Tuesday 11 September 2012

Papal Selection

The Papal Selection Process
For the Coptic Orthodox Church
An Explanation by HG Bishop Angaelos
General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

1.     The vacancy of the See of Saint Mark
2.     The electoral process
3.     Those eligible to vote
4.     Diagrammatic timeline

1. The vacancy of the See of Saint Mark
Over the past two thousand years, the Coptic Orthodox Church has existed in Egypt, and since that time there has been an unbroken line of shepherds of the Church, commencing with the great evangelist Saint Mark, and extending to His Holiness, the late Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark.

After the departure of His Holiness on 17 March 2012, we find ourselves in need of a shepherd for the Church, and are confident that God, who promises that He will never leave us orphans, will provide a shepherd according to His own heart.
Over the coming months, the Holy Synod (the council of metropolitans and bishops of the Coptic Orthodox Church), the General Lay Council (the long-existing body of laity that sees to the administrative matters of the Church) and the Coptic community in general will be called to faithfully carry out their part in placing our desires before God according to His instruction to us, while at the same time being prayerfully confident that He will be with us every step of the way. What we must also remember is that this process leads up to the Altar Ballot at the final stage, through which God will choose the right shepherd for us.

2. The electoral process
The process for electing the new pope was formulated by the Coptic Orthodox Church and made law by the Egyptian Parliament, creating the 1957 Statute. This statute requires that within seven days of the passing of the Pope, the most senior metropolitan of the Holy Synod calls a meeting of the Holy Synod in order to elect an Interim Patriarch. HE Metropolitan Mikhail of Assiut, the most senior metropolitan, delegated HE Metropolitan Pakhomious to convene the meeting. At that joint meeting of the Holy Synod and the General Lay Council of 22 March 2012, HE Metropolitan Pakhomious was unanimously voted as Interim Patriarch.

At the same meeting, the Nominations Committee was appointed by the Holy Synod, and its role is to receive and process nominations for Papacy from the Holy Synod and the General Lay Council. This Committee comprises eighteen members in total, nine from the Holy Synod and nine from the General Lay Council.
Out of respect for the memory of our departed father His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and the feelings of the Church in general, the Holy Synod unanimously decided that it would not make or receive nominations until the forty-day memorial period for His Holiness was concluded on 26 April 2012. This period has now come to an end, and nominations are being received by the Nominations Committee.

Candidates, who must be at least forty years of age and have been in monasticism for at least 15 years, can be nominated by either six members of the Holy Synod or twelve members of the General Lay Council. Nominations are accepted by the Nominations Committee for up to sixty days after the departure of the late Pope.
The Nominations Committee considers all nominations and applies the criteria previously decided by the Holy Synod to all nominees. This committee accordingly undertakes an elimination process until a final list of candidates is determined. These names are then publicly announced and posted for a fifteen-day period, during which time challenges by eligible voters may be presented to the Nominations Challenges Committee. This committee comprises three members of the Holy Synod and two members of the General Lay Council.

There is a thirty-day period for the processing of objections and appeals against those objections, after which the ruling of this committee is final and a list of five to seven candidates is announced. A date is then determined for the papal elections; this date should be no more than thirty days after the determination of the names of those candidates.
On the first Sunday after the announcement of the election results, the names of the three candidates who receive the most votes are placed on the altar at a Liturgy celebrated by all the members of the Holy Synod and thousands of Coptic faithful.  At the end of that Liturgy, one of the three names is chosen from upon the altar, known as the 'Altar Ballot'; usually by a child. This is done by the drawing of one of the three folded papers, each containing one candidate’s name; the folded paper is then opened, the name read out and held up to display before the people, announcing the next shepherd of the Coptic Orthodox Church as the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark. To finalise the process the other two papers are also opened.

3. Those eligible to vote
Running parallel to this process is the appointment of those who will vote in the papal election, and this is administered by an Electoral Committee that is made up of members of the Holy Synod and General Lay Council.

Each diocese is represented by twelve lay members as well as members of clergy with official roles. Once the lists of those nominated to vote are presented to the Electoral Committee, that committee ascertains their eligibility and compliance with the general criteria in accordance with the statute. Once the final list is published and posted, there is a subsequent fifteen-day period for other voters to make any challenge to the proposed voters in writing to the Electoral Committee. Again, only those eligible to vote can object.
Those eligible to vote are: members of the Holy Synod, current and former members of the General Lay Council, twelve representative lay members from every diocese, specific members of Clergy who hold official responsibilities within the diocese, current and former Christian government ministers and members of the Egyptian parliament, as well as Christian Journalists who work for daily newspapers and are registered with the Egyptian Press Association.

One matter that has been considered quite closely by the Holy Synod and the Electoral Committee is that of dioceses and parishes outside Egypt. When this process was formulated in 1957, there were only a handful of these parishes, but they now number in the hundreds, serving between ten and fifteen percent of Coptic Orthodox Christians globally.
For the purposes of this election, where there are existing dioceses outside Egypt, these are treated in the same manner as those in Egypt with respect to the assignment of voters to represent that diocese; but where there are churches that do not fall within a particular diocese they are grouped within a long-term diocesan model and are treated as papal dioceses such as Cairo or Alexandria. In this case, they are also assigned twelve voters to represent them.

For the purposes of the papal elections, the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland are divided into four dioceses, and within each diocese those eligible to vote are: the bishop, twelve lay voters representing the diocese, and priests who hold official responsibilities. According to the papal election process, there may be, if the bishop chooses, a Consultative Committee of five lay members to assist him in determining the twelve voters from the diocese. The final voter selection represents as wide a demographic distribution as possible, taking into account parishes, geography, gender and age.
The entire electoral process is estimated to take approximately six months, with the expectation that the elections will be held around September 2012, subject to any extensions or unexpected delays. All dioceses will vote on the same day, and the Holy Synod will decide the voting day pursuant to the statute.

Within these steps we find a robust process that includes: nominations from peers within the Holy Synod, nominations from laity through the General Lay Council, systematic scrutiny with a process of challenges and appeals, representative democratic election, and above all, the Altar Ballot that encompasses this whole process with a spirit of prayer and trustful submission to the will of God.

4. Diagrammatic Timeline
While the chronological order of stages will not change, these dates are set based on the stipulation of the electoral statute and may change as committees find the need for extensions to their allotted timescale, which will in turn have an effect upon the following stages.