment.

The presidency justified the decision by saying the decree had no “constitutional or legal basis” as the President “only issues appointment decrees for employees of government institutions”.

Mr Sako left the seat in protest and moved to one of the monasteries in the Kurdistan region.

In Mr Al Sudani's decree shared by the Chaldean Church on Tuesday, he named Mr Sako as the patriarch and specified that he will be responsible for its endowment and properties.

A ceremony was held at the church in Baghdad to receive the decree.

The church also published a letter from Mr Sako to the Mr Al Sudani in which he welcome his “noble decision” that came after a “difficult period”.

Mr Sako is a key interlocutor between the Iraqi government and its Christian minority. He has been outspoken about the grievances the Christian community has faced since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime and the country's political scene.

He was the architect of the historic visit of Pope Francis to the country in 2021.

Christians in Iraq trace their roots back to the beginning of the faith nearly 2,000 years ago. But with the rise of extremism after the 2003 invasion, killings and kidnappings for ransom against the community forced many to flee.

Community leaders estimate that the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped to about a third of the estimated 1.5 million who lived there before 2003.