With the end of the 40-day mourning period for Shenouda last month, the process of nominations for the papal throne has begun. Recently a church spokesman indicated that there were already 14 names of bishops and priests placed in nomination, with nominations open until May 17. As is traditional the Acting Pope or locum tenens, Bishop Bakhomious, has refused nomination as he will oversee the process.
I discussed the overall election process just after Shenouda died. The process will identify nominees and winnow them down to a final three (or possibly four) candidates. These names will be placed in a box on the high altar of the Cathedral of Saint Mark, and a randomly chosen child will be blindfolded and will draw one name. This so-called "altar lot" is seen as guaranteeing that the Holy Spirit oversees the final choice, though the hierarchy and the faithful have chosen the candidates.
|The Holy Synod: Is the Next Pope One of These Men?|
The Middle East News Agency (MENA) recently identified the bishops it called the top three candidates; there seems to be a general agreement these three are the most prominent, so I thought I'd briefly discuss them here. If you want a broader range of potential Popes, see this group of profiles by Hani Labib. Or you can browse the biographies of the members of the Holy Synod. (Mostly Arabic.)
The three identified by MENA and most other discussions as the front-runners (though they may not turn out to be the three whose names go into the lot box) are Metropolitan Bishoy, Bishop Musa, and Bishop Yuannis. Two are in their 70s and would be unlikely to enjoy the 40-year reign Shenouda did.
All are bishops. An ancient tradition of the Church held that the Pope should be chosen from the monks, not from the bishops, but over the 19th and 20th centuries this was neglected. Shenouda was a General Bishop, which was considered less controversial than choosing the bishop of a geographic diocese. Of these three supposed front-runners, one (Bishoy) is a diocesan bishop (and also holds general jurisdiction as General Secretary of the Holy Synod); the other two are general bishops). Some will prefer to choose a monk, but the reality of the modern church is that the bishops tend to be better known in the church as a whole than all but the most famous monks.
Bishoy has made a number of statements through the years that have alienated Muslims, including a remark that non-Coptic Egyptians were "guests" in the country; he has also written critiques of the Qur'an that offended Muslims. With the rise of Islamist politics, a Pope with a history of confronting Islam could make the Church's already awkward position worse. In addition, Bishoy publicly supported the succession of Gamal Mubarak to the Presidency (as did Shenouda), which hardly makes him an appealing figure post-revolution. Nor are his relations with other Christians smooth, despite being in charge of outreach to other churches: he has questioned whether Catholics and Eastern Orthodox can be saved (though Shenouda worked hard at improving relations with both communions). He has indicated that a Copt who marries a Protestant is committing adultery.
So, while he is well-known and very high-profile, he also has high negatives.
Bishop Musa, 74, General Bishop for Youth Affairs, is another popular figure with an important distinction:
If other candidates emerge as the process evolves, I'll talk about them here.