The head of the Egyptian Coptic Church threatened Tuesday to excommunicate priests who perform second marriages after a court ruled that divorced Copts could remarry.
Pope Shenouda III strongly condemned the verdict issued last month, which he said goes against the law of the Bible. He said priests who perform these marriages, along with those requesting to remarry, will not be allowed to enter the church again as they are considered "deviants." He explained only those divorced on grounds of adultery can remarry.
"The issue of remarriage for those divorced is a specifically religious matter that only the Bible can dictate," Shenouda said.
The ruling, which has sparked anger in the Coptic community, is seen by some as an attack against the church by the state.
Shenouda warned that this ruling endangers the church's relations with the state and could alienate Copts. While Islam is the dominant religion of Egypt, Copts make up less than 10 percent of the population and they often feel underrepresented.
"The outcome of this decision is very bad. Causing a rift in society is not in the country's interest," Shenouda said.
According to al-Ahram, a state-owned newspaper, judges of the Higher Administrative Court defended the ruling, stating that it was passed in accordance with the Egyptian constitution, which gives every citizen the right to start a family.
However, the pope said any legal verdicts that go against the Bible and the decrees of the church are "unacceptable" to the Coptic conscience.
Youssef Sidhom, a member of the Copts' secular council, said the Coptic Church should have the same right to decide on civil matters for its community as Egypt's al-Azhar institution, which gives such guidance to Sunni Muslims.
"The Pope has every right to condemn such a verdict as it's a direct attack against the church," Sidhom said. "It is a blow to the church's body. Marriage cannot go against the Bible and this new verdict does just that."