Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Out of the cloister

On 3 June Pope Tawadros II’s weekly sermon was cancelled and four men arrested at St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. Michael Adel reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Members of a group calling itself the Victims of Personal Status had gathered in the courtyard of the St Mark’s Cathedral ahead of Pope Tawadros’s weekly sermon. As the Pope began the service one of them began to shout, “I want my rights! I want to marry!” Other men in the group chimed in with protest chants. Security personnel tried to remove the protesters at which point the Pope decided to cancel his sermon and leave.

Chants of “apply article 38 of the Personal Status Laws” and “we want to marry” continued until the Cathedral’s security called the police who arrived quickly and arrested four protesters.

Church sources say the Clerical Council is currently overseeing all outstanding personal status cases, and has appointed six subsidiary councils to examine individual cases. They add that a new personal status law, the final draft of which has been completed by Anba Paul, Bishop of Tanta, and submitted to Pope Tawadros, is now awaiting approval from the coming parliament and once approved will help resolve many long-pending appeals for divorce.

The new, 135-article Personal Status Law for Copts expands the grounds for annulment of marriage to include abandonment, defined as absence from the conjugal home for three years. Other grounds for divorce include apostasy, homosexuality, conversion from Christianity, adultery, elopement by one of the spouses.

Anba Paul says the new personal status law is based on Biblical teachings with regard to marriage and divorce. He notes that the Pope’s decision to create six subsidiary councils was motivated by a desire to facilitate procedures for litigants and expedite the resolution of their cases.

The six clerical councils for personal status affairs of members of the Coptic Orthodox Church issued a statement in response to last Wednesday’s demonstrations at the Cathedral. Signed by Anba Daniel, head of the Clerical Council, Anba Bakhoum, Bishop of Sohag and Anba Theodoseus, Bishop of Giza, it read: “We have seen and watched, with great dismay, the disturbance created by certain individuals during the sermon by Pope Tawadros, leading to the interruption of the sermon despite the constructive efforts the Pope has undertaken to solve accumulated personal status problems.”

The statement concluded with a reminder to the Coptic Orthodox congregation that legitimate channels established by the Church enable individuals to present their ideas freely without obstructing rites of worship.

Magdi Kamel, a founding member of Victims of Personal Status, says the decision to stage a demonstration on Cathedral grounds was taken after all other attempts to communicate with the Pope and express the grievances of group members failed. We have been waited patiently for the Clerical Council to fulfil its promises, he added, yet nothing has happened. “

Kamel says the group’s basic demand is a return to Personal Status Law 38, applied before Shenouda III became pope, which allowed eight specific grounds for divorce.

“Reducing the grounds for divorce exclusively to adultery has caused untold harm,” says Kamel.

He wants to see Copts in Egypt treated as Copts are abroad “where marriage occurs in accordance with the laws of the state and the church intervenes, according to the wishes of the spouses, solely to bless the marriage.”

Group member Magdi Nasr says when Cathedral security guards surrounded them a security officer suggested they nominate four people to act as spokesmen. Nasr was one of the four. He soon realised, though, that they were not spokesmen. Instead the four men were taken to Al-Wayli Police station and charged with disturbing the peace.

A statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church said the Pope cancelled his weekly sermon after a number of individuals created a disturbance and raised their voices in a manner “inappropriate to the dignity of the House of God.” It added that despite the efforts on the part of priests to contain the situation and restore calm the commotion continued, leading the Pope to cancel his sermon.

Group member Hani Ezzat says Victims of Personal Status are planning to hold a press conference in which they intend to outline legal actions to be taken against Anba Paul, both in his capacity as the Clerical Council official responsible for personal status cases, and in a personal capacity for “threatening the general peace of the Christian family.” He added the press conference would also highlight instances of deception and double standards.

In coordination with the Centre for Women’s Cases, the group hopes to hold a seminar to discuss problems related to the personal status of Copts. The Minister of Transitional Justice is among the invitees.

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