Though the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, claims he reveres Pope Francis as the “Father of all Christians,” he has defied the Pope’s decision to permit Chaldean priests, including one based in San Diego, to stay in the United States rather than obey Sako’s injunction to return to Iraq or face excommunication.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Father Noel Gorgis, 49, the pastor at St. Peter Chaldean Church in El Cajon, joined other U.S. based Chaldean priests, who are mostly based in eastern San Diego County and the Detroit area, to resist Sako’s call last October to return to Iraq, appealing to Pope Francis to resolve the dispute, even though the Chaldean Church is not technically a part of the Roman Catholic Church.
Last week, the priests got their wish; a church official representing Francis penned a letter giving the priests permission to stay in the U.S.
Sako responded by stating that the Pope’s authority had no validity, but did not add what he would do as a result.
Gorgis, born in Iraq, has received U.S. citizenship. His supporters argue that returning to Iraq and the threat of ISIS would be suicidal. Chaldean community leader Mark Arabo told the Times, “Father Noel isn’t cattle for the slaughter — he’s our priest. He needs to stay here for the Christians of our Chaldean diocese.”
Gorgis himself said last October that Sako’s order was tantamount to a suicide mission for the priests, telling Fox 5 San Diego, “I left Iraq 20 years ago. I left Iraq during the Gulf War. I know what’s going on there and now it’s worse… way worse… so to go back it’s meant to be suicide.”
Arabo said to Fox 5 in October, “We are not going to let it happen. We’re not going to let them go back, and we’ll make sure these ten priests not one of them goes back to the hands of ISIS in Iraq. Thirty percent of our churches have been bombed, destroyed Our priests have been killed, martyred. He wants these ten priests to be killed? You cannot force these 10 priests to be martyrs.”