Egypt's ruling party paper said today that Pope Shenouda III, patriarch of the 5 million Egyptian Christian Copts, had been "advised" to stay in his monastery and was "not allowed" to travel either to Cairo or Alexandria, apparently effectively banishing him from the church.
The National Democratic Party organ Mayo also said the pope's official papal seal no longer had any value, and that he was told not to see any congregations.
The disclosure of these additional measures came two days after President Anwar Sadat announced the annulment of a 1971 government decree giving official state recognition to the election of Shenouda as the 117th patriarch of the Orthodox Coptic Church. He has said a commission of five bishops was being set up to take over papal duties.
Despite this apparent disestablishment of Pope Shenouda, a church spokesman said yesterday that he was still regarded as the spiritual leader of the church and the "pope of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark." He said the commission Sadat was establishing would handle only administrative duties and relations with the state.
To all appearances, the position and powers of Pope Shenouda are subject to different interpretations, with Sadat no longer regarding him as the patriarch while the church hierarchy still does, at least in spiritual matters.
Whether a real confrontation was developing between the church and the state over the pope's status was not immediately clear.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has taken its first steps since Sadat's speech to tighten control over mosques controlled by Moslem fundamentalist groups and their clerics. The official government news agency said the first 65 of 40,000 privately-run mosques were being put under government supervision and that only preachers authorized by the ministry or the Al Ahzar University would be allowed to speak from now on after prayer services on Friday.
Last week Sadat ordered the arrest of more than 1,500 religious extremists, both Christian and Moslem, and various opposition elements, including lawyers, journalists and politicians. He also took a number of other measures to halt the sectarian strife afflicting the country, including the closing of 13 religious extremist societies and seven religious and political publications.