.- Mons. Emmanuel III Delly, the Patriarch of Baghdad for the Catholic Chaldeans, has met the President and Prime Minister of Iraq saying that the Catholic bishops were opposed to key elements of the draft permanent constitution. The Patriarch argues the constitution will “opens the door widely“ to discrimination against Christians and other Non-Muslims. Patriarch Delly urged a last-minute change to the constitution, which the bishops say contradicts itself on the key question of religious rights for minorities.
In the Sept. 18 meeting, the Patriarch discussed a statement agreed by the country’s 12 bishops in which they stressed their fears for the future of the Christian community. The prelates – from the Chaldean, Armenian, Latin and Assyrian Churches – praised articles 2.1 (b) and 2.2 which defend freedom and religious rights but attacked article 2.1 (a) which states: “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.”
The bishops’ statement concluded: “The bishops’ conference expressed a grave concern and fear…about Article 2.1 (a). This opens the door widely to passing laws that are unjust towards non-Muslims. The conference insists that this clause be amended or deleted.”
Releasing the statement to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mgr Andreas Abouna, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, said: “We are definitely not against the fact that in Iraq Islam is the religion of the state. We know that the majority in Iraq is Muslim but the problem is that the constitution is not clear. There are parts of the constitution that are good but what about the other parts? For example, would Christian women have to wear the veil?”
The bishops’ concerns for the protection of Christian rights are centered less on the immediate future because the country’s rulers had expressed clear goodwill to non-Muslims. Rather, their fears are that should the Iraqi government become less tolerant, Christians would not be protected by the “vague” constitution, as it now stands. The constitution will be put to the vote in a referendum on Oct. 15.