Chaldean patriarch defies pope and orders priests back to Iraq

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By John Carroll
The future of three local Chaldean priests and seven others in the western United States is once again in limbo.
Last October, the priests were ordered by the Chaldean patriarch of Iraq to return to Iraq. Then last week Pope Francis stepped in and suspended that order. But this weekend, a shocking new order from the Chaldean patriarch.

“At first we thought it was a joke,” said local Chaldean leader Mark Arabo. But it was no joke. In an interview with a Rome-based Catholic news agency, Patriarch Raphael Luis Sako said the survival of the church in Iraq is at stake because of the threat from ISIS. Sako said that if a future exists for the Chaldean church, priests must return to serve the people.

“All of a sudden we see a statement that really has no relevance because Chaldeans are Catholic. They are the exact same thing as Roman Catholics, but they’re in the eastern rite,” Arabo said.

In other words, like Roman Catholics, Chaldean Catholics take their marching orders from Rome. What the pope says goes, period.

“No one in the Catholic church in their right mind would challenge Pope Francis,” Arabo said.

San Diego 6 asked to speak to Father Noel Gorgis of Saint Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon. But he and the other priests are under orders from the Vatican not to talk about the case until a Vatican-led investigation into the incident is complete. But here’s what he said last October after Sako issued his initial order for the priests to return to Iraq.

“(It will) put me in danger when I go back there and then they’ll kidnap me and kill me,” Gorgis said.
Gorgis escaped Iraq decades ago. He and all the other Chaldean priests in the western U.S. are American citizens.

“It’s unprecedented for a patriarch, a sitting patriarch to question the authority of the pope and of this pope, one that’s of love and peace and humility and wants to unite people as opposed to divide people,” Arabo said.

As for Gorgis, Arabo has spoken with him and… “it doesn’t bother him that there’s a statement here, a statement there. What bothers him is the fragmentation that we need to fix,” he said.

Arabo said the Vatican’s investigation into the incident should be wrapped up by February. He said it’s inconceivable that the Pope would change his mind and side with the patriarch. But whatever happens, Arabo said Gorgis and the other priests will not return to Iraq.