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from issue no. 12 - 2003

BEHIND THE SCENES. How the election of the new Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees came about

Patriarch of transition, safe defender of “Chaldeanism”

by Gianni Cardinale

At the end of the extraordinary “electoral” Synod, on 3 December 2003 John Paul II received in audience the 23 bishops of the Chaldean Church

At the end of the extraordinary “electoral” Synod, on 3 December 2003 John Paul II received in audience the 23 bishops of the Chaldean Church

The election of the new Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees was somewhat tormented. The Chaldean bishops had already met in Baghdad from 20 August to 2 September last, but in over fifty ballots none of the candidates had received the two thirds of the votes necessary for election. According to the French Catholic daily La Croix of 4 September, the two most voted bishops on that occasion were the Jesuit Antoine Audo, a Chaldean born in Syria and Bishop of Aleppo since 1992, and Sarhad Jammo, born in Baghdad, emigrated to the USA in 1977 and Bishop of San Diego in California for a year. The internal split in the Chaldean episcopacy was allegedly due to questions of an ecclesiastical and cultural nature: Audo would in fact have been the leader of the most “Latinized” component of the episcopacy, more open to the modernizing influences of western Christianity, whereas Jammo is said to be the coming leader of the component most attached to Chaldean identity, to “Chaldeanism”, more tied, for example, to the ancient liturgies in the Aramaic language. The question was further complicated by issues of a geopolitical nature: the “Syrian” Audo is even alleged to have written a positive post-graduate thesis on the Arab Baath Party, while the “American” Jammo suspected of being in some way influencable by the US administration.
But neither Audo nor Jammo nor any other candidate had reached the quorum of votes required in the voting at the end of August early September. So, according to what is set down in the Canon Law of the oriental Churches, the question was directed to the Pope who decided to summon the bishops to Rome for a final electoral ballot, to be held on 2-3 December.
Meanwhile a move by the Holy See was judged inopportune by those most concerned for Chaldean identity. On 27 September, in fact, the press Office of the Holy See announced the granting of pontifical assent to the nomination of Louis Sako as Archbishop of Kerkuk. For the defenders of “Chaldeanism” Sako’s nomination was a double anomaly: because it took place in a period of sede vacante in the Patriarchate, and then because it altered the balance of the electoral body in the “Latinized” direction. Sako, in fact, underwent his ecclesiastical training in the “Latin” seminary of the Dominicans of Baghdad and at the end of the war agreed to join the provisional council of Mossul, his city of origin. Furthermore, the numerous interviews that Sako gave in which he gave out opinions judged to be too “pro-American” were not well received. And it was in this somewhat tense atmosphere that the elections of 2 and 3 December were held. All 23 bishops participated (14 coming from Iraq, 6 from the rest of the Middle East and 3 from North America), including the emeriti who according to the norms proper to the Chaldean Church keep the right to vote. The extraordinary “electoral” Synod was presided over in the name of the Pope by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Ignace Moussa 1 Daoud (former Syro-Catholic Patriarch). The Holy See left complete freedom of choice to the Synod, limiting itself to just two suggestions: that the nomination to the Patriarchate of a bishop resident in Iraq and not abroad was preferable; and that by 3 December some candidate had to reach the two thirds of the votes, making it understood that otherwise the Pope would be constrained to select the new Patriarch personally. In the four ballots of Tuesday 2 December the situation was still deadlocked. On the morning of the 3rd, in extremis, the white smoke emerged. In the end Emmanuel III Delly was chosen, who, with his 76 years, was defined a “Patriarch of transition”, who is considered a safe defender of “Chaldeanism”, does not come from abroad and who, with his forty year experience as Bishop of Baghdad, knows the history and the current Iraqi situation very well.

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