BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir’s decision to step down drew mixed reactions Monday with some groups hailing the step as courageous while suggesting discussions over the issue be postponed amid the critical circumstances Lebanon was witnessing.
Following a visit to Sfeir at the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki, Zahle M.P.s said they rejected the patriarch’s resignation “since Lebanon was in need of his eminence and his role.”
“We stress that the patriarch will remain and continue [in his post] because the story is long and the glory of Lebanon has been given to him,” M.P. Elie Marouni said at Bkirki.
The Vatican has yet to decide on whether to accept Sfeir’s resignation.
A source close to the Maronite Church told The Daily Star that though Sfeir submitted his resignation a couple of months ago to the Vatican, “it is too early to speak of elections to choose a successor.”
The source added that the Vatican had the option of rejecting Sfeir’s resignation, delaying its acceptance or even appointing aides to the patriarch to assist him in his duties if he feels fatigued as he advances in age.
While some reports said the patriarch submitted his resignation following pressure from the Vatican, others said such claims were far from the truth and added that Sfeir decided to step aside while “he is still in good shape.”
Commenting on Sfeir’s decision, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, a Druze, said he wished the decision to resign had remained undisclosed during the difficult circumstances the country was witnessing.
“I wish some politicians, who rushed to uncover the patriarch’s decision to resign had delayed the announcement in a bid to preserve the status of a patriotic man that sought to preserve Lebanon in difficult times,” Jumblatt said.
Labor Minister Butros Harb announced Sfeir had informed the Vatican about the resignation after a meeting with the patriarch Sunday.
Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, a Maronite Christian leader who defied Sfeir’s political positions on several occasions, said he “held the patriarch in higher esteem after he made his decision.”
“We had our political differences … but I bow before this decision since individuals leave and the Church stays,” Franjieh said.
With no decision yet from the Vatican over Sfeir’s resignation, it remains unknown whether the election of a new patriarch would take place before or after the election of a number of Maronite bishops to replace those who reached the retirement age of 75.
However, the bishops who reached the retirement age could still vote to elect a new patriarch as long as their successors have not been appointed.
Unlike bishops, the patriarch has no retirement age and thus a retired bishop could be elected as patriarch.
The electoral process calls on Maronite bishops, numbering 40, to gather in a spiritual conclave in Bkirki, no later than one month after the patriarch’s resignation is accepted.
However, a source close to the Council of Maronite Bishops said the body has yet to be officially informed of Sfeir’s decision, saying the circulating reports are still regarded as leaks.