The Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I is taking measures against priests and monks who have snuck into Western countries without the consent of their superiors. Some claim they are asylum seekers seeking refuge from the jihadists. But as a result, the Christian community in the Middle East risks becoming extinct
Gianni Valente Taken from Vatican Insider
romeThe “ultimatum” has set the deadline for next Wednesday 22 October. By then, all Chaldean priests and monks who recently left their dioceses and monasteries and snuck off to some Western country or another without their superior’s consent, will have to speak to their bishops and heads of their communities about when and how they will return to base or about their potential transferal to other dioceses and communities. Failure to do so will result in their suspension from the priesthood and they will no longer be remunerated. The canonical measures announced last month by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael I Sako will be made official in an ad hoc decree approved by the permanent Synod of the Chaldean Church.
The whole affair brings to light one of the most determining but less well known factors that is contributing to the extinction of thousand-year-old communities with age-old traditions in the Middle East. The apparent withering away of Christianity in ancient Mesopotamia is not only down to the Islamic State’s cut-throat jihadists, but also to priests and monks. They are the first to flee their birthplaces to “seek shelter” in the West and comfortably settle down as members of the flourishing diaspora communities. Patriarch Louis Raphael I is convinced about this. He has sent out numerous messages denouncing priests and monks who left their dioceses in the Middle East without permission. He branded these escapes as outright clerical desertion and even went as far as to publish a list of example “cases” on the Patriarchate’s website, revealing the names and surnames of the errant clerics in question. Dozens of priests and monks who were named and shamed by the Patriarch seized training sessions and trips abroad as an opportunity to request asylum in the US, Canada, Switzerland and Australia, never to return. Some of them even lied, presenting themselves as victims of Islamist threats. Now, some of them are busy arranging the escapes of their respective clans from Iraq caught in the midst of the jihadist offensive and newly-exploded sectarianism.
The Primate of the Chaldean Church – Chaldeans being the most numerous of Iraq’s Christians – recalled that monks and priests have chosen to serve God and their brothers with their own lives. For this reason, they have “no justification for using the difficulties and uncertainties” of the situation in Iraq as an excuse to shirk their pastoral responsibilities and commitments linked to their vocation, when so many of their confreres “stay put in Iraq, consoling and supporting faithful” during this terrible time.
The stories of these Chaldean priests and monks who take advantage of their positions to emigrate to wealthier and more comfortable ecclesial and worldly contexts show that pope Francis’ constant appeals to priests not to turn into holy officials or into “state clerics” extend outside the diocese of Rome too. But these cases also reveal the tensions and problems that exist in the relationship between the Eastern Churches and their respective diaspora communities which are often influential and have more resources, including financial. Bishops who head dioceses overseas welcome priests who leave for the West with open arms. In the warming messages he issued, the Patriarch names and shames members of the Episcopate who have taken in “errant clerics”, opening up golden career opportunities for them, thus violating the canonical laws in force and disrespecting the spirit of fair play toward their colleagues.
For the past twenty years at least, the diaspora communities have become breeding grounds for a “nationalist” and identitarian turning point (as was the case with the Assyrian Church, the Syriac Churches and the Coptic Church). The numerous “Chaldean” circles, movements and political groups that have sprouted up as part of the Iraqi diaspora in the US have always condemned the “arabization” of Chaldean communities in Iraq in the days of the Baathist regime. This “mimetic” choice guaranteed many Iraqi Christians a slightly greater, though still limited, freedom of action and margins for survival. Chaldean identitarian groups operating mostly in the US, have always taken a lobby-like approach to the way they manage their relations and connections with US political circles in manner and successfully so. After the fall of Saddam, they attempted to obtain guarantees for Christians when Britain and the US were overseeing the country’s restructuring. Now, in light of the sectarian conflict that has been shaking the Middle East and with the various ethnic and religious cleansing operations which Islamic State jihadists have set in motion, the diaspora communities are gathering together what remains of Iraq’s Chaldean communities, offering logistical support amongst other things, to those who want to leave their birthplaces and join relatives who have immigrated abroad. In September, with the input of US administration officials, the San Diego (California)-based Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle, compiled a list of tens of thousands of Chaldean Christians who wanted to leave Iraq. The lists were sent to the White House directly, by Bishop Sarhad Jammo, leader of the eparchy in charge of the pastoral care of Chaldeans in the American West.
So, as they reclaim their role as guardians of their cultural identity and community customs, the diaspora communities are promoting the umpteenth migratory wave which could lead to the disappearance of Chaldean communities from many areas where they have been present for thousands of years. An exodus which many are resorting to as a means of escaping problems, violence and persecution. But the lands most of these people are being drawn toward, promise wellbeing and higher standards of living according to the globally imposed forms of Western consumerism.