While rumors of Patriarch Grègoire III Laham’s resignation have been denied, there is talk of a resignation letter on its way to Rome. An emblematic case of “internal struggle” within the hierarchies and clergy of many Christian communities in the Middle East
Despite the reassuring yet customary declarations about the “made peace” and the spirit of “newfound communion”, winds of crisis continue to shake the relationship between the greek-Melkite Patriarch Laham III Grègoire and a large side of the Eastern Catholic Episcopate. The Patriarchate has recently issued a statement to reiterate that the Patriarch remains in his place, at the head of the Patriarchate, and he is preparing to launch “new projects”, with the intention to double his efforts, “both at a local and international level, “to” alleviate the suffering of the population struck by the crisis, especially in Syria, Iraq and Palestine. ” However, the press release, perceived as a sort of excusatio non petita, has the effect of confirming the ongoing tensions within the Melkite Synod. In the meantime there are rumors spreading from Damascus of a resignation letter of the Patriarch, on its way to Rome.
The first resounding event symptom of the reigning malaise within the Melkite Synod occurred in June 2016, when the Synod of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church, after having opened on June 20 at in Ain Traz, south-east of Beirut, was interrupted and postponed to a later date due to the absence of several bishops. Out of the 22 Melkite bishops then in office, only 11 attended the Assembly’s inaugural session. Even then, the tensions and the discontent became increasingly concrete in the request for the resignation of Patriarch Gregoire III, supported by a group of at least ten bishops, and consequent request of election of a new Patriarch. At the base of the dissent there are also financial and administrative matters, with allegations that the patriarch had squandered the Church’s patrimony. In his pronouncement following the postponement of the Synod, Grègoire III, after invoking regulations proposed by the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches, had remarked that the canon law of the Eastern Catholic Churches does not provide for the possibility of forcing the Patriarch’s resignation against his will, and that all disputes must be addressed within the Synod Assembly.
From 21 to 23 February, the Patriarch and the Greek-Melkite bishops had gathered in the Synodal Assembly at the Patriarchal See of Raboué, in Lebanon. The Synod Assembly was made possible also through the persuasive skills of the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria and Lebanon, Cardinal Mario Zenari and Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, both exceptionally present at the Synod. At the end of the Assembly, a statement with encouraging tones, in which the participants of the meeting praised the Lord for having given them the “spirit of brotherly reconciliation” to restore peace in the Church and “pursue their journey of communion». The statement referred to the ‘inconvenient’ tone used by some bishops in the controversy, and the ” probably involuntary management errors, ” noted by some bishops in the administration of the estate. The statement also included the dates of the next Synod Assembly, scheduled from 19 to 24 June 2017, and remarked that, in the meantime, the new permanent members of the patriarchal synod, to be appointed, would have “assisted” the Patriarch in his functions.
However, sources close to the Patriarchate in Damascus claim that during the Synod of February, the Patriarch, pressured by most bishops, signed a letter of resignation from his patriarchal ministry.
The letter had already been sent to Rome, and remains unanswered to the present day. According to some observers, the indications from the Holy See could arrive only after Lent and the celebration of Easter. But there are those who assume that the Patriarch has no real intention to resign: under this light should be then read the statement just released by the communications office of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which explicitly refers to articles that have appeared in the local media, containing hints to the possible resignation of the Patriarch, and invites media representatives to publish only news whose reliability has been checked.
Beyond rumors and personal interests, the Melkite Church’s malaise is one of the most eloquent signs of the “internal struggle” among the hierarchies and clergy of many Middle Eastern Christian communities, an evident side-effect of the convulsions caused by the ongoing conflicts and sectarian fights.
A few days ago, the leader of the Maronite’s archeparchy in Damascus, Archbishop Samir Nassar indicated in his Lenten letter as one of the first factors afflicting the Churches of Syria, the fleeting of several priests from Damascus during the civil war years, which deprived the remained faithful of pastoral comfort. Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I led a long battle to denounce the exodus of priests from their homeland to emigrate – without their bishops’ consent – to the West. And while the local ecclesial fabric seems to dissipate in many places, a growing number of full-time Church workers are absorbed in “fundraising operations’ and consequent resource management in favor of ” persecuted Christians “.
Source: Vatican Insider