Vatican City -- The soap-opera saga of an archbishop who ran afoul of the Vatican by getting married came to an end with his wife accepting that he was leaving her and saying she hopes they would be reunited in the afterlife.
But religious experts say the impact of the Emmanuel Milingo affair is likely to linger - although more so for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification movement than the Vatican, which has weathered plenty of scandals in its 2,000-year history.
The Unification movement, they say, may have hurt its cause of trying to gain more mainstream respectability by accusing the Vatican of having drugged, brainwashed and kidnapped the archbishop - accusations often leveled against sects.
The Vatican made mistakes too, but it may take longer for Moon's movement to recover, said Massimo Introvigne, a noted Unification expert and the head of the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin, Italy.
Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and Maria Sung parted ways Wednesday night, ending a saga that captivated Italy for weeks as Sung and her Unification supporters demanded the Vatican let her see her husband.
After three weeks of separation, the two met for three hours Wednesday evening at a Rome hotel. Milingo explained his reasons for why he had to leave her because of his commitments to the church; she said she accepted them.
"For the great love for my husband, I'll respect his decision" Sung told reporters after the meeting ended. "But that doesn't change the feeling I have for him in my heart."
She spoke from inside a hotel window to avoid the crush of reporters outside - adopting a similar tactic used by the pope nearly every week in his appearances at St. Peter's Square.
She said Milingo had given her a rosary, that she would try to support him always, and that she hoped they would be reunited "in the afterlife."
Sung and Milingo were married in one of Moon's group weddings May 27. Milingo had said celibacy was poisoning the priesthood and said his marriage to Sung would allow God's blessings to be given through their new family.
The Vatican, already enraged by Milingo's exorcisms and faith healings, threatened the former head of the Lusaka, Zambia, diocese with excommunication. It suspended the threat after Milingo met with Pope John Paul II and said he was returning to the church.
Sung launched a hunger strike demanding to hear it straight from Milingo, and 16 days later the Vatican consented to a supervised meeting.
"I think everybody lost in this case," Introvigne said in an interview Wednesday.
"The Vatican achieved a final result of keeping Milingo in the fold, but it's not a winner because it had a number of (public relations) problems because of Maria Sung's hunger strike," he said.
The Vatican has excommunicated archbishops before - the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the former Archbishop of Hue, Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Thuc, among them.
But it was less willing to let Milingo go - in part because he commands a following of several thousand believers in Africa and Italy, Introvigne said. The Vatican had feared Milingo might break from the church and consecrate his own noncelibate bishops.
Milingo's prominence was likely what persuaded the Unification movement go to the lengths it did to try to negotiate with the Vatican, said the Rev. J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California.
"It could have helped them, as small as they are, if he had stuck with them and spent his last years with them," Melton said.
A Unification spokesman, the Rev. Phillip Schanker, has said Sung's supporters were merely trying to ensure that Milingo had made his choice to leave Sung freely.
On Thursday, Schanker told The Associated Press that Sung will leave Rome in a few days, probably heading to the United States. He also said that he didn't know if the marriage had ever been legally registered or if divorce proceedings would take place.
Milingo never publicly said he was joining the movement and said he always wanted to remain part of the Roman Catholic Church. Most Catholics consider Moon's doctrines beyond the bounds of core Christian beliefs.
In the end, Melton said, the only real victim is Sung, a 43-year-old South Korean acupuncturist and five-year member of the Unification movement.
"If there's any blame, it's Milingo going through the ceremony with her - especially if he was having any thoughts of returning to the church at any point," Melton said.
Milingo didn't apologize to Sung in a letter delivered to her Wednesday night, but said he shared in her suffering and would pray for her every day.
"God's blessings will accompany you for all of your life," he wrote.