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OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Christians in Chad are being intimidated and forced from public life, under new rules prioritizing Islam in violation of the North African country's secular foundations, according to the Catholic Church.
A senior church source, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, called the situation "critical, as the great powers show complicity by turning a blind eye to violations of basic human rights under cover of resisting radical Islam."
The source also said Catholic leaders fear for their lives after criticizing constitutional changes.
The comments were sent Aug. 27 to Catholic News Service, as the government of President Idriss Deby enforced a revised constitution, extending presidential powers in the predominantly Muslim state and requiring office-holders to take a religious oath.
"The new religious oath is exclusive and reductive in its vision of the state and appears to be another way of excluding Christians from public responsibilities," the church source said. "What will now become of the many Chadians who are neither Muslims nor Christians, and what will be the purpose of our institutions of justice and regulation?"
The revised constitution, in force since May 4, abolishes the office of prime minister and extends the powers of Deby, in office since 1990, allowing him to seek a sixth and seventh term, running till 2033.
In April, the Catholic bishops' conference criticized the religious oath and use of Diya -- blood money or ransom. The bishops urged a referendum on the revised constitution and warned its adoption otherwise risked igniting "inter-communal bitterness" and "gravely perverting democratic rules."
"Our country is traversing a social crisis -- in this difficult context, a project for reforming the institutions has been set in motion which does not have the support of the body of citizens," said the bishops. "As a church, we have reflected on our engagement in the service of charity and development ... but we must stress that poverty is now growing as grave violations of fundamental human rights become the norm."
Radio France International reported Aug. 13 priority had since been given to officials taking the religious oath "in the name of Allah the all-powerful," adding that several top Christian officials had been dismissed for refusing it.
The church source told CNS Catholic leaders believed the religious oath would "do nothing to solve the real problems of Chad," while the practice of Diya was "very specific to Muslim communities" and would "sow hatred" if imposed on Christians.
However, the source added that the government had "reacted violently against the Catholic Church" after it listed its objections and said bishops had been threatened and intimidated.
"The bishops' (April) declaration and the virulent response from government media outlets merely show the truth of what it denounced," the church source told CNS.
"The bishops' conference has opened a Pandora's box in a climate of economic and social crisis, where no one has the courage to say anything, and the men of power are driven to attack when any voice is raised against what they think."
"Many senior Christians are alarmed by what is happening," the source told CNS.
"Through their social catechesis, public positions and messages to the Catholic faithful and people of goodwill, Chad's bishops are helping build a society of coexistence -- and they are doing this work by giving enlightened advice."
Speaking in Arabic Aug. 22 during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, Deby said the religious oath was needed to fight corruption and reflected "the will of the people," adding that his priority was national security and reconciliation.
"I once again ask those of our fellow citizens who still hesitate to overcome their doubts and contribute to building our new citadel," RFI reported Deby as saying.
The Catholic Church accounts for just 7 percent of Chad's 3.7 million inhabitants.