Elections for Pope Shenouda's successor may be postponed: Sources
Dina Ezzat, Sunday 18 Mar 2012
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 CopticChurch beyond the election of a new president for Egypt.

This meansthat the election of the next Coptic Pope would not take place beforeJuly, 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 electthe president of the state before the election the head of the CopticChurch," said one source.

According to this and other church sources, it is not perceived asparticularly wise within the top ranks of the Coptic Church to hurry inelecting the next Pope while the state remains without a president.

"At this point in time, Copts want to assert their Egyptianaffiliation and to be focused on the presidential elections until itis done and then attend to the election of a new Pope."

The Coptic Church leadership had already assigned an "acting Pope" who headedmass 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 ofone patriarch and the election of another. Pope Shenouda III himselfwas elected in October 1971, seven month after the death of hispredecessor, Pope Kyrolos, in March of the same year. Only inNovember was Pope Shenouda III officially seated as the patriarch of theCoptic Church.

"There have been attempts and calls,especially on the side of secular Copts, to rectify the bill thatregulates the election of the Pope and this amendment can only bepassed if ratified by the head of a state," said another churchsource.

He added that it is doubtful that the new president would jumpinto an inter-Coptic debate over the method of the election of thePope. "This is a minefield that nobody would want to enter," hestated.

However, according to the same source, if there are enough voices fromwithin the church leadership supporting the amendments,the new head of state would be in a safe position to support therectification of the bill.

Many in the Coptic Church leadership and in the quarters of CopticYouth 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 paperthat has the name of one of three candidates put forward by theGeneral Congregation. This assures, sources say,"the hand of God" in the choice.

The nomination of the General Congregation of the Church, the samesources suggest, would ultimately be influenced by the overallpolitical atmosphere in the country. It would also, they add, beinfluenced by grief over the deceased Pope that couldperhaps favour some candidates simply because of their close associationwith the dead patriarch.

At this moment, there are three key names that are being spoken of assuccessors 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 thatgoes beyond the spiritual leadership of Egypt's approximately 10 millionCopts, in and outside Egypt. It would, as the case had been both withPope Kyrolos and Pope Shenouda, influence the rapport between theChurch and the state, and between Copts and Muslims.