Coptic Church Experiences Its Own #MeToo Movement

We applaud the brave survivors of sexual abuse who have stepped forward and forced the Coptic Church in the United States to reckon with sexual abuse and cover-up within its own ranks. We hope that church officials will learn from the failures of other religious institutions and immediately seek to cooperate with secular officials who can help root out abusers and enablers and create an environment that is safer for children and vulnerable adults.

The reckoning in the Coptic Church began with posts on social media from a brave survivor in Florida, Sally Zakhari, who went public with her story of abuse at the hands of Father Reweiss Aziz Khalil. We know that abusers rarely have only one victim and that once one victim comes forward to tell their story, others often follow. We hope that anyone who was hurt by Fr. Khalil will be inspired by Sally’s bravery and will report to local police and prosecutors with their own experiences.

In this specific case, Coptic leaders acted quickly once the allegations were made public and moved to strip Fr. Khalil of his powers immediately, although apparently this had already been done with little effect six years earlier. We hope that this signals that officials will also be open to Sally’s call to excommunicate all the current abusers within the Coptic Church. There is no doubt that her public outcry for change forced church leaders to act much more quickly and decisively then they have in the past. These same church leaders must now undo the damage that has been done by their reticence to act, and the best way to do this is to work with trained investigators in law enforcement to identify and punish those responsible for cases of sexual abuse.

Children are safer when abusers are identified, enablers are removed from positions of power, and public calls are made for survivors to come forward. Coptic Church officials in the US should be working with law enforcement in their respective states to bring about independent investigations that can help create safer environments and communities.

CONTACT: Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Orthodox Leader (msakoda@snapnetwork.org, 925-708-6175), Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member (dmcnevin@aol.com, 415.341.6417), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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  • Karim Morgan
    commented 2020-08-18 12:00:50 -0500
    Allow me, if I may please, to clarify a few points that have been confused. The confusion stems from an intentional attempt by the Church hierarchy, with the Papacy at the forefront of the effort, to obfuscate the truth, deceive, and divide us.

    The issue being confused here is what disciplinary action was taken by the hierarchy against the rapist, and when. The seeds of confusion were sown by apologists early on and propagated in the Papal decree from July 2020 announcing the defrocking of the condemned child rapist. In that letter, reference is made to a previous defrocking in 2014. The action taken in 2020 is referred to in terms of “laicization”.

    Simply put, defrocking IS laicization. Defrocking, or the ordering the priest to remove the priesthood frock, results in the loss of priesthood status, thereby returning the individual to his original status of layman. It follows, therefore, that one cannot be defrocked/laicized, more than once, at least not without having been re-frocked/re-ordained again into the priesthood.

    Furthermore, the July 2020 document refers to a document issued in 2014, also under signature and seal of Pope Tawadrous as evidence of this false 2014 defrocking. The February 2014 document, although in Arabic, is readily available for your review, as it was released by the official spokesperson of the Church, ironically (or ignorantly) in defence of the Pope against claims of inaction, negligence and cover-up.

    A simple reading of the 2014 document reveals that, in fact, there was NO defrocking ordered. The document confirms, explicitly in no uncertain terms, that the priest was investigate and confronted in 2013 and condemned after the allegations levied against him were found to be true. The document further explicitly confirms that the disciplinary action, if you can call it that, taken against the now condemned child rapist, was an “oral suspension” from “priesthood duties”. A suspension from priesthood duties amounts to a prohibition from the performance of formal sacramental and liturgical services. It is a far cry from a defrocking/laicization.

    The 2014 letter, then goes on to formalize that suspension by putting it in writing. There was no escalation in disciplinary action despite the letter clearly indicating that the condemned child rapist had completely disregarded the initial oral decree and continued on performing his full duties in various parts of Egypt, Canada, and the USA.

    The 2014 letter then goes on to request that the condemned child rapist return from the USA to Egypt to continue his “other duties”. I truly wonder what those included. Perhaps Sunday School or the Youth Ministry. Those would certainly not be included under the heading of “priesthood duties” as evidenced by the thousands of laymen and women who serve faithfully in those capacities in our many churches.

    In short, there is no order, or even a threat made, to defrock the condemned child rapist in 2013 when he was condemned or 2014 when it became even clearer that he was incorrigible.

    The Pope himself, when asked in a nationally televised interview, openly confirmed that the Church had knowledge of this child rapist since 1997 and that he had blatantly disregarded any and all attempts to “discipline him” including the suspension and recall to Egypt in 2013 and 2014. The Pope did not, nor could he, refer to any previous defrocking prior to the 2020 order.

    As a matter of fact, he readily admitted in the interview that the order in 2020 to defrock the priest was a result of the pressure put on the Church hierarchy recently as a result of Sally Zakhari’s campaign to expose them. He described the people putting on such pressure as conspirators aiming to undermine his authority. He indicated some of their identities were known and that legal action would be taken against them.

    I leave it to you and your readers to confirm the veracity of this information.

    Secondarily, I would like to point out that his defrocking did not amount to excommunication either.

    Excommunication refers to a prohibition made against a believer prohibiting him or her from partaking in the Sacraments of the Church. It is a measure taken against those who are seen to be “heretical” or who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit” and have no intention to repent. It is akin to an amputation of an infected appendage as the excommunicated person is physically prevented from partaking in the Body of the Church.

    While the investigative report released implied that this child rapist was a recidivist who clearly had no intention of changing his evil ways, and implied that excommunication was, in fact, a potentially appropriate, it was not ordered at all. As such, he is free to attend all Church services and partake of the Sacraments the same as any other layman.
  • Andrew A
    commented 2020-08-13 15:53:33 -0500
    A correction: they were notified in 2002 but official defrocking statements didnt come out until 2014, then again in 2020. In 2002 instead of going to the police, the Bishops instead shipped him back to Egypt.

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