Pope meets disgraced archbishop

Milingo faces excommunication for getting married in May

MSNBC News Services/August 7, 2001

Vatican City -- Pope John Paul II met Tuesday with an archbishop threatened with excommunication for having gotten married. The Vatican called the pontiff's meeting with Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo the start of a dialogue "that is hoped can lead to positive developments," a Vatican statement said.

Milingo had sought the papal audience to explain his belief that priests should be allowed to marry and have families, a spokesman for the archbishop, the Rev. Phillip Schanker, said Tuesday.

Schanker said Milingo had consummated his marriage and that he hoped to have a family. "He has begun conjugal life," Schanker said in a telephone interview from Washington D.C.

"He has come to understand that all the blessings of God were meant to be given through the family," Schanker said.

Milingo went to the pontiff's summer residence outside Rome for the first time Monday evening and met with Vatican officials. It was not clear whether the pope received him then.

Schanker said the meeting was arranged through private channels because Milingo's official requests for an audience had been met with silence from the Vatican.

Milingo, wearing a dark suit and open-necked shirt, made no comment when he left the papal villa but tapped his fingers on his lips in silence.

The 71-year-old archbishop was married May 27 in a group ceremony at a New York hotel in one of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's mass weddings.

His bride, 43-year-old Maria Sung, was selected by Moon, as is customary in Moon's movement, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Wife not Present

After the wedding, Milingo had asked to be released from his vow of celibacy, but Schanker said Milingo consummated the marriage before hearing back from the Vatican.

Milingo's wife traveled with him to Rome, but was not present in his meeting with the pope, Schanker said.

The Vatican has given Milingo until Aug. 20 to leave his new wife, sever his ties with Moon's movement, publicly promise to remain celibate and "manifest his obedience to the Supreme Pontiff."

If he doesn't, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith - the Vatican's watchdog for orthodoxy - has said he will be excommunicated.

Milingo has said he doesn't want to leave the church, although he has said it needs to be reformed.

He has long been at odds with the Catholic hierarchy.

He was archbishop of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, when he ran afoul of the Vatican over his faith healing and exorcisms. He resigned under pressure in 1983, a very rare occurrence with an archbishop below normal retirement age and in good health.

Milingo then was brought to Rome as a functionary in the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant

Peoples, but continued public healing and exorcism. Last year, he was quietly retired from the post.

Outlook not Good

Despite the papal meeting, most church observers believe Milingo's career in the church is essentially over following the spectacular way in which he joined the Moon sect in New York last May.

Vatican sources said at the time the Pope felt hurt by Milingo's action because the Pontiff had often been lenient with him when others in the Church felt he had to be disciplined for unauthorized faith healing and exorcism.

Excommunication is a total severance from the Church. In modern times it has been rare, particularly for high-ranking prelates.

The Catholic Church has strict celibacy rules for its clergy, who are not allowed to marry.

After the wedding, Milingo told reporters he was unconcerned by the threat of excommunication.

"God is still with me," he said. "I love my church."

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