(photo credit: AP)
Jordan announced Sunday that it has withdrawn its recognition of Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theofilos III, saying he failed to act on a pledge to annul an unsanctioned church property sale to Israel.
Jordanian recognition of the patriarch is necessary under ancient church law, which dictates that any patriarch must have the blessing of the Holy Land's ruling powers - Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
While Jordan renounced its claims to east Jerusalem in 1988, it retains custody of holy shrines in the city.
Jordan's Cabinet decided in a meeting late Saturday to "withdraw its recognition" of Theofilos "for failing to fulfill the obligations he promised to the Jordanian government," the official Petra news agency reported Sunday. It did not provide other details.
But a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press that the Jordanian move was sparked by the patriarch's "failure to act on the controversial east Jerusalem land deal with Israel concluded by his predecessor." He declined to elaborate.
Theofilos's predecessor, Irineos I, was ousted in May 2005 over claims of being involved in the unsanctioned sale of church property in Jerusalem, including two hotels, to an Israeli company.
Irineos has denied the claims against him, saying a former aide signed the leases without his knowledge.
The Greek Orthodox church abides by a 1958 Jordanian law banning the sale of any church land or property in Jerusalem, which Jordan ruled along with the West Bank until Israel seized the territories during the 1967 Six-Day War.
While Israel has annexed east Jerusalem, Jordan was given responsibility for overseeing the affairs of Christian and Islamic holy shrines in the hotly contested city under Amman's 1994 peace treaty with the Jewish state.
Theofilos, the metropolitan of Tabor in Galilee, was elected in August 2005 by the church's Holy Synod after serving previously as a Greek Orthodox Church envoy in Qatar. He reportedly has close ties to the Orthodox leadership in the United States.
Theofilos has petitioned Israel's Supreme Court for state recognition. Church rules require approval from all three governments where his flock lives. Unlike Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority affirmed Theofilos' election.