Electing New Coptic Pope May Take Months
Published Monday, March 19, 2012
The Coptic Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod announced the appointment of Archbishop Anba Pachomeus as acting patriarch for two months until a new pope is elected.
The door for nominations will open next Thursday. Pachomeus was chosen after Anba Mikhail declined to accept the role for health reasons.
Choosing the pope will be based on the 1957 patriarch election bylaws. This law states that elections will be held among the members of the Holy Synod. This body is made up of 74 bishops including 12 metropolitan archbishops, 39 diocesan bishops, and 9 abbots of monasteries, in addition to the 15 diaspora bishops.
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Add to these Coptic notables, such as ministers and prominent families, journalists, lawyers, and members of parliament, who also have a say in the process. Twelve notables are selected to represent each archdiocese in the papal vote.
The election process may take several months, as the bylaws do not set a time limit for selecting a new pope. Electing Pope Shenouda III in 1971 took seven months after the death of his predecessor Pope Kyrillos.
Candidates, according to the patriarch election bylaws, are chosen among monks and archbishops who are at least 40 years old, have been monks for at least 15 years, are not responsible for a diocese, and have never been married.
There are about 100 bishops that meet these conditions.
But there are three bishops whose names have come up frequently and they are Bishop Bishoy, secretary of the Holy Synod, Bishop Youanes, the pope’s secretary, and Bishop Moussa, the head of Youth Bishopric.
According to the bylaws, members of the Holy Synod vote for the candidates on the same day and in the presence of a delegate from the interior ministry.
Those who wish can nominate themselves or they can be nominated by others. Then the names of the three candidates with the most votes are announced.
On the Sunday that follows the elections, the pope is chosen from among the three candidates by “drawing the lots in the sanctuary.”
The names of the three candidates are written on folded papers and a child selects one of them. This allows for “divine participation in the selection,” according to one of the Church officials.
Elections are held at every Coptic church in the world under the auspices of a tripartite committee appointed by the bishop to whom the church belongs.
These elections should be held no more than two weeks before the election date in Egypt to send the results via mail.
At the beginning of 2006, there were demands by a lay movement – those who are not members of the clergy such as monks, priests, pastors, and bishops – to amend the patriarch election bylaws.
They asked to “cancel the draw of lots that began in the election of the 115th pope, Pope Yousab or Joseph, to expand the currently narrow voting base that does not exceed 1,000 voters in order to include different groups of Copts.”
They also proposed that the nominated pope “have educational qualifications from Egyptian universities other than his qualifications in theological education and to be at least 50 years old. The position after all, as the title suggests, relies on paternity,” according to Ishak Hanna, an activist in the lay movement.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.