Coptic Pope Shenouda III held a press conference today in which he announced a decision by the Coptic Holy Synod vis-a-vis an administrative court ruling issued last month obliging the church to allow divorced Copts to remarry.
“The Coptic Church is announcing its respect for Egyptian law,” [His Holiness] said at the press conference, held at the papal residence. “But it doesn’t accept rules that contravene biblical teachings and violate our freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by law.”
Marriage within the Coptic Church, the pope declared, “is a sacrament and a religious duty, not merely an administrative action.”
The pope’s position was supported by 82 attending priests in addition to nine others that were not in attendance.
Stressing the church’s right to refuse implementation of the administrative court ruling, [His Holiness] pointed to Islamic Law, which allows religious minorities to follow their own rules and customs. Egyptian personal status laws, he noted, state the same thing.[His Holiness] went on to cite several previous court rulings of cases involving Copts in which the judge’s ruling was in line with Coptic church doctrine.
An example of these laws is Law No. 462 of 1965, whereby the personal status law replaced religious courts. According to this law, the pope said, “disputes related to non-Muslims should be decided with regards to their doctrines.”
In response to charges that he was taking the Bible too literally and thereby contradicting a decree issued by a 1938 Congregation Council, the pope declared that the council at the time consisted of “pashas that knew nothing about the Coptic religion.” Immediately following the death of the pope at the time, the council’s findings were changed in 1944, he noted. Since then, no divorce has been permitted within the Coptic community except in cases of adultery.
In response to accusations that the pope merely represented a government employee who is obliged to implement court rulings, Shenouda declared that, according to the Court of Misdemeanors, the person of the pope “does not represent a state employee.”
Writers in the press have questioned the timing of the court ruling and the subsequent commotion, with some suggesting that the incident was meant to distract Coptic attention from controversial political issues, such as the recently-concluded Shura Council elections and upcoming People’s Assembly and presidential elections.
According to Bishop Boula, head of of the church’s clerical committee, the number of divorce cases within the Coptic community each years currently ranges between 200 and 650.
“If everyone got a divorce and looked for a second wife, the Coptic family would lose its moral compass,” [His Holiness] said.
[Reprinted original article by Ekram Ibrahim from AlMasryAlYoum]