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Former Patriarch: I’m a prisoner

12 January 2011

by Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent

THE man who was deposed in 2005 as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I, says that he is being kept a prisoner in his own home on the orders of his successor, Theofilos III.

Irineos I was dismissed by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate over allegations that he allowed illegal sales of church property in East Jerusalem to Israelis (News, 9 December 2005), thus facilitating Israel’s encroach­ment into the Arab half of the city.

Reporters are barred from entering his house in the Old City of Jeru­salem, and he cannot be contacted by telephone. But speaking to a cor­respondent of the Associated Press via a microphone dangled outside his window, Irineos I insisted that he was unaware of the alleged transactions, and that he had done nothing wrong: “I ask God every day to reveal the truth. I’m the Patriarch.”

Irineos I said that followers of Theofilos III “allow nobody out and nobody in to visit me”. He passed the days, he said, praying, reading, and writing. Food and water are hoisted up to his room on a rope.

The head of the Council of Arab Ortho­dox Organisations, Marwan Tubasi, said that the new Patriarch was “punishing the old one, keeping him behind closed door to secure his position”.

Aides to Theofilos III declined to comment on the situation of the previous Patriarch; a patriarchal official denied that the latter was under house arrest.

Even after Irineos I was removed, the issue of the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem continued to cause controversy. Under a centuries-old agreement, senior church appointments in the Holy Land require the approval of the powers of the land — which these days are Israel, the Palestinian Author­ity, and Jordan.

Jordan initially backed Theofilos III, only to rescind its decision a few months later, saying that he had failed to fulfil promises to restore to Arab hands the property allegedly sold during his predecessor’s time in office. But, in 2007, Jordan came into line again with the Palestinian Au­thor­ity by renewing its backing for the new incumbent. Israel, too, ini­tially refused to recognise the new Patriarch, but also gave its backing to Theofilos III in 2007, when a court rejected an appeal by his pre­decessor.

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