A bearded Christian monk lies dead in a pool of blood. A younger monk who clashed with him is defrocked. Another tries to kill himself. Now Coptic Christians in Egypt are grappling with this murder-at-the-monastery scandal as authorities suggest possible motives, the New York Times reports. Bishop Epiphanius, abbot at the Monastery of St. Macarius north-west of Cairo, was found murdered outside his cell July 29, apparently beaten with a blunt object. Days later, Coptic officials defrocked another monk, Isaiah al-Makari, who had argued with 64-year-old Epiphanius for weeks before the killing. Then a third monk, Faltaeous al-Makary, 33, slashed his wrists and tried throwing himself off a monastery roof—but lived. All very murky, until prosecutors said al-Makari confessed to the killing.
"The devil controlled the monk," says Al-Makari's lawyer, per the Guardian; he later alluded to "conflicts between the bishop and the other monks." Coptic monks, officials, and experts have floated other Earth-bound theories like financial wrongdoing and a possible close relationship between the two monks. There's also the decades-long, Coptic Orthodox theological dispute that pits conservatives against reformers like Epiphanius, notes the Tablet. Now the Copts—who comprise about 10% of Egypt's population and often face persecution—are enduring their first major scandal since a former cleric was caught having sex with a woman on a church altar in 2001. "We have problems," says a monk at the fourth-century Saint Macarius monastery. "But we do not want to speak about it." (More Egypt stories.)