CAIRO -- The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church accused President Mohamed Morsi's government on Tuesday of "delinquency" and "misjudgments" for failing to prevent sectarian street-fighting that escalated into an attack on the church's main cathedral after a funeral mass over the weekend, leaving at least six Christians dead.
"This is the first time the main Coptic Orthodox Cathedral has been attacked in Egypt's history," the church leader, Pope Tawadros II, said in a television interview, faulting Mr. Morsi's government for failing to act fast enough to control the violence.
Direct criticism of the government by an Egyptian church leader was all but unheard-of under former President Hosni Mubarak, whose ouster two years ago ended the fear of reprisals from the authorities that had helped silence church officials and others. But the pope's comments also highlighted the growing anxieties among Christian leaders about the subsequent rise to power of Mr. Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and his Islamist allies.
The weekend violence was the first major test of Mr. Morsi's stated commitment to protect Egypt's Christian minority. Riot police officers deployed to stop the clashes outside the cathedral appeared to join rock-throwing youth battling Christian mourners inside. Police officers showered the cathedral with tear gas, and some entered the sanctuary.
"The security entities played a role, and this role might be incomplete and raises a suspicion of delinquency or misjudgment of the matters," the pope said. "And I think that the whole thing could have been contained if there was some kind of determination and some kind of correct decision in the right time."
President Morsi ordered an investigation and renewed his commitment to protecting Egyptian Christians as well as Muslims. In a phone call with the Coptic pope on Sunday, Mr. Morsi said he took any attack on the cathedral as a personal attack against himself. But such expressions of solidarity were insufficient, the pope said Tuesday.
"I appreciate the sentiments of the president," he said. "But sentiments aren't at all enough in such matters. There must be conclusive and clear decisions."
The pope urged public officials to protect Egypt's image, which he said was suffering from a general state of instability and lawlessness. "And the failure we have witnessed in the pictures and on television screens, this inaction is humiliating for Egypt and for the image of the state in general."
Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million citizens. Pope Towadros II promised around the time of his ordination a few months ago that he would speak out for Coptic concerns, but that he would no longer play an active partisan political role as his predecessor did, including endorsing former President Mubarak for re-election.
State news media reported Tuesday that the pope had postponed an appearance so that he could express his condolences for the victims and had withdrawn from public view. His predecessor sometimes used the same gesture as a tacit protest against Mr. Mubarak's government.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.