Iraq bishops ready to seek help from Pope
The bishops of Iraq look set to beg the Pope to make one last plea for democracy as the early results of the country's constitution sparked dismay among Christians.
The news service of the charity Aid to the Church in Need reports that with early indications following Saturday's referendum pointing to majority support for Iraq's draft permanent constitution, the bishops remain fearful that the country is one step closer to becoming an Islamic state intolerant to non-Muslims.
Last month, the Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Emmanuel III Delly, met the President and Prime Minister of Iraq to spell out the bishops' opposition to key sections of the constitution, which they say "opens the door widely" to the possibility of new laws unjust towards non-Muslims.
Bishp Andreas Abouna (pictured), auxiliary to Patriarch Delly, said Iraq's leaders had ignored their concerns and that as a result the bishops were likely to call on the Pope to intervene on their behalf.
Speaking on Monday, Bishop Abouna said: "The bishops will probably have a meeting with the Pope and will ask him to call for democracy in Iraq."
He said a papal intervention would step up the pressure after Benedict met Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in August and requested that the draft constitution respect religious rights.
Bishop Abouna said: "We are looking for freedom - the government must listen - otherwise the country will be like a dictatorship."
The bishop said the views reflected the widespread concerns of the faithful, many of whom, he said, were too afraid to take part in the referendum and who felt helpless.
"Many people felt the best they could do was to go to church the next day [Sunday] and pray for the success of the referendum. They felt that the only option available to them was to pray that God might inspire the politicians to work for the people."
He said the future hinged on how the constitution was put into practice by the new government, due to come into office early in the New Year.
In a sign of the deepening crisis, 12 or more Christian political parties have drawn a line under past disagreements and caved into pressure from clergy to form a coalition to give the faithful more voice in the country's political assemblies.
As a result, Bishop Abouna said he was clinging to the hope of an eleventh hour amendment to the constitution.
He said: "I am still hopeful that there will be a change to the constitution. What we have at present is a basic document, which has not been finalised."
Iraq: Benedict, please help us (Aid to the Church in Need 18/10/05)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Iraqi Transitional Government
Chaldeak Catholic Church (Wikipedia)
Baghdad bishop hails yesterday's vote as "exercise in democracy" (CathNews 17/10/05)
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19 Oct 2005