Egypt’s Coptic pope ignores calls for divorce rights
Egypt’s Coptic Pope Shenouda III ignored recently calls by believers for the church to allow divorce and remarriage within the church during his weekly sermon recently.
Instead, Pope Shenouda, who heads what many view to be among the most conservative Christian churches in the world, focused his sermon on infidelity and family devotion.
In the 1930s Coptic law permitted divorce on a range of reasons including mental disabilities, impotence and cruelty. Three years ago Pope Shenouda narrowed the borders, saying divorce could only be allowed in cases of adultery or conversion.
This past month Christians have taken to the streets and gathered together in Cairo at the city’s papal office, calling for a wider berth regarding divorce. Under Egyptian law, religious authorities hold sole power to end Coptic marriages.
According to human rights advocates, this can be harmful to the couple and their children. “It’s a violation of personal rights,” Abdel Tawab of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies told We News.
“It adds psychological pressure … which could lead to the destruction of the fundamental essence of the family itself,” Tawab told We News. “So of course it has a negative effect on the person.”
Coptic Couples who wish to have a divorce under the church are required to go through a trial in the presence of church officials where they must present witnesses and sworn statements.
In some cases Copts go to court to file for a civil marriage, which will enable divorce and remarriage. This practice, however, rarely takes place as Egyptian authorities usually will not implement such court rulings, if granted. At the same time, if the ruling is implemented, the marriage is still not recognized by the church.
Earlier in the month some 120 Copts gathered at the Clerical Council of Saint Mark’s Cathedral to lobby for the right to remarry. The protesters hindered Bishop Paul and other priests from leaving the building.
They also sought the removal of Bishop Paul for his lack of support for divorce and remarriage. One protestor, Michael Hanna told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “[Bishop Paul] allows divorces and marriage for people with power and influence, but not to the poor. We have raised many complaints against him, which the pope does not consider.”
At that time a source from the Clerical Council told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “The Church does not discriminate between its disciples and has trust in Bishop Paul.”
Michael Malek, 28, who was not at the rally, told We News, “The pope has addressed this issue many, many times in his meetings. He frequently gets this question: ‘Will you allow divorce in the Orthodox faith?’ He says: ‘It’s in the Bible and there is no divorce. If you can’t live with it, you can go to another church that allows it. But don’t ask to remain [a Copt] and get a divorce.”