Chaldean patriarch welcomes Iraq’s changes to national charter

MANCHESTER, England — The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church welcomed a decision by the Iraqi government to redraft the part of a new national charter that would have forced some Christian children to convert to Islam.

An altar server prays alongside others during Mass in early April at a church in Baghdad, Iraq. The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church has called upon Iraq’s president to veto a law that will force some Christian children to convert to Islam. (CNS photo | Ali Abbas, EPA)

The Iraqi Council of Representatives agreed, 140-66, to amend the charter after religious minorities, led by Christians, objected to a section that required that non-Muslim children of parents who converted to Islam to follow them into their new faith.

After the vote, Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad described the outcome as a victory for justice and equality.

“This decision shows support and is an important message for the minorities in Iraq,” he told Asianews, a Vatican press agency, Nov. 18. “It is also a clear demonstration of democracy.”

“I am deeply satisfied with the Iraqi parliament’s decision,” added Patriarch Sako, who had threatened to appeal to international authorities following the Oct. 27 approval of the article by the Assembly of Deputies.

In a Nov. 19 report carried by the Assyrian International News Agency, Salim al-Jibouri, council of representatives president, invited non-Muslim politicians to help to rewrite the charter to ensure that all minorities enjoyed rights guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution, which upholds freedom of religion and conscience.

Besides Christians, minority Yezidis, Mandeans, Kakai and Bahai leaders had also opposed the charter, and minority politicians walked out of parliament sessions in protest when it was first approved.

They reacted against the requirement that children under the age of 18 must become Muslims if their father converts to Islam or if their mother marries a Muslim.

Sahar Mansour, a Chaldean Catholic from Mosul who is now living in a refugee camp near Irbil, in Kurdish-controlled territory, said the vote might represent a landmark moment in the establishment of a democratic Iraq.

“On this occasion, all the Christians are thankful to God and to the Chaldean Patriarchate, deputies and everyone who stood alongside minorities to amend this unfair article,” Mansour wrote in a Nov. 19 email to Catholic News Service.

She noted, however, that the decision to rewrite the charter was meeting with stiff opposition from some influential Muslims, which was causing deep unease among the estimated 300,000 Christians remaining in Iraq.