Decentralization in the Arabian Peninsula

August 26, 2020
Chaldean, Armenian, Greek Catholic, Maronite and Syrian patriarchs in 2014

As of August 6, 2020, the three million Catholic immigrant workers employed in the Arabian Peninsula (Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen), have come under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Catholic patriarchs to whom they report in their country of origin, and no longer directly to Rome.

Pope Francis has made decentralization one of the constants of his pontificate. It is perhaps through this frame of reference that we must read the rescript signed by the Holy Father, published on August 6, 2020 by the Press Office of the Holy See, extending the jurisdiction of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs to all the Arabian Peninsula (Apostolic Vicariates of Northern and Southern Arabia).

It was at the express request of the high eastern prelates—invoking the historical prerogatives of jurisdiction—that Francis rescind the decisions issued by John Paul II in 2003 and then by Benedict XVI in 2006 which entrusted the pastoral care of the Catholics of the Arabian Peninsula to the apostolic vicars of the Latin Rite, directly attached to Rome.

Until now, for the sake of efficiency in the Middle East, two Roman dicasteries fully exercised jurisdiction: the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (over the Latin Apostolic Vicariates of Northern and Southern Arabia) and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, over countries near the Persian Gulf, such as Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Egypt.

The last pontifical Rescriptum changes the situation, because no less than six Eastern Catholic Patriarchal Churches attached to Rome will henceforth exercise their jurisdiction over the three million faithful of their respective rites living in the Arabian peninsula: Alexandria of the Copts, Antioch of the Maronites, Antioch of the Syrians, Antioch of the Greek-Melkites, Babylon of the Chaldeans, and Cilicia of the Armenians.

But “realpolitik” will still prevail over a too-hasty decentralization: the eventual erection of new ecclesiastical circumscriptions by the Synods of Patriarchal Churches will still be subject, at least for five years, to the prior authorization of the Vatican. As underlined in Vatican News, an authorized commentator of the pontifical Rescriptum, “this latest provision will also prevent the multiplication of interlocutors with political authorities before whom pontifical representatives and Apostolic Vicars are the privileged references.”