Despite Pope’s Decision, Dispute Involving El Cajon Chaldean Priest Continues

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By City News Service
The Rev. Noel Gorgis talks to reporters on Oct. 22, 2014, at St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon.
Even Pope Francis cannot solve a brewing dispute between a prominent Chaldean priest in eastern San Diego County and the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, it was reported Monday.

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, is calling on priests like Father Noel Gorgis of St. Peters Chaldean Church in El Cajon to return to Iraq to help maintain the church’s presence there. But Father Noel has said his returning to Iraq would be the equivalent of deciding to commit suicide.

Last week, Pope Francis agreed with Father Noel and said he and other priests do not need to comply with Sako’s order. In response, Sako said in a statement Pope Francis’ statement does not change his order, which states priests would face excommunication if they do not comply, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He did not say what steps he might take to enforce his order, according to the newspaper.

The Chaldean Church is what’s known as a particular church of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. Particular churches revere the Pope as the father of all Christians but are headed by a bishop or someone recognized as the equivalent of a bishop.

In calling for priests like Father Noel to return, Sako told the Rome-based Catholic news agency, Aleteia, that the survival of the church is at stake during the onslaught by Islamic radicals. Aleteia estimates that 10 Chaldean priests in the western United States would be required to return under Sako’s order.

Gorgis was born in Iraq but is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.