The Synod Ends

More on Patriarch Delly, and a bishop who wept…

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

(Note: Inside the Vatican will organize a small pilgrimage of 12 people to visit the Vatican and attend the November 20 consistory. For further details see the end of this newsflash.)

The Silence of the Patriarch

An old, white-bearded man walked out of the Synod aula and down the wide, sloping steps toward the waiting cars and buses, his long robe sweeping the square grey Vatican City cobblestones. He quickly left behind the light of the Paul VI Audience Hall entranceway and began to be engulfed by the darkening Roman evening. It was 6:30 p.m. this evening.

The man was His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly (photo), the 83-year-old Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq.

I’d been hoping to meet him.

I turned to a fellow journalist who was waiting with me by the entrance to the Paul VI audience hall, and said, “That’s Patriarch Delly, isn’t it?” The journalist nodded.

Delly was already heading for the bus that would carry him and other Synod Fathers to their residence, so I hurried to catch up to him. He was walking with a taller man who appeared to be his personal secretary.

“Your Eminence,” I said. “Could I have a word with you…”

“Yes?” said Delly, stopping and looking a me quizzically. “Go ahead.”

He seemed to me quite young for his 83 years, and when I held out my hand to shake his, his grip was unexpectedly firm.

He was about five foot eight, not a physically imposing man, but there was an energy in his gaze which surprised me. I had expected that, from close up, he might look old and weary, but he looked energetic and in good health.

I told him who I was and that I was writing on the Vatican and the Synod.

He was silent and, it seemed, somewhat cold.

“And I wanted to ask you about the remarks you made the other night…”

“I have nothing more to say,” he said. “What I had to say, I said to the Synod. I’m sorry.”

A political murder?

I left Patriarch Delly and walked back to the entrance of the Synod hall. There, purely by chance, I tan into another prelate who has left his mark on this two-week Synod: Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini (photo), an Italian Franciscan who is the succesor of the slain Italian Bishop Luigi Padovese as vicar of Anatolia.

Last Friday Franceschini spoke to the Synod — the same afternoon as Delly.

“May I ask you about your talk?” I said.

“Sure,” he said.

“You have a theory about Bishop Padovese and his murder last June, right?”

“Yes,” Franceschini replied. “I believe it was premeditated murder arranged by ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics who do not want Turkey to enter Europe.”

Padovese’s driver, Murat Altun, 26, who had been in Padovese’s employ for many years, shot him to death in June.

“He claimed the reason for the killing was a homosexual relationship he had with the bishop,” Franceschini said. “But it seems that immediately after the murder he shouted ‘Allah akbar! I killed the great Satan.”

At the time, the Vatican and Turkish government stuck to the hypothesis that the killing took place for “personal reasons” excluding the possibility of a religious or political motive.

“I had a terrible time with the Secretariat of State,” the Franciscan bishop said. “They wanted only the version of the nuncio, that it was an entirely personal matter, but it was not.”

AS we stood there, many of the Synod Father walked past us: Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, Cardinal Levada of the Congregation for the Doctrone of the Faith, Cardinal Tauran of Inter-religious Dialohgue, Cardinal-designate Burke, and many others.

“And what did you think of Patriarch Delly’s talk?” I asked.

“I disagreed with it,” he said. “But he must have his reasons for saying what he said,” Franceschini said. “We don’t know all his reasons.”

“Well, they say someone got up in the Synod Hall right after he spoke, and was weeping and saying, ‘Why are you saying these things?'”

“No, no,” Franceschini said, “That’s not what happened. I spoke before Patriarch Delly. And I was the one who wept. But it was about the murder of Monsignor Padovese…”

Once More, the Facts of this Peculiar “Patriarch Delly Case”

The Chaldean Church inside Iraq has shrunk in number from 1.5 million to less than 500,000 over the past seven years.

Delly, the leader of the Catholic Chaldeans, has in recent years often cried out publicly that his people are suffering a “Calvary” and need help from the rest of the world.

“The world has forgotten Iraq’s Christians,” Patriarch Delly said four years go, on October 16, 2006, following the murder of his friend, Father Paulos Eskandar. Delly said the indifference of the international community threatened the very existence of Christians in the Middle East.

“There is the danger that the Middle East, the blessed land of God, will be emptied of its Christian presence,” Delly said then. “Already 80% have gone away.”

Then last Friday, Delly asked for time to make some remarks to the Synod, and he was granted the time.

When he spoke, he said almost exactly the opposite of what he had been saying for seven years. Addressing the assembled bishops without a prepared text, this is what said (it is a translation, because he spoke in Italian). I’m printing this again here because I cannot make the argument for the strangeness of this text with out having it here to study:

“Many people want to hear something about Iraq that today occupies an important position in the Middle East, a position that is a little bit, if I say, exaggerated: I sincerely thank all those who have spoken about Iraq in this hall and have shown their sympathy for this country that is the cradle of Christians and especially the cradle of the Chaldean Church, the Eastern Church in the Persian Empire, and as of today, 78% of Mesopotamian Christians are Chaldean Catholics. The population of this country, crossed by two famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, is 24 million, all Muslims, with whom we live peacefully and freely. In Baghdad alone, the capital of Iraq, Christians have 53 chapels and churches. The Chaldeans have more than seven dioceses in the country, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church lives today in Baghdad.

“Christians are good with their fellow Muslims and in Iraq there is mutual respect among them. Christian schools are highly thought of. Today people prefer to attend these schools directed by the Christian institutions, especially those run by the religious orders.

“Despite all the political and religious situations, and emigration, we now have nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims. We have the freedom of religion in our Churches. The Bishop or Priest, religious leader is listened to and respected by his fellow citizens. We have our own seminary, and Chaldean monks and nuns and religious.” (End, remarks of Patriarch Delly to the Synod of Bishops at the close of the day’s session Friday, October 15, 2010)

In these paragraphs, there is no mention at all of the suffering of Iraq’s Christians.

Delly in this text is describing a country, seemingly, at peace.

I have bold-faced the words which seem optimistic, positive, hopeful, and put in a few notes after Delly’s phrases:

“The population of this country… is 24 million, all Muslims, with whom we live peacefully and freely.” (Note one oddity: Iraq’s population, of course, is not “all Muslims” — the Chaldeans are Iraqis. Why did Delly say this? It is not clear.)

“The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church (that is, Delly himself; he is speaking of himself here in the third person, instead of saying, “I”) lives in Baghdad.” (That is, he has not fled, or been forced to leave; he is still at home, in his community.)

“Christians are good with their fellow Muslims and there is mutual respect among them.” (No hint of any tensions at all.)

“Despite all the political and religious situations, and emigration, we now have nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims.” (He says “political and religious situations” instead of more negative words like “wars, invasions, car bombings, kidnappings, religious fanaticism” — all these are subsumed under “situations”. Then he says there are “nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims.” Again an odd phrase, since one million Christians and 25 million Muslims would make 26 million Iraqis, not 25 million.)

“We have the freedom of religion in our Churches. The Bishop or Priest, religious leader is listened to and respected by his fellow citizens. We have our own seminary, and Chaldean monks and nuns and religious.” (He says “we have freedom of religion in our Churches” — but he does not say if there is freedom of religion in the country, in Iraq in general. He says the “religious leader” — the word is in the singular; is he referring perhaps to himself? — is “listened to and respected.” However, we know that Delly himself, despite his years of crying out on behalf of his people, has not been listened to. “We have our own seminary” he says — but another Iraqi speaker said the seminary has actually been moved out of Baghdad because of a bombing incident, and reopened, but only hundreds of miles to the north.)

Seeking the meaning

On many occasions this week, I asked Synod participants and other journalists what they thought of Delly’s remarks.

I was told variously that Delly is “misinformed,” that his staff “no longer informs him of the true situation,” that he “lives in a palace” and is now “out of touch” with the reality on the ground; that he has gotten “old and weary” of the struggle he faces; that he wishes to emphasize the positive because emphasizing the negative has not served any positive purpose; and that he is “afraid is stirring up anything.”

Someone told me that a bishop from Turkey had been so upset with Delly’s words that he had stood up with tears in eyes and asked Delly how he could speak in the way he had.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a piece suggesting that Delly may have been speaking in a veiled, or intentionally coded, way like that used by persecuted men in all countries when they wish to get a message across without arousing the ire of their persecutors.

I noted that Leo Strauss, the primary intellectual influence in the founding of the neo-conservative movement in America, had worked out a theory that in every age the persecuted must resort to elegant, imaginative subterfuges to get their true message across and not be consored, or silenced, as they try to fly “under the radar” of the “inquistors” of their time.

My newsflash about this (Letter #62) prompted several letters from readers. I reproduce them here below to show that I realize counter-arguments to my thesis about Delly are indeed possible.

Letter #1

Dear Bob,

Frankly, I don’t think your “Straussian” interpretation of Delly’s words has any plausibility at all. The difference between 24 million and 25 million — a difference of only 4% between one estimate and the other — is really quite insignificant. If Iraq’s population is somewhere around that figure (and probably nobody knows exactly, if the last census was some time ago), then estimates using one figure, then another, need no particular explanation. Or Delly may have just consulted his memory of recent estimates and made what he considered to be a slight correction the second time he mentioned the population figure.

To suggest that Delly deliberately used the two figures to send a sort of “coded” message that practically no listeners or viewers would be capable of detecting seems very fanciful. If that had been his purpose, he would have had to make the contradiction really obvious — like saying 25 million the first time and 50 million the next time. Strauss, if I remember rightly, was talking about Cold War situations with people physically under communist control, “confessing” crimes after torture or in the context of show trials, etc. And if, as you say, the persecution in Iraq has been more or less equally bad for a number of years now, your Straussian explanation fails to explain why Delly felt free to denounce it openly in previous years when he was equally under threat. Maybe he just honestly felt that the other Synod speakers were giving a one-sided picture that needed some balance with the statistics he gave.

God bless,

Brian Harrison, O.S.

Letter #2

Dr. Moynihan,

If the words were spoken, rather than written, I didn’t think Cardinal Delly’s slip between 24 million and 25 million was significant. If there are “nearly 1 million” Christians in Iraq in a total population of 25 million, that would leave 24 million Moslems. And indeed, “24 million, all Muslims,” is the expression he uses at first.

The expression he uses to conclude the paragraph is, “nearly one million Christians in Iraq out of 25 million Muslims.”

It sounds to me as if the total population of Iraq is in fact 25 million, and he inadvertently said “Muslims,” rather than “Iraqis.”

I made more nonsensical slips just trying to type this message!

I don’t think it was a Straussian message in this case. I think it possible he is under a great deal of pressure now from local Moslem gang leaders not to complain. I would note that he complained bitterly in the past, when Bush, a strong leader, was President. U.S. forces were aggressively expanding their influence, and Card. Delly was somewhat protected. Now that Obama, a weak leader, is President, he chooses his words carefully. I would conclude that he feels that now, U.S. policy is not the force it was two years ago in Iraq, and Delly feels he must make his peace with the native powers.


Duncan Maxwell Anderson

Letter #3

Dr. Moynihan:

In the matter of Baghdad’s Cardinal Delly’s seeming confusion between 24 million Muslims and 25 million Muslims you have correctly broken the code. A code which sadly eludes the consensus. Thank you for shining the bright light of truth on Cardinal Delly’s true message.

With respect I would encourage you and Inside the Vatican to consider leading a global daily prayer chain each day of Advent — based on Cardinal Delly’s work — for safety and peace in the lives of all Christians in Iraq and the Middle East. A brief daily prayer each authored by a separate global Church figure might just create sufficient global suasion to brighten this Christmas and impact the continuing lives of our fellow Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East. At a minimum, it would help focus global attention on the scope of the problems for Christians in that part of the world during the Holy Season of Advent. Joining the almost 12,000 subscribers of Inside the Vatican, with who knows how many others through the web, could do wonders in elevating the support for Christians within Iraq and the importance of the Inside the Vatican in communicating that message.


Douglas Garrett

Letter #4

Hi Dr. Moynihan,

Have you considered the possibility that that the change in Cardinal Delly’s tune reflects a relative improvement of the situation? That the minor malaprops (from a man speaking a 2nd language) are just that?

To the extent he is exaggerating how good things are today (& how utterly bad regime change was before) it’s because he has to placate whatever Muslim faction he currently has an alliance with.
This is not a criticism of Delly. Christian leaders in that part of the world have no other way to protect their vulnerable communities. Chaldeans were the 2nd most favored group under Saddam Hussein (a very distant 2nd, after Sunni Muslim Arabs). Their smaller, non-Catholic sister Church — the Assyrian Church of the East — sided with Saddam foes, & was violently persecuted. (Probably, this reflects the desire to have at least some Christian representation at the table of whoever might come to power.)
The reward for such alliances is seldom a fat bribe for Christians, only “toleration” (i.e. we don’t shoot you, rape your daughters, blow up your churches).

I’m pretty sure that Cardinal Delly’s doing what he’s always done, which may indeed count as heroic.
The change is your new-found skepticism of his reports. His sunny forecast of Iraq today — like those he gave of Saddam’s Iraq back when — likely are an exaggeration of authentically good news:
CHALDEANS HAVE FOUND A POWERFUL PATRON IN THE RULING REGIME. Thus ending the slaughter of Iraq’s largest Christian community… for now.


Sean Degidon

Pivotal moments

The intervention of Patriarch Delly was a pivotal moment in the Synod.

Franceschini’s talk was also.

What the Synod will lead to in terms of concrete action to help the Christians of the Middle East, I do not know.

But that the Christians of the region need the solidarity of Christians, and others of good will, from the rest of the world if they are to survive is clear.

This is what the silence of Delly, and the tears of Franceschini, mean.

An unusual suggestion

The Syrian Catholic bishop Msgr. Raboula Antoine Beylouni, Titular Archbishop of Mardin of the Syrians, Curia Bishop of Antioch of the Syrians, in his intervention made the following suggestion:

“As the Koran spoke well of the Virgin Mary, insisting on her perpetual virginity and miraculous and unique conception in giving us Christ; just as Muslims take her greatly into consideration and ask for her intercession, we should turn to her for all dialogue and all encounters with the Muslims. Being the Mother of us all, she will guide us in our relations with the Muslims to show them the true face of Her Son Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind.

“If it pleased God that the Feast of the Annunciation was declared a national feast day in Lebanon for Christians and Muslims, may it also become a national feast day in other Arab countries.”

(See the following link for the original text; you have to scroll down a bit to come to it:

A visit to the Consistory
Rome during the time of a Consistory is fascinating. There are the cardinals themselves, of course, but also all of their family members, friends and well-wishers.
On the evening when the cardinals are created, November 20, something special happens. The Vatican opens its doors, and friends and well-wishers of the new cardinals will be able to visit them inside the Vatican, to congratulate them and to assure them of their prayers, and to receive their blessings.

Therefore, we are inviting a few people to join with us during the Consistory days, no more than 12, to attend the Consistory, to go on the courtesy visits inside the Vatican, and to attend the papal Mass the following day on the Feast of Christ the King in St. Peter’s Basilica.

If you wish for more information about this Consistory visit, please email us at or call 904-699-0960.  We expect to fill these 12 seats very quickly. Therefore, if you would like to join us, call or email as soon as possible.

If you have ever wished to come to Rome and visit the Vatican, consider joining us for the Consistory.

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” —St. Paul, First Letter to Timothy 6:12

A Talk by Dr. Robert Moynihan about the “Old Mass”

This talk gives a 2,000-year history of the Mass in 60 minutes which is clear and easy to understand. The talk covers questions like:

— Does the motu proprio overcome some of the liturgical confusion since Vatican II?
— Who was Annibale Bugnini?

— The mind of Pope Benedict: How can the Church restore the sense of the presence of God in the liturgy?

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