St Mark Coptic Orthodox Church - CC via Wikimedia Commons/Yasser Nazmi St Mark Coptic Orthodox Church - CC via Wikimedia Commons/Yasser Nazmi

Q&A: Understanding the issue of Coptic divorce in Egypt

Thu, May. 3, 2018
CAIRO – 3 May 2018: The matter of divorces amongst the Coptic community in Egypt has been one of the most troubling issues in the church since 2008; the year in which Pope Shenouda lll of Alexandria proclaimed that divorce must be on the grounds of adultery.

Eight important questions to understand the issue of divorce in the Coptic Church:

Does Christianity allow for divorce?

The matter of divorce is according to the faith and doctrine of each church. In the Catholic Church there is no divorce, but it is possible to annul a marriage. However, in the Orthodox and Evangelical Churches, divorce is possible but under certain terms and conditions.

Why has the personal status issue of the Copts worsened in the recent years?

From 2008 until today, this issue has been complicated owing to Pope Shenouda’s approval of amendments to the Church’s Personal Status Law, prohibiting the divorce of Copts except in two cases. The first is if the husband or the wife committed an affair or the act of adultery, which is hard to prove. The second is if one of the two parties has changed religion.

How was the situation before Shenouda’s decision in 2008?

The Coptic Church depended on a regulation called the 1938 Regulation, which permitted divorce in the case of seven situations: physical abusing, indulging in debauchery, persistence of aversion, absence, imprisonment, infectious disease and insanity. Then came the list of 2008, which limited the permissibility of divorce to indulging in debauchery (adultery), and change in religion only.

What does it mean to change religion?

The union of the family or the community between the spouses is a prerequisite for the completion of the marriage by the church. Thus, in the Coptic Church, if the husband or the wife changes their religion, it is possible to get a annulment. The people who were affected by these kind of personal conditions chose this solution to get out of a failed marriage.

What does the second marriage permit mean?

A divorced Christian is not permitted to remarry unless the church gives one permission to marry again. Marriage and divorce cases are in the hands of the church, which control the documentation and plays the role of marriage registrar in the Real Estate Registration office. Therefore it is not permissible to remarry without the church’s approval.

What do affected people do in this case?

When Pope Shenouda closed the divorcing door, people began to speak out,, protest and organize demonstrations to demand the right to divorce. This issue was resolved in 2016 when the Holy Synod of the Church approved a new list of personal conditions.

What new amendments did the 2016 Regulation issue?

The new list has expanded the grounds permissible for in the Coptic Church, after it had been limited to change in religion and adultery many years. Immigration for five years was considered a reason for adultery, leading to divorce. The church opened more reasons for divorce, including sickness, and atheism, since these reasons hasn’t been covered before. These regulations began to be applied in the seminaries within the Coptic Church without being officially announced.

Has a new law been enacted to introduce these amendments?

The state called on all churches of different dominations to agree on a common law regarding the personal status of Copts. The churches were unable to reach an agreement until today, owing to the difference in the law of every domination in the case of divorce.
 
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