Archbishop Milingo has gone off the rails again. But this extraordinary Zambian prelate seems to have spent more time off than on the rails over the past 25 years. He must qualify as one of the world’s great eccentrics.
Born in a Zambian village in 1930, he became a priest and was seen as a high-flyer. At only 39, he was consecrated bishop by Pope Paul VI in person, during his historic visit to Uganda, and made Archbishop of Lusaka.
Soon, there were reports of open-air exorcisms involving traditional African rites. He drew the crowds, but seemed keener on devils, witchcraft and exorcisms than on the rest of Christian teaching.
In 1983, having been summoned to Rome and lodged in a monastery, he was deprived of his see. Auberon Waugh wrote in The Spectator that similar proceedings might be initiated against Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool , but that was a tease.
As for Milingo, he was given a post in the Pontifical Commission for Migrants and ordered to undergo psychiatric examination. “You in the West have your psychiatrists,” he said, “and we in Africa have our belief in spirits.”
In Rome, too, he built up a thriving practice in exorcism. In 1997, when asked, “Are there men of the Curia who are followers of Satan?”, he answered, “Certainly, there are priests and bishops. I stop at this level of ecclesiastical hierarchy because I am an archbishop.”
On May 27, 2001, he made news by marrying a 43-year-old acupuncturist, Maria Sung, in a mass ceremony at a New York hotel. She and the other Moonie brides wore white; he wore a dinner jacket. She spoke only Korean. They were bidden to delay consummation for 40 days. “We exchanged a kiss and slept in separate beds, in order not to give way to temptation,” his bride explained later.
He was naively ignorant of the cult headed by the Rev Sun Myung Moon. He smelt a rat when he heard it explained that Jesus was born of an adulterous relationship, but by then, he said, “I felt that, psychologically, I was beginning to cave in.”
Rome gave him until August to sort things out or incur excommunication. Canon law forbids priests marrying, let alone bishops. But Emmanuel Milingo, although depressed and repelled by Moonie plans to set up a Catholic Church in Africa separated from Rome, made no overtures to the Curia until an intermediary told him the Pope was anxious to speak to him.
Instead of listening to Milingo’s ideas on the power of Satan and the status of married clergy, Pope John Paul said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, come back to the Catholic Church.” The impulsive archbishop bent down and kissed his feet.
Whisked away from the press, he made a month’s retreat in a house run by the lay movement Focolare. The lonely archbishop liked the communal life, feeling that “finally I was treated like a true son of the Catholic Church”.
Meanwhile, Maria Sung held vigils in St Peter’s Square, demanding her husband back. “We got married before the whole world,” she said. “Milingo was perfectly sane then. Perhaps he has gone mad now.” Poor Milingo had to arrange a candlelit supper to explain as best he could, through an interpreter supplied by the Moonies, that their marriage had been invalid because of his status in Holy Orders.
After a year in Argentina, he returned to a village 30 miles from Rome, where a hangar was built to hold crowds at his healing services. In 2003, he visited Zambia and was feted.
This month, he popped up in Washington, with the leader of the schismatic Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation. This man, Archbishop George Stallings, 58, had married a 24-year-old Japanese bride at the same Moonie ceremony in 2001 and has two young sons. He had obtained his episcopal orders from a freelance bishop and has written I Am, Living in the Rhythm of the God Within – in the Key of G Minor.
Emmanuel Milingo now declares he wants to reconcile married priests with the Catholic Church and improve relations between the Catholics and Moonies. His latest notion is that he is still married to Maria Sung and he plans to return to Zambia.