Sources close to decision making circles in the Coptic Church say there is no rush to elect a new patriarch following the death of Pope Shenouda III, and that electing a president for Egypt should probably come first.
Church sources said today that some religious leaders have expressed the preference to delay the election of the next patriarch of the Coptic Church beyond the election of a new president for Egypt.
This means that the election of the next Coptic Pope would not take place before July, if the new president is sworn into office on 1 July as scheduled.
“Many inside the (leadership of the) church say it is better to elect the president of the state before the election the head of the Coptic Church,” said one source.
According to this and other church sources, it is not perceived as particularly wise within the top ranks of the Coptic Church to hurry in electing the next Pope while the state remains without a president.
“At this point in time, Copts want to assert their Egyptian affiliation and to be focused on the presidential elections until it is done and then attend to the election of a new Pope.”
The Coptic Church leadership had already assigned an “acting Pope” who headed mass held this morning for the deceased patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, and who would head the Easter Mass late next month.
The rules allow for a relatively long transition between the death of one patriarch and the election of another. Pope Shenouda III himself was elected in October 1971, seven month after the death of his predecessor, Pope Kyrolos, in March of the same year. Only in November was Pope Shenouda III officially seated as the patriarch of the Coptic Church.
“There have been attempts and calls, especially on the side of secular Copts, to rectify the bill that regulates the election of the Pope and this amendment can only be passed if ratified by the head of a state,” said another church source.
He added that it is doubtful that the new president would jump into an inter-Coptic debate over the method of the election of the Pope. “This is a minefield that nobody would want to enter,” he stated.
However, according to the same source, if there are enough voices from within the church leadership supporting the amendments, the new head of state would be in a safe position to support the rectification of the bill.
Many in the Coptic Church leadership and in the quarters of Coptic Youth groups are calling for patience in the election of the new Pope. As per the current method of election, a child picks a piece of paper that has the name of one of three candidates put forward by the General Congregation. This assures, sources say, “the hand of God” in the choice.
The nomination of the General Congregation of the Church, the same sources suggest, would ultimately be influenced by the overall political atmosphere in the country. It would also, they add, be influenced by grief over the deceased Pope that could perhaps favour some candidates simply because of their close association with the dead patriarch.
At this moment, there are three key names that are being spoken of as successors for Pope Shenouda III: Basnati and Moussa, known for their overall theological lenience, and Bishoi, who is known to be more of a hawk.
The style and character of the next Pope would have an influence that goes beyond the spiritual leadership of Egypt’s approximately 10 million Copts, in and outside Egypt. It would, as the case had been both with Pope Kyrolos and Pope Shenouda, influence the rapport between the Church and the state, and between Copts and Muslims.