Chaldean Catholic clerics stripped of duties for fleeing Baghdad without consent

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Patriarch Ignace III Yousif Yunan (L), of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch, Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, head of the Vatican Mission to the United Nations in Geneva and Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq at a press conference at the U.N. in Geneva on September 16, 2014.

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch has barred at least 12 of its clerics living in the United States, Sweden, Australia and Canada from carrying out their ministry, for failing to seek permission to flee Iraq.

In a written decree signed by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, the sanction was enforced on October 22.

This was despite repeated but "unfortunately unfruitful ultimatums" from the bishops and the men's religious orders," Catholic News Service (CNS) reported.

Sako's order was translated from Arabic to English and published on the patriarchate's official website, noted the report.

Three of those suspended had served the Chaldean diaspora in the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego since leaving Iraq.

At least two heeded the appeal of their superiors and returned to their place of ministry in the war-torn country.

Sako identified them as Father Paulus Khuzeran, who had been living in the United States, and Father Yousif Lazghin, a priest who resided in Australia, said CNS.

If the other priests opted to return after the sanctions, their status shall be reviewed, said the decree.

"For the monks, there is no other option but to return to their monastery and canonically correct their status," it added.

Last month, Sako had announced there canonical punishments for those who did not contact their bishop or superior about either their plan to return to their community or their wish to be transferred.

Prior the announcement, Sako informed the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches about the situation and consulted with the permanent Synod of the Chaldean Church and the men's superiors.

"Before a priest is ordained, he announces the offering of his whole life to God and the church," Sako said in his decree.

The decree also reminded the clerics that among their vows and duties is the promise to obey their superior, "serving where the church sends the priest, not where he wishes to serve."

It underscored the values of unity and communion, which should be held high above personal self-interest.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraq's Christian minorities were forced to flee to other nations after escalating turmoil and violence.

Priests and religious men and women were often targeted victims of kidnappers and killings while churches and other places of worship have faced attacks and bombings for years.

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