51. Marriage and divorce between the church rules and the judiciary rulings

Article summary: 

The controversial court ruling that was issued recently is still creating heated discussions in Coptic and judicial milieus. While some think it is binding and necessary, religious sources reject it because it is a violation of the Biblical teaching.

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After Pope Shenouda’s adamant rejection of the Supreme Administrative Court ruling allowing Copts divorcees to remarry, the State Deputies Board at the State Council issued a new national announcement asserting the pope’s right to issue a permission that allows Coptic divorcees, upon obtaining a court ruling, to remarry.
In a related context, Councilor Ramsīs al-Najjār filed an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court against a ruling that obliges Pope Shenouda to permit a second marriage to a Coptic divorcee, which is, according to church, a violation of the Holy Bible. The ruling moreover, obliges the priest to execute the ruling, considering him to be a government employee.
Ākhir Sā‘ah of March 26, 2008, published that Councilor al-Najjār stated that the reason for filing the appeal is that the ruling was against the Bible, as Pope Shenouda had previously asserted. For, divorce can only take place in cases of adultery, as outlined in the law of 1938. [To read more on the 1938 law see AWR, 2007, week 41, article 13]
Councilor al-Najjār also explained that a priest who has a marriage register actually has two jobs; the first is that of a government employee and the second is his job as a clergyman. Consequently, al-Najjār elaborated: "My appeal is to clarify that the court ruling is binding for the priest as an employee but not as a clergyman." Thus, the priest is going to execute the civil procedures on papers but will never perform the religious marriage where the church’s spiritual and religious permission is necessary. Consequently the marriage is annulled.
Father Ibrāhīm Fahmī, stated that marriage can never be registered without the patriarchate’s permission because it is one of the church’s sacraments. As such, even the civil procedures cannot be performed in the church.
Bishop Marqus of Shubrā al-Khaymah stated that the documentation of marriage is an additional task that the priest does and it is not binding; for priests do not earn any money by doing it. At the same time, Bishop Marqus declared that he had expected that the judicial authorities would refer to the church before issuing such a ruling, adding that the church does not approve of the 1938 law.
Meanwhile, Ākhir Sā‘ah presented the points of view of a number of Coptic laymen. Dr. Girgis Kāmil, presented as a theological researcher, thinks that the appeal of Dr. al-Najjār is a sort of manipulation of the law and an attempt to put priests into an even harder situation because he has made priesthood a civil employment, which as such, lessens its importance while a priest is the servant of God. Dr. Kāmil thinks that al-Najjār is following Pope Shenouda III who has made priests employees. That is why, Dr. Kāmil argues, there is a compelling need to go into the crux and the spirit of the Biblical texts to realize a kind of approximation between the church and civil laws.
Moreover, Kamāl Gabriel, a member of the Coptic laymen group states that instead of appealing against the court ruling in a way that makes priests employees let them look to make the state permit civil marriage officially in Egypt.
Gabriel stated: "clergymen have turned our lives into a nightmare, and if the government permitted civil marriage it will add to the construction of the civil state and leave the problems to the Copts themselves and the church."
In the same context, Councilor ‘Ādil Farghalī, vice president of the State Council and head of the fatwá committee stated that the rulings issued by the Supreme Administrative Court cannot be appealed against except in exceptional cases such as the annulment of a ruling due to errors in its conditions, for example when it is issued by a jury of only three judges when it needs five.
He added that the ruling depended on the law of 1938 that was issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church Community Council [Reviewer: the law was approved by the community council and the judiciary institutions but not by the church.]
Farghalī added that if Pope Shenouda refused to execute the ruling in any case he will be subject to penalties such as imprisonment or isolation, if the person who asks for a second marriage, according to a court ruling, filed a claim against the pope.
Farghalī finally added that it is God’s will, if the ruling was defective, adding that the appeal will serve to delay the effectuation of the ruling and not annul it.
Al-Jumhūrīyah of March 27, 2008 published the comments of Coptic personalities. Coptic thinker Najīb Jibrā’īl, chairman of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights described the ruling of March 1, 2008 as serious and unprecedented, stating that the judiciary has no authority over the religious authorities and that giving the church permission for marriage is a purely religious affair whereby the pope is applying Biblical provisions. Jibrā’īl added that the pope is not the employee of a government institution, and consequently, as a church leader, he is not subject to object laws.
Kamāl Zākhir Mūsá called for the establishment of a special committee at the people’s assembly to discuss the issue thoroughly, stating that it is necessary to allow divorce to avoid complicated domestic conditions in cases where marital life is becoming impossible.
With regard to the law of 1938, Father Salīb Mattá declared that it was annulled by article number six of the law number 362 issued in 1955 which stated that non Muslims are judged according to their own laws, consequently the court ruling depended on an annulled law, hence, it is defective.
An the protestant level, Dr. Ikrām Lam‘ī of the Protestant Church resumed his anthology on ’marriage and divorce in Christianity,’ published in Rose al-Yūsuf of March 24, 2008. In his second article, Dr. Lam‘ī argues that the church’s role is to take care of its children as well as teach them. He referred to the proverb of the prodigal son to state that a divorcee is a prodigal son who is sick and facing hardships that can not be solved except by a second marriage. In this case, Dr. Lam‘ī argues, is the church going to reject him and leave him out suffering? Or host him and offer to help him to live in better conditions?
Then Dr. Lam‘ī discussed the relationship between the church and the state as depicted in the Bible. He states that the church is independent from politics. However, he stated that the church is equivalent to society’s conscience that defends its morals and the rights of its people.
He also highlighted the biblical verses that call for obeying the ruler and the government, concluding with the question: "What if the ruler’s decision was opposite to the Divine Commandment? What would the church’s attitude be then? What has the church done in this response so far?

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