Egypt’s Coptic Orthodod Church Cathedral (R) and Rose Al-Youssef logo (Photo: Ahram Online)
Egyptian state-owned weekly political magazine Rose Al-Youssef pulled on Saturday a controversial cover that was deemed offensive by the Coptic Orthodox Church, one day after the country’s National Press Authority decided to refer its editor-in-chief to investigation over the cover.
The new cover no longer includes an image that accompanied one of the main cover stories, which showed a photo of Anba Raphael, the Bishop-general of Cairo's Downtown Churches, under the headline ‘The Sacred Ignorance: Bishops join forces with coronavirus against the Pope,’ in reference to a controversy over the administering of Holy Communion amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Church had expressed outrage over the original cover, which had an image of its leading bishop alongside a picture of Mohamed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, who is currently serving multiple prison sentences totaling 85 years for involvement in several violent and terrorism-related crimes.
The backtrack comes one day after the NPA ordered the suspension of the editor covering Coptic affairs pending an investigation.
The authority said it will present an official apology to the Church, and the magazine will issue an apology for the "offence" in next week's issue in light of the good relations between the Church and the NPA and the country’s media.
The statement came hours after the Coptic Orthodox Church strongly denounced what it described as an "encroachment" from the state-owned magazine against the Church and one of its priests.
The cover mainly criticises the alleged administering of Holy Communion -- the ceremonial placing of bread into churchgoers’ mouths and the sharing of wine with a common spoon -- by some bishops and priests despite the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the magazine, several bishops, including Anba Raphael, have continued the ritual despite statements by Pope Tawadros II on the possible cancellation of this form of communion during liturgies to avoid spreading the virus.
Regarding the Rose Al-Youssef article, the Church said, "We don’t consider this freedom of speech. This is a grave offence that must not go unpunished. Such irresponsible actions harm social peace where cooperation is needed amid the current circumstances.” The Church added that it has the right to pursue legal action against the magazine.
The coronavirus outbreak has halted communal religious activities in the country, with both Muslim and Coptic houses of worship continue a near three-month closure due to the pandemic.
Last month, the Coptic Orthodox Church said it will extend the suspension of prayers and activities in its churches until 27 June due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The Church has decided to extend the suspension of prayers, with mass celebrations set with a limited attendance of six monks and deacons.
The Church said the decision comes as “daily infections continue to rise towards a peak for an unknown period,” adding that the committee headed by the Pope will meet again on 27 June to reassess the situation.
Egypt has suspended mass prayers at mosques and shut down churches since March in a move aimed at curbing the outbreak of the pandemic in the populous country.
However, the country will review the reopening of places of worship in July in governorates with the least number of coronavirus infections, while applying the preventive and precautionary measures as it eyes a gradual reopening.