Iraq: The Isolation of Cardinal Sako

Source: FSSPX News

Cardinal Raphaël Sako

Exiled in Iraqi Kurdistan, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church has just issued a strong criticism of the Iraqi political powers and the Iraqi bishops accusing them of “inaction and corruption in the midst of the ceaseless exodus” of the country’s Christian population. Not sparing the representative of the Holy See either, the high prelate appears to be more alone than ever in his standoff with the Iraqi state.

January 10, 2024, marks a new stage in the deterioration of relations between the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Iraqi government. To restore the context, it should be remembered that the Chaldean Church emerged in the 16th century from the reunification of estranged Syriac Christians with Rome.

Today it brings together around 200,000 faithful in Iraq, under the leadership of its patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako. The latter saw the Church’s “institutional recognition” of the Iraqi state withdrawn in the summer of 2023. In protest, the cardinal left the seat of the patriarchate in Baghdad and retired to a monastery in Iraqi Kurdistan, denouncing the “silence” of the government in the face of the “campaign” waged against him.

It is since his exile that the high Chaldean prelate has published a press release in which he denounces what he calls the “double standards” of the Iraqi government vis-à-vis the Christians it represents. “The Iraqi government is not serious about offering justice to Christians. They say nice words and pay lip service, but offer no action,” deplores Cardinal Sako.

The patriarch took a dig in passing at those among the Christian political representatives whom he accuses of having compromised by the Babylon Brigades, a nominally Christian militia backed by Iran and led by Rayan Al-Kildani. Since the start of the war against the Islamic State (IS) organization in 2014, Cardinal Sako, a supporter of neutrality for Iraqi Christians, continued to criticize the militia leader's collusion with the Iranian Shiite power.

In addition, the Babylon Brigades are accused by Bishop Sako of illegal land seizures in the province of Nineveh and of corruption. For the high prelate, Christian politicians “failed to make the right decisions,” in particular because of the influence of certain members of the clergy who were allegedly “corrupted” by the Christian militia remotely controlled from Tehran.

The leader of the Chaldean Church also took a dig at Mitja Leskovar, the apostolic nuncio in Iraq, as being, in the words of Cardinal Sako, “unable to play a positive role in bringing the Churches of Iraq together,” because of “his lack of understanding of Eastern mentality and culture.”

This is a way for the high Iraqi prelate to target the Sovereign Pontiff, without naming him. Cardinal Sako seems to feel a certain bitterness toward the Pope. Pope Francis in fact received the Iraqi head of state at the Vatican on November 18, 2023. However, there was no mention of the patriarch in the press release from the Holy See that was published shortly after the 25 minute-private-audience granted by the Roman Pontiff.

A few weeks before this audience, the high Iraqi prelate admitted that he was “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 himself from those who proclaim themselves Christian leaders.”

Since his last statement of January 10, 2024, Cardinal Sako appears to be alone more than ever, and his replacement in the more or less short term seems inevitable in order to break the diplomatic impasse in which the Holy See finds itself, and whose fragile Catholic community is the first to suffer.