A prominent French bishop has accused Gregory III Laham, the Damascus-based Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, of scheming with President Bashar al-Assad to block a planned Vatican peace visit to Syria by Catholic prelates in 2012, reports The Tablet.
The Vatican announced at the end of its October 2012 synod on the Middle East that a delegation of seven church leaders, including Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Jean-Louis Tauran of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, would fly from Rome to Damascus to express their solidarity with Syrians suffering in the civil war.
Bishop Claude Dagens of Angoulême told Radio Notre Dame in Paris on September 11 that the patriarch promptly telephoned Assad, 'of whom we know he is an ally politically and financially' and made an unspecified deal with him. The plan ran into difficulties and the Vatican announced a week later that the visit was postponed because of the 'gravity of the situation' in Syria.
Bishop Dagens denounced Assad as head of a criminal regime and said he backed planned military strikes against Syria. He also said the argument that Assad protected Christians from Islamist militants, one often echoed by Christians, was Syrian propaganda.
The patriarch hit back in a letter to the Vatican, the French bishops' conference and the Académie Française, of which Dagens is a member. 'You have no idea how much your defamatory words have hurt and endangered the Melkite community,' he wrote.
Photo: Man walks along battered street in Homs, Syria (The Catholic Herald)
Jesuit priest in Homs says disease has struck (Catholic Herald)