CAIRO: Pope Shenouda announced that the Coptic Church in Egypt disapproves of the Higher Civil Court’s ruling that gives divorced Christians the legal right to remarry.
During Wednesday’s weekly sermon at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Pope clearly stated that he would not “allow legally divorced Christians to remarry for as long as [he remained] on this chair.
According to press reports, Pope Shenouda accused the Egyptian government of “negligence, stressing that the government’s personal status laws disregard Christian principles.
According to the Holy Bible, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees if it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife, he replied: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. (Matthew 19:6). This verse is the basis upon which marriage and divorce laws are founded.
In Matthew 19:6, Jesus says: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. And hence, adultery is the only reason that allows the wife of a husband to obtain a lawful divorce decree from the Church.
Remarriage is allowed for the partner who obtained the decree. As for the other partner who committed adultery, remarriage is forbidden.
Both the Catholic and Orthodox Church submit to these rules, which are not adhered to by the Protestant Church.
In Egypt, followers of the Orthodox and Catholic Church seeking to obtain a divorce have often resorted to temporary conversion to Protestantism before returning to their original faith.
However, such tactics have been condemned by the church in recent years and only a handful of people, under very specific circumstances, have been given remarriage licenses by both churches.
This conflict in regulations between the church and the Egyptian legal system is not the first to result from differences between legal rule and Christian dogma.
Legally, a Christian man is allowed to marry a Muslim woman while the Church prohibits such marriages. The Church does not even allow Christian men who marry Muslims to enter the church, since such marriages are seen as a form of adultery.
However, legally-speaking, a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a Christian man, because such unions are forbidden in Islam.
Some observers believe that the reasons for such disparity lie in the fact that one of the principal sources of legislation in Egypt is the Islamic sharia, a fact that is enshrined in Article Two of the constitution.
Gaml Eid, chairman of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Daily News Egypt that the problems between Christians and the state will remain in Egypt “as long as both the government and the church are interfering in the individual’s personal matters, when they should not.
He said that the government should implement civil rights freedom of choice as a source of legislations for the personal status laws to avoid any conflict between the state and religious institutions, whether Muslim or Christian.
Saad Zaghloul, a Coptic appeals court lawyer believes that the decision of the Higher Civil Court could have grave consequences.
The ruling violates and interferes with the laws and rules of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. The court is bluntly abusing the Church, Zaghloul told Daily News Egypt. It’s a clear indication that the court is trying to impose its rules and belief on Christian teachings. With this ruling, it is trying to force both Churches to abide by the sharia principles. On the other hand, both the Court and the executive authority aren t allowed to impose their judgments on Muslim civil affairs where any decisions must first be approved by Dar Al Ifta [official Islamic body issuing religious edicts].
Zaghloul believes that such rulings prove that extremist thinking dominates both the executive and judicial authorities.
But the real catastrophe will occur if the Court insists on its position. The problem is that ruling issued by the Higher Civil Court are final. They can t be overruled or cancelled, Zaghloul said.
The worst case scenario is for the Court to issue another order against the Church and its representative [the Pope], for refusing to submit to its rule, or to sentence the Pope for a year or something. The court has the power to issue such an order now.
A second Higher Court order countering the first one could at least stall it, says Zaghloul, but a firm law would be the only way to end this conflict once and for all.
The Pope proposed a unifying law in the mid-80s that can be used by the Higher Civil Court to avoid all these conflicts for good, Zaghloul said. The documents for this proposal are still lying on the administrative shelves. No one paid attention to them.
However Albert Mashraky, a Coptic engineer, doesn t believe that intentions of the Higher Court are to impose sharia on the church. I think the higher court has witnessed several problems because of the entire Christian divorce quandary and that s why they issued this ruling; to find a solution to this problem.
Nevertheless, he believes no one, including the government, has the right to interfere with the Church s affairs. Marriage and divorce are religious affairs. Christians get married in church, not in police stations, Mashraky told Daily News Egypt. Christians know the rules of the Bible and the Church. Marrying in church means that they completely accept Church laws; they can t simply change their minds later on or try to twist the Bible’s teachings to suit their interests.
Sarah Bishara, a Coptic interior designer, also believes that the government has no right to tell the church what to do.
Yet she believes that individual cases must be judged separately, which is why she thinks a general law is both unreasonable and impractical. The Higher Court oblige the church to grant a marriage license to a man or woman who committed adultery.