For Coptic Church, changes, questions after priest ouster

Associated Press

October 7, 2020

By Mariam Fam

For 17 years, Sally Zakhari said she told priests and leaders in the Coptic Orthodox Church her childhood nightmare — how a Coptic priest visiting from Egypt sexually abused her at her Florida home during what was supposed to be her first confession.

“I’ve already gone to countless bishops. I’ve already gone to two different popes,” she told The Associated Press. She went to police as well.

She said she watched the priest — Reweis Aziz Khalil — continue serving at Coptic churches. Then, Zakhari aired her allegations on social media in July and Khalil was stripped of his priesthood and ordered to return to his pre-ordination name days later.

In announcing the move, Khalil’s Minya and Abu Qurqas diocese in Egypt mentioned undated complaints by congregants in Egypt as well as from the United States and Canada. A papal decree said disciplinary action had been taken against Khalil in the past for “his repeated infringements.” Neither statement specified the nature of the complaints or “infringements.”

The papal decree said prior action against Khalil included “defrocking him from all ministry” in 2014. It wasn’t clear what that entailed and there were times when Khalil served as priest after 2014.

In response to questions and a request to interview Khalil, his attorney, Michelle Suskauer, said by e-mail: “Mr. Khalil will not be responding to your questions and denies all allegations against him.”

For Egypt’s ancient Coptic Church, which is usually closed about its inner workings, the allegations and the laicization after sexual abuse claims were unusually public and shocked many. In the aftermath, some anti-abuse efforts were announced and questions were raised about oversight and the handling of Zakhari’s allegations.

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