Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Challenging the pope

A Tamarod group within Egypt’s Coptic Church is calling for the resignation of Pope Tawadros II, reports Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

Can you vote a pope out of office, the way you might vote a president or government out of power? Should the Church submit to the wishes of its congregation, even in violation of what it sees as immutable traditions? Can the divinely ordained defer to the secular-minded?
These issues have never before, in the history of the Egyptian Coptic Church, surfaced. Until now. A group calling itself Tamarod, or Rebellion, the name adopted two years ago by the group that called for the downfall of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, is now trying its hand at the new tactic.   
It is still unclear how much traction this group, which is calling for a motion of no confidence in Coptic Pope Tawadros II, will have. What is clear, however, is that critics of the Church are no longer shy about taking their protests into the public sphere.
A Facebook page entitled “Al-Sarkha Lil-Ahwal Al-Shakhsiya”, or “Personal Status Scream,” recently launched a campaign calling for Pope Tawadros II to leave Egypt’s top ecclesiastical office, to which he was elevated 30 months ago.
The unusual challenge to Pope Tawadros II’s authority stems from tensions over the right to divorce, which the Coptic Church continues to curtail. Now a vocal minority in the congregation is pressuring the pope to resign, saying that he has “violated the teachings of Christ.”
Ishaq Francis, the man spearheading the campaign to unseat the pope, says that Tawadros II has “failed to address the problems of the victims of the personal status laws and instead has delivered members of his congregation over to the mercies of the police when they asked to meet him.”
Francis told journalists that Tawadros II has “violated the teachings of Christ, accepted the baptism of Catholics, and is trying to coordinate the date of Easter Sunday with non-Coptic Christian churches.”
The Church reacted to Francis’s remarks with indignation. Its spokesman, Father Boules Halim, said that the decisions of the pope could not be challenged. His name is selected from names proposed by the clergy and prominent members of the congregation and his ordination as pope is not open to revision.
It is the tradition of the Church for the pope to stay in office until the end of his life.
Halim described calls to depose the pope “unreasonable” and “crude.”
The League of Personal Status Victims (LPSV), a group whose grudges against the Church’s handling of divorce matters are a matter of record, also rejected calls to depose the pope, with LPSV leader Hani Ezzat Al-Masri describing them as “absurd”.
Speaking to reporters, Al-Masri said that the pope was a “red line,” in the sense that he must be kept above the fray. The LPSV had grievances, Al-Masri said, but these focused solely on “procrastination and the mismanagement” of personal status matters.
“The LPSV’s objections to the procrastination and mismanagement concerning personal status matters do not constitute a protest against the Church, but only against those who want to derail it,” he remarked.
An LPSV statement noted that some “traitors” want to drag the government into the matter, by claiming that it had “abandoned” Pope Tawadros II. Al-Masri urged the Church’s congregation not to listen to such voices.
Kamal Zakher, founder of the Secular Christian Current (SCC), a Coptic secular group, also rallied to the Church’s side in the dispute. Ecclesiastical affairs must not be treated in the same manner as political disputes, he said.
The Coptic Church Synod denounced the “strange language” used by Francis and his supporters in reference to the Church’s “beloved Pope.”
“Should sons rebel against their father who was chosen by heaven?” the Synod asked on its Facebook page, citing remarks made by the Prophet Samuel to King Saul in the Bible: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king” (Samuel 15:23).
Another Christian group, the Egyptian Copts Coalition (ECC), also took the Church’s side. Francis and his supporters, the ECC said in a statement, had “used misguided methods such as fake Tamarod petitions to force the Church’s hand,” it said.
The “Orthodox Church is patriarchal, and obedience is mandatory,” the ECC asserted. It denounced what it called “abortive attempts” by “suspect individuals” to start “inter-Coptic conflict” in the Church.
The Coptic Christian Youth Movement (CCYM) voiced similar opinions. CCYM founder Nader Sobhi Soliman also mocked Francis, who is currently living abroad.
“How can you collect signatures when you are living in Germany?” Soliman asked.
Political analyst Michel Fahmi described the challenge to the pope’s tenure as the “dumbest in the history of Church.”
Said Fahmi, “It is fine to criticise the conduct of Church leaders, but this should be done in the context of politeness and decorum.”

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