CAIRO - The head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church has strongly rejected a court order obliging the church to let followers remarry after obtaining a civil divorce, the semi-official al-Akhbar reported Friday.
"Granting divorces falls within the jurisdiction of the court, but it has no authority to carry out marriages," Pope Shenuda III told the paper. "Only the church has that authority."
Shenuda was commenting on a controversial ruling by the administrative judicial court on Tuesday.
Most churches, including the Coptic Church, seldom grant divorce and allow divorcees to remarry only under strict conditions. These include a marriage being terminated due to adultery or a member converts to another religion.
The church, said Shenuda, was "implementing the teachings of the Holy Bible with regard to the issue of marriage. And the Bible does not approve divorce except in the case of adultery or change of religion."
Shenuda first criticised the court ruling during his weekly sermon and meeting with the faithful on Wednesday, which also included a warning to priests who may be tempted to heed the order.
"Be assured. No power on earth can force on the church anything against the teachings of the gospels or the Church," the independent Al-Masri al-Youm quoted the pope as telling his flock.
"The Church will never wed divorcees ... regardless of the court rulings," he added.
Many Copts face a dilemma as a result of the church's uncompromising stance, with the many caught up between loyalty to the church and the desire to terminate troubled marriages at any cost.
The Church's following, which it claims to account for around 10 percent of the country's 73 million citizens, has dwindled over the issue, as many who want to get on with their lives are forced to convert to other faiths.