Tears and silence in the wake of the Vatican Synod of Mideast bishops

An old, white-bearded man walked out of the Synod aula and down the wide, sloping steps toward the waiting cars and buses, his long robe sweeping the square grey Vatican City cobblestones. He quickly left behind the light of the Paul VI Audience Hall [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y10T2IABGG0&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

entranceway and began to be engulfed by the darkening Roman evening. It was 6:30 p.m. this evening.

The man was His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly (photo), the 83-year-old Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq.

I’d been hoping to meet him. I turned to a fellow journalist who was waiting with me by the entrance to the Paul VI audience hall, and said, “That’s Patriarch Delly, isn’t it?” The journalist nodded.

Delly was already heading for the bus that would carry him and other Synod Fathers to their residence, so I hurried to catch up to him. He was walking with a taller man who appeared to be his personal secretary. “Your Eminence,” I said. “Could I have a word with you…”

“Yes?” said Delly, stopping and looking a me quizzically. “Go ahead.” He seemed to me quite young for his 83 years, and when I held out my hand to shake his, his grip was unexpectedly firm.

He was about five foot eight, not a physically imposing man, but there was an energy in his gaze which surprised me. I had expected that, from close up, he might look old and weary, but he looked energetic and in good health.
I told him who I was and that I was writing on the Vatican and the Synod. He was silent and, it seemed, somewhat cold.

“And I wanted to ask you about the remarks you made the other night…”

“I have nothing more to say,” he said. “What I had to say, I said to the Synod. I’m sorry.”

A political murder?

I left Patriarch Delly and walked back to the entrance of the Synod hall. There, purely by chance, I tan into another prelate who has left his mark on this two-week Synod: Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini (photo), an Italian Franciscan who is the succesor of the slain Italian Bishop Luigi Padovese as vicar of Anatolia.

Last Friday Franceschini spoke to the Synod — the same afternoon as Delly.

“May I ask you about your talk?” I said.

“Sure,” he said.

“You have a theory about Bishop Padovese and his murder last June, right?”

“Yes,” Franceschini replied. “I believe it was premeditated murder arranged by ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics who do not want Turkey to enter Europe.”

Padovese’s driver, Murat Altun, 26, who had been in Padovese’s employ for many years, shot him to death in June.

“He claimed the reason for the killing was a homosexual relationship he had with the bishop,” Franceschini said. “But it seems that immediately after the murder he shouted ‘Allah akbar! I killed the great Satan.”

At the time, the Vatican and Turkish government stuck to the hypothesis that the killing took place for “personal reasons” excluding the possibility of a religious or political motive.

“I had a terrible time with the Secretariat of State,” the Franciscan bishop said. “They wanted only the version of the nuncio, that it was an entirely personal matter, but it was not.”

AS we stood there, many of the Synod Father walked past us: Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, Cardinal Levada of the Congregation for the Doctrone of the Faith, Cardinal Tauran of Inter-religious Dialohgue, Cardinal-designate Burke, and many others.

“And what did you think of Patriarch Delly’s talk?” I asked.

“I disagreed with it,” he said. “But he must have his reasons for saying what he said,” Franceschini said. “We don’t know all his reasons.”

“Well, they say someone got up in the Synod Hall right after he spoke, and was weeping and saying, ‘Why are you saying these things?'”

“No, no,” Franceschini said, “That’s not what happened. I spoke before Patriarch Delly. And I was the one who wept. But it was about the murder of Monsignor Padovese…”

Once More, the Facts of this Peculiar “Patriarch Delly Case”

The Chaldean Church inside Iraq has shrunk in number from 1.5 million to less than 500,000 over the past seven years.

Delly, the leader of the Catholic Chaldeans, has in recent years often cried out publicly that his people are suffering a “Calvary” and need help from the rest of the world.

“The world has forgotten Iraq’s Christians,” Patriarch Delly said four years go, on October 16, 2006, following the murder of his friend, Father Paulos Eskandar. Delly said the indifference of the international community threatened the very existence of Christians in the Middle East.

“There is the danger that the Middle East, the blessed land of God, will be emptied of its Christian presence,” Delly said then. “Already 80% have gone away.”

Then on October 15, Delly asked for time to make some remarks to the Synod, and he was granted the time.

When he spoke, he said almost exactly the opposite of what he had been saying for seven years. Addressing the assembled bishops without a prepared text, this is what said (it is a translation, because he spoke in Italian). I’m printing this again here because I cannot make the argument for the strangeness of this text with out having it here to study:

“Many people want to hear something about Iraq that today occupies an important position in the Middle East, a position that is a little bit, if I say, exaggerated: I sincerely thank all those who have spoken about Iraq in this hall and have shown their sympathy for this country that is the cradle of Christians and especially the cradle of the Chaldean Church, the Eastern Church in the Persian Empire, and as of today, 78% of Mesopotamian Christians are Chaldean Catholics. The population of this country, crossed by two famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, is 24 million, all Muslims, with whom we live peacefully and freely. In Baghdad alone, the capital of Iraq, Christians have 53 chapels and churches. The Chaldeans have more than seven dioceses in the country, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church lives today in Baghdad.

“Christians are good with their fellow Muslims and in Iraq there is mutual respect among them. Christian schools are highly thought of. Today people prefer to attend these schools directed by the Christian institutions, especially those run by the religious orders.

“Despite all the political and religious situations, and emigration, we now have nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims. We have the freedom of religion in our Churches. The Bishop or Priest, religious leader is listened to and respected by his fellow citizens. We have our own seminary, and Chaldean monks and nuns and religious.” (End, remarks of Patriarch Delly to the Synod of Bishops at the close of the day’s session Friday, October 15, 2010)

In these paragraphs, there is no mention at all of the suffering of Iraq’s Christians. Delly in this text is describing a country, seemingly, at peace.

I have bold-faced the words which seem optimistic, positive, hopeful, and put in a few notes after Delly’s phrases:

“The population of this country… is 24 million, all Muslims, with whom we live peacefully and freely.” (Note one oddity: Iraq’s population, of course, is not “all Muslims” — the Chaldeans are Iraqis. Why did Delly say this? It is not clear.)

“The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church (that is, Delly himself; he is speaking of himself here in the third person, instead of saying, “I”) lives in Baghdad.” (That is, he has not fled, or been forced to leave; he is still at home, in his community.)

“Christians are good with their fellow Muslims and there is mutual respect among them.” (No hint of any tensions at all.)

“Despite all the political and religious situations, and emigration, we now have nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims.” (He says “political and religious situations” instead of more negative words like “wars, invasions, car bombings, kidnappings, religious fanaticism” — all these are subsumed under “situations”. Then he says there are “nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims.” Again an odd phrase, since one million Christians and 25 million Muslims would make 26 million Iraqis, not 25 million.)

“We have the freedom of religion in our Churches. The Bishop or Priest, religious leader is listened to and respected by his fellow citizens. We have our own seminary, and Chaldean monks and nuns and religious.” (He says “we have freedom of religion in our Churches” — but he does not say if there is freedom of religion in the country, in Iraq in general. He says the “religious leader” — the word is in the singular; is he referring perhaps to himself? — is “listened to and respected.” However, we know that Delly himself, despite his years of crying out on behalf of his people, has not been listened to. “We have our own seminary” he says — but another Iraqi speaker said the seminary has actually been moved out of Baghdad because of a bombing incident, and reopened, but only hundreds of miles to the north.)

Seeking the meaning

On many occasions this week, I asked Synod participants and other journalists what they thought of Delly’s remarks.

I was told variously that Delly is “misinformed,” that his staff “no longer informs him of the true situation,” that he “lives in a palace” and is now “out of touch” with the reality on the ground; that he has gotten “old and weary” of the struggle he faces; that he wishes to emphasize the positive because emphasizing the negative has not served any positive purpose; and that he is “afraid is stirring up anything.”

Someone told me that a bishop from Turkey had been so upset with Delly’s words that he had stood up with tears in eyes and asked Delly how he could speak in the way he had.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a piece suggesting that Delly may have been speaking in a veiled, or intentionally coded, way like that used by persecuted men in all countries when they wish to get a message across without arousing the ire of their persecutors.

I noted that Leo Strauss, the primary intellectual influence in the founding of the neo-conservative movement in America, had worked out a theory that in every age the persecuted must resort to elegant, imaginative subterfuges to get their true message across and not be consored, or silenced, as they try to fly “under the radar” of the “inquistors” of their time.

Pivotal moments

The intervention of Patriarch Delly was a pivotal moment in the Synod. Franceschini’s talk was also.

What the Synod will lead to in terms of concrete action to help the Christians of the Middle East, I do not know.

But that the Christians of the region need the solidarity of Christians, and others of good will, from the rest of the world if they are to survive is clear.

This is what the silence of Delly, and the tears of Franceschini, mean.

Robert Moynihan PhD is the editor ofInside the Vatican Magazine.

Info: Vatican