Patriarch of Jerusalem Dispute Drags On

The New York Times catches up with Irenaeus (var. Irineos), the ousted Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem who has spent the last three years confined to an apartment in the Patriarchate’s compound:

…Irenaeus, 71, refuses to leave the apartment because, he says, he has no guarantee that he will be allowed to return. Until this is no longer in question, he says, communicating by fax and employing the majestic plural, “in essence, they compel us to remain within our cell.”

Daniel Robbins, a Jerusalem lawyer who is representing Irenaeus… said, “Nothing here is self-imposed.”

…”The fact that he has decided to lock himself up in the apartment is his prerogative,” said Nadir Mughrabi, an adviser to the patriarchate. “Nobody is asking him to leave.”

…Irenaeus was elected in 2001 as the patriarch of Jerusalem, normally a position for life. He was removed four years later amid allegations of shady property deals. Among other things, he was accused of selling long-term leases on prime properties owned by the patriarchate inside the Old City — in territory that Israel annexed after the 1967 war, but where the Palestinians and most of the world do not recognize Israeli sovereignty — to foreign companies acting as fronts for a Jewish settlers group.

…Elias Khoury, a Greek Orthodox lawyer in Jerusalem, was one of three members of a committee appointed by the Palestinian Authority to investigate the land deals. The commission concluded that Irenaeus had been misled and was the victim of a conspiracy, Mr. Khoury said

…Irenaeus… placed sole responsibility for his situation on Theophilos, his nemesis, “to whom ecclesiastical history will ascribe the name traitor!”

As I blogged at the time (herehere, and here), Irenaeus claimed that the deal with the Israeli settlers had been made without his knowledge by his treasurer Nicholas Papadimas, who reportedly fled to South America and has not been heard of since. Theophilos initially agreed to cancel the sale, which meant that Israel continued to back Irenaeus; the Times notes that

Irenaeus enjoyed 24-hour protection from the Israeli police, and with it free movement, until Israel finally recognized Theophilos’s election in the spring of 2007.

Small-talk with his Israeli guards may have been strained, given that in 2001 Irenaeus had written to Yasser Arafat conveying his “disgust and disrespect… for the descendants of the crucifiers”.

However, Theophilus did not in fact rescind the land deal, leading to a breach with Atallah Hanna, the Bishop of Sebastia and the highest-ranking Palestinian in the church; many Palestinian Christians are fed up with Greek control of the church, and Hanna reportedly had his eye on the Patriarchate himself. Hanna is an articulate defender of Palestinian rights, and he is sometimes incorrectly described in reports as “Archbishop of Jerusalem”. However, there is reason to regard him with some scepticism: in 2003 (before he became bishop) reports appeared which quoted him as supporting suicide bombing, leading to censure from Irenaeus. Hanna complained that the accusations were part of a “crusade” against him by people close to the Patriarch, but given that the quotes appeared in sympathetic Arab and Muslim media outlets this explanation remains mysterious. The following year, Hanna baptised Israel Shamir, now notorious for his anti-Jewish ramblings and controversial for his role “representing Wikileaks in Russia and Belarus”.