US Archbishop for Military Services says invasion of Iraq led to decrease in Christian population

By David Kerr

Rome (CNA) — U.S. military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio says the collapse of Iraq’s Christian population is among the legacies of America’s invasion in 2003.

“Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country,” the archbishop for U.S. military services told CNA during a visit to Rome on Jan. 16. “And what the future holds, that still remains to be seen.”

His comments came only a month after the final pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, where they remained following the invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. 

Aid agencies estimate that over the course of eight years, the Catholic population of Iraq fell from more than 800,000 in 2003 to fewer than 150,000 today.

Archbishop Broglio said he believes Catholicism suffered after the invasion because of a perceived closeness to its previous ruler. He said Saddam Hussein tended “to trust Catholics, and gave them positions of responsibility.” One prominent Iraqi Catholic was Hussein’s Foreign Minister, Tarik Aziz.

And even if Catholics “weren’t particularly part of the regime, they became identified with the regime,” Archbishop Broglio said. “Before, they were a minority that was protected, but now they are a minority that is not protected.”

As President Barack Obama withdrew the last U.S. troops from Iraq on Dec. 15, he said they were leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant,” country.

But there are signs that the plight of Iraqi Christians has worsened since then.

“At a time of increased political instability, we continue to receive disturbing reports,” said John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need on Jan. 20.

He said an attack took place earlier in the month against security personnel outside the residence of Kirkuk’s Archbishop Louis Sako.

Archbishop Sako, who was indoors at the time, told Aid to the Church in Need that the situation is less stable now that U.S. troops are gone, with much of the turmoil stemming from the power struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Pontifex says there is a “ticking bomb regarding Christianity in Iraq.”

“Few Christians, no matter how deep their roots are in the local society, feel able to withstand the pressure to leave,” he said.

Fear of an attack forced Archbishop Sako to cancel the Chaldean Catholics’ midnight Christmas celebration last month. Services were moved to the daytime, and Christians were warned not to display decorations outside their homes.

Nevertheless, it appears that many of the Catholics who fled Iraq would return if safety improved.

Monsignor John Kozar, president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, recently spoke of the “strong determination” some Iraqi Catholics have to go back home. He recently visited Jordan, where many Christians from Iraq now reside.

“I think they have a yearning to return to the homeland, and that homeland for them means practicing their Chaldean-rite Christianity,” the monsignor said. “That has become very, very important to them.”


Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 7:08 AM By charlio
We are blessed to have Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Chaldean Assyrian Catholic Mission, 7625 Hazel Ave, Orangevale, CA (Sacramento County), Mission of St. Thomas Parish, Turlock, belonging to the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, El Cajon, CA. The Sub-Deacon, Neil Nofaley, was heard on the Bishop’s Radio hour, describing the plight of his parishioners. One to two families per week arrive here with little material support, having suffered such trauma, in a very telling cultural expression, as to have witnessed the dogs licking the blood of their murdered relatives off the streets. Their Facebook page is “Help Finish Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church”.

Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 8:08 AM By MIKE
Sadam Hussien MURDERED entire communities of KURDS within his own Country by poison gas – innocent men, women, and children. If any Catholic indivdiuals assisted, shame on them. To prove the TRUTH of what the Catholic Church really teaches and adheres to, rather than the beliefs or actions of individual sinners, it is imparative that the entire world read the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’. Spread the Word !

Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 8:13 AM By JMJ
To think that in this country where for now, we can go to Church without the fear of being attacked, our churches are still mostly empty, but, those poor Catholics take their lives in their hands when to try to go to Church. For sure, these people will receive many blessings from God on their final day, BUT, what about us American catholics? +JMJ+

Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 9:53 AM By Fr. J
No, the real problem is the persecution of Christian that goes on everywhere over there. Don’t blame us or the Christians.

Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 11:38 AM By Brian S
The persecution of Christians that goes on “everywhere over there”, didn’t prevent the Iraqi Christian community from surviving for 1300 years after the rise of Islam – our warmongering managed to undo it in 8 years. We especially shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook for damage that our Holy Father warned us against.

Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 2:44 PM By ted
The fact is that Saddam Hussein massacred Kurds who rebelled and protected Christians who didn’t rebel against him. History shows he was tolerant of Christians because of that one difference. They meekly obeyed him, while the Kurds did not.

Posted Wednesday, February 01, 2012 2:48 PM By John F. Maguire
Aramaic, which was the daily language of Israel in the Second Temple Period (596 B.C. – 70 A.D.) and the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth, included, within its geographic range, the region of the world today known as Iraq. The ancient Mesopotamian city of Arbel (variously: Arbil, Erbil, Irbil) is located in present-day northern Iraq. Arbel was the city that Christ’s apostles Thomas (known as “doubting Thomas”) and Jude used as a base for their missionary work. On the Internet’s _St. Jude Novena Site_ (May 1, 2003), we read: “The church of St. Thomas and St. Jude began to grow [in Mesopotamia], and came to be known as the Assyrian Church of the East. [….] When St. Thomas left Mesopotamia around 52 A.D., he left St. Jude behind to lead their community.” Jude served as the Patriarch of the Church of the East from 37-65 A.D. “Around 60 A.D., St. Jude wrote his famous Gospel letter addressed to his followers in which he urged them to stay strong in their faith despite the persecutions they face. ~ Jude was killed around 65 A.D., and his trusted disciples continued his missionary work into the 2nd century. Through their efforts, the Catholic Church flourished in ancient Iraq, Iran, and Syria from the 1st to the 4th centuries.” This Iraqi legacy invites us to exercise our duty to pray for Iraqi Christians today, invoking first of all Our Lady of Iraq but also her Son’s Iraqi-based Apostles St. Thomas and St. Jude. That in America there is a strong popular Catholic tradition of invoking St. Jude, indeed praying the St. Jude Novena, constitutes a providential aid to our praying for the solidary intercession of St. Jude and St. Thomas, in union with the Immaculate Hear of Mary, on behalf of both today’s persecuted Iraqi Christians and their persecutors.

Posted Thursday, February 02, 2012 12:36 AM By Clinton
My family has a long tradition of praying for St. Jude’s intercession in dire times. I chose him as my Confirmation name and I am always eager to learn more about his work preaching the Gospel and building up the Church. May this near kinsman of Our Lord pray for the faithful in Iraq and around the world. +JMJ+

Posted Thursday, February 02, 2012 9:16 AM By Life Lady
Whatever the circumstances where Catholics and Christians in Iraq and the Middle East, we must all pray for our brothers and sisters who have had to leave their homes and security behind amid war and persecution. We all need to use the best weapon available to us, the Holy Rosary of Our Lady of Fatima, and pray for the needs of the Church, everywhere, and the Holy Father as persecution spreads everywhere. It is the only weapon that will protect and defend us and the Faith we all hold so dear.

Posted Thursday, February 02, 2012 11:59 AM By Mac
Entire communities including – Women and children KURDs were murdered by poison gas. They were not politically active. Some were babies, I’ve seen pictures.

Posted Sunday, February 05, 2012 7:54 PM By Cody in Tucson
Come on archbishop, the Chaldeans have been leaving Iraq for decades. Starting in 1986 I lived in a subdivision for 13 years where the majority of my neighbors were Chaldean. They were entrenched in that upper income area outside of Detroit for years before ’86 when Saddam Hussein was the dictator of Iraq. The Chaldeans in the area I lived built their own Chaldean parish church in the mid 90s, St Thomas.

Posted Sunday, February 05, 2012 9:51 PM By JLS
The persecution of Christians in Iraq is the reason they’re leaving now, Cody, which is not the same as leaving for greener pasteurs.

Posted Sunday, February 05, 2012 10:17 PM By Abeca Christian
Most of my dad’s side of the family, are Christian Arabic, they left because they were being persecuted by the Muslims. They migrated here in America, they felt safer here and free to practice their faith.

Posted Monday, February 06, 2012 11:38 AM By JonJ
This is an interesting example of unexpected “blowback” from one of our geopolitical choices. Apparently, Saddam protected the Christian minority. In return, the Christian minority became trusted managers of Saddam’s bureaucracy for the very rational reason that, as bad an individual that Saddam was, they were better off with him in power because he shielded them vs. the theocratic muslim majority (shiites). Now, the Christians are suffering a Shiite backlash. These conseuences demostrate the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in isolating religion and politics. By associating themselves with a state that used cultural minorities to rule a resentful majority, the Christians put themselves in the unfortunate position of political targets once that regime fell. This danger is why we should be very reluctant to associate ourselves with powers that rule the earthly world. When the political musical chairs game goes against our state patrons, we risk the ability of our children to practice their christian faith. Which also points to the example of Jesus Christ in refraining from building a worldly state around his gospel.

Posted Monday, February 06, 2012 2:37 PM By John F. Maguire
In reply to Jon J.: (1) Short of abandoning their ancient presence in Iraq (a presence that dates back to the first missionaries to Mesopotamia, namely the Apostles Thomas and Jude), Iraqi Christians had no practicable choice other than to avail themselves of the limited protections afforded them by an otherwise counter-Catholic Ba’athist regime. (2) As a general proposition that pertains to all polities, just as Church and State must needs remain properly autonomous, so also the Gelasian doctrine DUO SUNT (“two powers there are”) applies transcendentally, that is, across all polities. Church and State therefore are always already “associated” because they both have the same source. Pope Leo XXII writes: “[A]s no society can hold together unless some one be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every body politic must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its Author.” Whence, Leo goes on to point out, the import of Romans 13:1: “There is no power but from God.” Source: Leo XII, _IMMORTALE DEI_ (November 1, 1885). It is therefore always imperative that the two powers — Church and State — associate in a just and harmonious way.

Posted Monday, February 06, 2012 3:46 PM By JLS
Finally, jon has met his match … Maguire. jon reads books that have only one page, and Maguire reads books with a thousand pages but of course never reads the conclusions. This duet promises to be better than a contest between the late Fred Astair and Gene Kelly.

Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2012 12:56 AM By JonJ
Mr Maguire, I do appreciate your rigorous citations. Because, then, everyone at least clearly knows what you base your analysis upon. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to be similarly rigorous on here; consequently, I sort of “shoot from the hip” as it were. The first problem is I do not think IMMORTALE DEI is on all fours with the Iraq situation. The underlying premise (which, IIRC was not explicitly stated in the encylical) of Leo’s exgesis, is that he was talking about a MORAL state. I do not think that premise applies to Iraq under saddam hussein. Since the sole purpose of Saddam’s state was to continue Saddam’s hold on power, I hardly think it can be said to be rooted or “sourced” in God. In fact, Saddam DENIED God in his method of rule. Please do not think, however, that I “blame” the Iraqi christians for accepting his protection. It was a very hard choice they faced. I just wanted to make the point that by becoming associated with a government explicity sourced in earthly power, the christians left themselves in the position of being a target of earthly political backlash tor performing mostly administrative (and I presume) generally beneficial social functions. Second, however, I have heard of this encyclical before, and have long doubted its authority. As I am sure you know, all encylicals do not expound infallible doctrine. I have, however, not studied it (though I have heard of Leo’s quote multiple times). I do know, however, that this encyclical was written during a time in europe when the old monarchies were dying and new representative forms of government were coming into being. And, in the contemporary literature of the day, Leo’s exgesis was widely seen as advocating continuation of european monarchies (at least in the form of constitutional monarchies as opposed to a US style republic). An assertion, that I think is questionable at best.

Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2012 1:11 AM By JonJ
Mr. Maguire, I am also vaguely familiar with the Church’s jurisprudential position that secular law must be in conformity with natural law to be valid law. Yet, what that means in specific practice, I’m not exactly sure. I have not rigorously developed thought in this area; but, again, my “shoot from the hip” thinking is that we should be far more vigorous in protecting the freedom for christians to CHOOSE to live in conformity to natural law rather than using secular law to compel the entire public to conform to natural law. To apply this admittedly unformed rule of construction to a specific situation: I believe it is entirely legitimate to fight a secular law which inhibits the ability to christians to freely attend mass. However, we venture into improper territory if we attempt to use state force to COMPEL church attendence. Another example I like to use concerns masturbation. Obviously, under catholic theology masturbation is a violation of the natural law. However, if a state attempted to punish masturbation as some kind of criminal or civil offense, that entity would have such extensive and overly invasive power that the government would inevitably lead to abusive authoritarianism. Consequently, even if a law is theoretically sound under a natural law analysis, the practical enforcement (and the reality of human moral inperfection) could make such a law more damaging to christian faith than any benefit gleaned by increased conformity to sound morals. .

Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2012 5:31 AM By JLS
Typical western cyclops rant, JonJ, judging the late Saddam Hussein by western standards, as if western secularism is superior to Islam. But in that you do pit the two things, you show some intuition of the global power players today. Let’s see if you can say anything Catholic about the situation.

Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2012 11:05 AM By Abeca Christian
I feel like a ticking bomb, the way things are working against my faith and values. Tick Tock…tick tock…Just kidding

Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2012 1:05 PM By JonJ
Not at all, JLS. In fact, Saddam was a secularist. That’s why the Shiite clerics in Iraq didn’t like him. Its also why he feared the Islamic Republic in Iran, because not only did it threaten to entice the Iraqi shiite’s into believing they could the the dominant sect, it also encouraged clerical power. Saddam’s government was about his hold on power, and hopefully passing power to his sons. I don’t see how it is a western “cyclops” view that such a government is not rooted in God.

Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2012 1:46 PM By John F. Maguire
In reply to JonJ: Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Letter IMMORTALE DEI, I venture, applies to all polities, not just (qualifiedly) “moral” polities. Here’s the thing — the fact that a head of state, not to say a tyrant, does not know — or knowing, does not acknowledge — that “there is no power but from God” (Roman 13:1) doesn’t meant that objectively it isn’t so. To the contrary, the truth that “there is no power but from God” bespeaks a mind-independent reality. On this point, I think we agree. *** Instructively, you refer to the problem of practical atheism. By practical atheism we mean the engagement by some persons in human action quite as if God did not exist. Saddam Hussein is a case in point. You write: “Saddam denied God in his method of rule.” Space however precludes my addressing the “legitimation crisis” that is provoked by practically atheistic methods of rule. *** Even if I might put it in different way, I hope we agree that: it is contrary to right reason to use, or attempt to use, the force of secular law to compel conformity to all aspects of the moral order. *** On the use of state force to compel religious observance, that resort is excluded. Canon Law has long held that “no one may be forced to embrace the Catholic faith against his will” (Section 1351); see St. Augustine, _Letter to Deogratias_ (Migne, _Patri. Lat._, 33, col. 375) and his _Retractiones_, ii, 31; also Friedrich von Hugel, _Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religon_ (London: Dent, 1931), pp. 234-235. *** JonJ, your thoughtful post on the Iraqi situation is much appreciated. In this same connection, I want to attest to my own reading expereince of your post, viz., that your post, just as you intended, never left the ambit of Catholic discourse. Since in your post you’ve said plenty that is unmistakably Catholic, it is a real puzzle why anyone would think otherwise.