When Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo rejoined the wife chosen for him by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Catholic Church excommunicated him. But Milingo says it’s all part of a divine plan.
One evening just before Christmas, in a modest, two-bedroom apartment on 16th Street NW, the most controversial clergyman in the recent history of the Roman Catholic Church took a moment to sing me a song.
Emmanuel Milingo, 76, the former archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, popped a cassette into his stereo and smiled as words in Chewa, the language of his youth, filled the living room. A soft murmur kept the rhythm while two interwoven strains chased each other, catching up, then pulling apart.”It is my own composition,” Milingo said. “Do you hear? Listen: It is my voice, three times.”
His hands and chin rising and falling to slightly different tempos, he swayed where he stood, dressed entirely in priestly black. His dark socks tapped on the beige carpet. A heavy pectoral cross clacked like a metronome against the buttons of his suit coat; its silver chain twinkled against his Roman collar.
“Music is too strong as a passion for me,” he said as the tape played on. “I do not allow myself to dwell too much on it, because it is so strong.”
His other passion, the one I had come to speak to him about, is his church. On that, he does allow himself to dwell, much to the Vatican’s chagrin. Not long after moving to Washington from Rome last summer, he was excommunicated for repeatedly and publicly defying the orders of his ecclesiastic superiors. He is living now as a kind of religious refugee.
Nonetheless, he says he has kept the faith.
“I am Catholic from head to foot,” Milingo assured me.
He had arranged one of the small rooms in his new apartment as a makeshift chapel, praying there each morning before the sun lighted up his building’s view of Rock Creek Park. Pictures of his beloved spiritual protector, Pope John Paul II, hung on nearly every wall.
The only face that appeared as many times throughout the home was the grinning countenance of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed messiah and founder of the Unification Church. According to Milingo, these belong to the woman who is part symptom and part cause of his excommunication: Maria Sung, a South Korean acupuncturist chosen as his bride by Moon. They have been married for five years, though they have lived together for only the last few months.
With his wife — a short, sunny woman dressed in slippers and a no-nonsense sweat suit — looking on from across the room, Milingo began singing in harmony with one of the musical strains and offering an interpretation after each line. His hands moved through the air deliberately, caressing the words of his hymn.
“Where did Jesus Christ come from?” he sang. “They say He came from the heavens. Where did Jesus Christ come from? Let us go and see.”
Small in stature, plump with age, with a wide forehead and sparse white hair over his gold-rimmed glasses, he was a most unlikely performer. Yet the grin he wore belonged to a man who clearly loved having an audience, whoever it might be.
Five years before, in May of 2001, Archbishop Milingo made headlines around the world when he announced that he had broken his vow of celibacy by getting married. Marriage for a man in Milingo’s position — a well-known septuagenarian Roman Catholic prelate — would have raised eyebrows under any circumstances; that he had wed a 43-year-old woman selected by Moon’s Unification Church, regarded by critics as a mind-controlling cult, made the nuptials a global media event.
Milingo had not been the sort of progressive cleric one might expect to agitate for change in one of the church’s most distinctive disciplines. In fact, until then he had seemed a Catholic from the earliest days of the church’s history, a Latin-preferring traditionalist who had come to prominence in Africa as an exorcist and faith healer.
Yet somehow, this theologically conservative priest wound up taking part in a classic Unification wedding: 62 couples dressed in identical tuxedos and bridal gowns, all standing before Moon as he gave his blessing and invoked three cheers of ” Ok Mansei!” a Korean valediction by which all participants wished “ten thousand years of victory” to Moon as the “True Father” of humanity.
Though the wedding had taken place in New York, its most immediate impact was felt in Italy, where Milingo’s renown was such that he had recorded two popular albums of Zambian songs, and had even seen the story of his life turned into a cartoon. The Italian media speculated that Milingo had been brainwashed or otherwise coerced into marriage. The Vatican’s official exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, suggested that Moon’s followers had pursued his former colleague “relentlessly.”
From there, the suspicions snowballed: The emergence of a rogue clergyman armed with the power to ordain new bishops and priests of his choosing brought whispers of a possible schism, a split among the faithful in the mold of the Reformation. Some feared that Milingo intended to start a breakaway church in Africa, with himself as spiritual leader and Moon as his string-pulling financier. On a continent where the number of Catholics has almost tripled in the last 30 years — as numbers elsewhere have plunged — such a move by one of its most popular native sons might prove disastrous, from the Vatican’s perspective.
Milingo denied that he had any such ambition but gave ample evidence that he had wandered far from the only church he had ever known. In binding the Catholic priesthood to the sacrament of marriage, “we will strengthen and renew the two parts, while at the same time building a greater and stronger whole,” Milingo wrote in a July 2001 response to the Catholic Church’s admonitions. “This is what God is asking.” Milingo spoke of his marriage as divinely inspired and, asked at a news conference about Moon’s theology, went so far as to propose that Jesus had been “killed before He was able to carry out His plans” — a suggestion that contravenes the central Christian tenet of Christ’s “perfect sacrifice,” while neatly fitting Moon’s assertion that he is on Earth to finish Jesus’s work.
But Milingo’s disobedience apparently could not withstand a direct plea from the pope. When John Paul II asked him, “in the name of Jesus,” to come back to the church, that’s what he did, leaving his wife 10 weeks after their wedding. Even Maria Sung’s 16-day hunger strike couldn’t get Milingo back.
Until, that is, last June, about five years later, when Milingo disappeared from Italy. His whereabouts remained unknown long enough that the Zambian government asked the Vatican to find him. In July, he reemerged, in typical attention-grabbing fashion, at the National Press Club in Washington. Not only had he returned to his wife, he announced, but he would now begin a mission to remove the requirement of celibacy from the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Some took this as a sign that he had been brainwashed, after all; that the rumors of Milingo returning to Africa as the Unification Church’s puppet pope were true. And Milingo only fed that speculation when, in September, he consecrated four married men as bishops — an act which, according to the Vatican, brought him automatic excommunication.
“Nonsense,” Milingo says. “I do not believe in excommunication.” He gave his mission a name — Married Priests Now — and acknowledged assistance from Moon. However, Milingo said, it was not Moon who had persuaded him to again take up challenging the celibacy of priests as the rule of his church.
“Jesus said to me, ‘You are timid,'” he told me later. ” ‘You are timid to have begun this only to walk away.'”
As is often the case with people who say they receive direct messages from the divine, the whole story is in fact a bit more complicated than that.
It’s no small thing to marry for the first time in your eighth decade.
“Yes,” Milingo said eagerly when I asked if he felt surprised to have a wife so late in life. “For me, it certainly had always been considered dangerous to be familiar with a woman. So there were quite a lot of apprehensions.”
Sung moved in and out of the room as we spoke. Like Milingo, she had been a transplant to Italy, where she’d had a flourishing acupuncture practice. They spoke Italian together, except when there was an American in the room. Sung’s English is a work in progress.
Her other work has ceased, however. When I visited, an acupuncture table stood largely unused in the corner of the living room. Does she still see patients?
“No time,” she said. “No license. Now, I treat only archbishop. I treat him here,” she said, directing a hand toward his head. She couldn’t help smiling as she added, “He now have more hair.”
“Masculine pride becomes very strong after 70 years,” Milingo said. The archbishop seemed bemused by his newfound domesticity. He let out a hooting laugh, as if all at once he had come to understand the punch line of every marriage joke he’d ever heard. “My horns,” he said, “have been cut a bit.”
He’d been cut short in other ways, as well. When he was a member of the vast Vatican bureaucracy, Milingo received a salary of 5,000 euros a month, about $80,000 a year. Excommunication has meant a loss of livelihood, pension, health care — everything — leaving him now to depend on Moon. When Milingo left his church-provided residence in Zagarolo, just southeast of Rome, a priest he had taught the art of exorcism purified the house with holy water and salt, then burned the clothes Milingo had left behind.
Of course, all Milingo had owned had come from the church to begin with, even his name. Sixty-four years ago, he was not called Emmanuel. That name came later, at the school of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa in the provincial capital, Chipata. It was there that he learned to read and discovered that his given name, Lotte, came heavy with scandal. He spelled it differently than it appeared in the Bible, but the sound was the same: Lot, the man who had escaped Sodom only with the help of the angels; a man once called righteous who later did unspeakable things.
An adolescent Milingo declared that he no longer wanted to be called Lotte. Instead, he would be called Emmanuel, the name that means “God is with us,” the name by which Jesus is known in heaven.
From then on, a new life began. Lotte Milingo had been an illiterate cattle boy from the Eastern Province; Emmanuel learned mathematics, geography, even etiquette. Lotte had enrolled after tagging along with two other local boys and was unaware that he had entered a preparatory school for seminary. Emmanuel committed the liturgy to memory and was eager to be ordained.
“My becoming a priest was not at all willed,” Milingo told me. “It was as accidental as all this.”
Yet his early career in the church makes little sense except as an act of sustained intention. After his ordination in 1958, Milingo was sent by his diocese to Rome and then to Dublin to complete degrees in sociology and education. After a short time back in his home parish, he was sent away again, this time to study radio and television production. By the time he returned to Zambia in 1963, he was fluent in Italian and English and was ready to begin a radio ministry, which soon made him one of the best-known men in the country.
“I would go out into the field to record sounds,” Milingo said, describing his radio work. “If there was an auto accident I wished to speak about, I would go someplace to find a loud bang. If I spoke of a funeral, I would go to a graveside to record the weeping. That was why the show was popular: the sounds. They make everything come alive.”
With an increasingly high profile that made him well-suited for leadership, he became one the youngest bishops in the Catholic Church at age 39, consecrated by Pope Paul VI. Such an early, illustrious start in the hierarchy might have led to a long, trouble-free career. John Paul II, for example, also became a bishop before his 40th birthday. But then something happened that caused Milingo to change focus.
“On November 1, 1973, I received a message from God,” he said. That night, while sitting in bed reading, he felt a shadow enter the room and spread over him. And then the shadow spoke. “Go and preach the Gospel,” it intoned.
To Milingo, this meant he must preach in the language of the land where God had put him. He began incorporating the music of his people into his liturgies. He allowed drums into the sanctuary, drawing criticism that he was “Africanizing” the ancient rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.
But that was only the beginning. When his parishioners complained to him of ailments caused by evil spirits, he decided that preaching in an African style was not enough. He must cast out demons the same way.
Taking the pulpit in his cathedral, Milingo announced that though he was a Catholic bishop, he had powers over malignant entities of all traditions. Unlike the European missionaries who still made up the majority of priests in Zambia, he knew the names by which his people identified their demons, not just mshawe but nzila, vibanda and nigulu, all distinct and inhabiting different regions of the country.
“If anyone suffers from these diseases,” he said, “let them come forward, and we will try to help.”
Soon hundreds, sometimes thousands, attended Milingo’s exorcism and healing sessions. The sick and the crippled crowded the archbishop’s residence in Lusaka. He received letters from people who said spirits had made them unemployed or impotent. Milingo knew the guilty demons sometimes had other names, such as alcoholism or venereal disease, but no matter. He prayed for anyone in need.
As with his radio show, Milingo didn’t shy away from spectacle: He became known for his singing and shouting, tilting his head back and unleashing streams of incomprehensible language so that he seemed the one possessed.
When word of Milingo’s popularity spread among the more orthodox bishops, they were not pleased.
“They gave me an alternative,” Milingo told me. “Either no longer be a healer, or offer my resignation as bishop. I myself said to them: Jesus Christ was a preacher, he cast out devils and he healed the sick. He was all in one.” He held up three fingers and counted down, then he brought his hand to rest against his chest. “So why should I oblige myself to give up healing, or offer resignation?”
In the end, he had less control over the situation than he had thought. In 1982, he was called to the Vatican to discuss the legitimacy of his healing ministry.
“The Holy Father said to me: ‘You should not be surprised by the inquiries that are taking place. Padre Pio was treated the same way.'” Padre Pio is perhaps the most famous Catholic mystic and stigmatic of the 20th century; for the pontiff to offer this comparison was significant. “And then he told me, ‘I am going to safeguard your charism.'”
That Pope John Paul II believed he had a charism, a spiritual gift, worth protecting, comforted Milingo. But then he learned the nature of that protection. Instead of returning to Zambia, he would remain in Rome as a delegate to a pontifical council — the ecclesiastic equivalent of a desk job.
“I did not accept it easily,” he said.
FULL DISCLOSURE: A FEW OF THE COMPLICATIONS in this story are not Milingo’s but my own.
Not long after the archbishop’s midsummer relocation to Washington last year, I received an invitation to speak at a meeting of married Catholic priests and their wives in Saddle Brook, N.J. The invitation itself was not so strange: My parents happen to be one such couple, and I had recently published a book about them.
Although Milingo has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of clerical celibacy, the movement to allow Catholic priests to marry goes back at least 40 years. After the modernizing moment in the church known as the Second Vatican Council, priests such as my father believed the ground was shifting so dramatically that they would soon be allowed to marry without ending their service. Many of them wed in the hope that doing so would quicken the arrival of this inevitable change. Disappointed, they have lived in a kind of exile ever since.
As far as the Vatican is concerned, the only men who can legitimately call themselves “married Catholic priests” are the relatively few former Protestant ministers who were already married when they converted to Catholicism and were ordained. They are not required to take a vow of celibacy. Their compatriots who are already Catholic priests when they decide to wed (there are now estimated to be 100,000) don’t have that option. The church prefers that these return to layman status by going through an annulment-like process called laicization, in which they must agree that their ordination was a mistake, usually because of immaturity or some other personal failing. Those who refuse to do so technically remain priests — as the Roman ordination rite states, “you are a priest forever” — but they are no longer acknowledged as such and are not allowed to serve the faithful in any way.
Because of my family background, the conference organizers hoped I might add an intergenerational element to the program. I agreed immediately. I had grown up attending similar summits of reform-minded Catholics, so I thought I knew what to expect.
But from the moment I arrived at the first gathering of Milingo’s new organization, Married Priests Now, it was obvious I was wrong. To begin with, its 70 or so participants were a much more international crowd than those at the previous meetings I’d attended. As I prepared to make my after-lunch remarks on the experiences of the children of priests, I could hear Italian, Portuguese and Spanish rising from the crowd sitting before me in the small hotel meeting room. And then there was Milingo himself. Dressed in a flowing black cassock with red piping and a matching red zuchetto (the skull cap that, by its color, identifies the rank of Catholic clergy), he sat beside me at a long table adjacent to the speaker’s lectern. He occasionally spoke to the air without an obvious conversation partner in sight. To be a Roman Catholic archbishop is to assume that someone always wants to hear what you have to say.
When Milingo rose to speak formally, he recounted his recent troubles with Rome. He had received a number of warnings and admonitions since what he called his “escape.” In a fervent singsong, he read aloud a letter of rebuke he had received from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Re’s letter named by number the canon laws that had been broken, and Milingo recited these with flair. “Canon one three three one,” he chanted, “canon one three eight two . . . canon one three four seven . . .”
“Bingo!” came a voice from the married priests, and then a ripple of laughter. The Vatican’s censure excited them; it meant they were being noticed.
But what most surprised me about the conference was that perhaps a quarter of the people in attendance had no obvious connection to its content. Filling a block of about 16 seats, a contingent of Unification Church members clustered around Maria Sung. She was dressed in a smart, red wool suit, and talked animatedly with the men and women surrounding her. They were more than moral support: I’d seen them serving as conference planners, registration assistants, note takers, videographers and audio technicians. They were, it seemed, running the show.
If there was any doubt about that, it was dispelled later in the afternoon, when the lights dimmed, a screen dropped from the ceiling and a film titled “Man of Peace” began. I had been told that the meeting had received funding from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, but I was nonetheless surprised by this and-now-a-word-from-our-sponsors moment, complete with images of Jesus dissolving into photographs of a man who calls himself the “Lord of the Second Advent” and the “True Love King.” It seemed to have nothing to do with the issues that had brought us together that day.
Except, of course, that Moon was paying for all in attendance to see it, mostly by providing payment in kind: meals, travel and lodging expenses. As a speaker, I was among the few with a little more to gain. Three weeks later, when I received a $400 honorarium for my appearance, it came not from Married Priests Now but from an organization I had never heard of, identified on the check only as “FFWPU.” As I soon learned, this was just another way to spell “Moon.”
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, THERE IS NO UNIFICATION CHURCH. In 1996, Moon declared that the religious organization he had founded in the rubble of the Korean War — after receiving divine instruction on a mountaintop at age 15 — had served its purpose. After a 42-year existence marked by repeated suspicion and rejection, first in Korea then in the United States and Europe, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity would transform itself.
Moon proclaimed that his seemingly endless resources (the wellspring of which remains a source of conjecture) now would be applied not to any religious organizations, but to world peace. At his command, Unification congregations around the country took down all signs identifying them as such, and took on a new name: the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. By keeping its goals generic, the Family Federation proved able to bring new projects and associates under the Moon umbrella in ways the “Unification Church” had not.
These were transitional years for Milingo, as well. True to his word, the pope had safeguarded the archbishop’s charism. Although going back to Lusaka in any formal capacity was still out of the question, Milingo — now a minor official on the Vatican commission for migration and tourism — had been allowed to return to his healing ministry. He was free to hold services in any church that would have him.
Soon, as in Zambia, the crowds found him wherever he preached. He started receiving invitations to speak and conduct healing ceremonies around the world. His 1995 album of original compositions, ” Gubudu Gubudu,” became an Italian bestseller. Invitations followed to appear not just at religious events but also at international music concerts and blues festivals. He eagerly accepted.
Even the spirit world seemed to take notice. A woman who said she received messages from Saint Catherine of Siena informed Milingo that God was calling him to save the church. As his popularity grew and his travels took him around the world, Milingo again heard familiar complaints from his brother bishops. They said he had brought voodoo and witch doctor ways with him from Africa. They said he had no jurisdiction to perform his rites in their dioceses. They attempted to restrict his travel, demanding that he request permission from the local bishop wherever he intended to preach.
Milingo began to clash openly with those he considered his enemies. In November 1996, speaking at a conference in Rome, he declared that Satanism was being practiced at the highest levels of the Vatican. He did not name names, but who were more likely to worship the devil than those who wished to keep an exorcist from his work?
As in Lusaka, it was not only Catholics who came to him, but anyone in need of healing. So Milingo was not surprised when people he called “Moonists” began to attend his prayer services. Soon they began visiting him at home, and when they invited him to a more formal gathering, he accepted.
It would not have taken long to learn that he and their leader had much in common. Moon, too, had changed his name. Moon, too, believed that his mission had begun with direct instructions from Jesus Christ. Moon also had suffered abuse and rejection.
While the fathers of his own faith tried to restrict Milingo’s travel, Father Moon, as the archbishop came to call him, encouraged and funded it. In February 1999, the Family Federation flew Milingo to Korea to take part in the blessing ceremony of 40,000 couples in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. Then the Family Federation invited him to Washington, to spend time with the director of Moon’s interreligious outreach program, Frank Kaufman, whom Milingo refers to as part of “the orientation committee.”
“It was a beautiful time,” Kaufman told me. “We spent 40 days together in a house in Northern Virginia. The archbishop started each day by saying Mass for several hours before breakfast, and then we studied Reverend Moon’s teachings seven or eight hours a day, six days a week. On Sundays, we rested. We’d go to dinner, see a movie. Once we watched a wonderful submarine film. I believe it was ‘U-571.’
“At the end of our time together, the archbishop met with Reverend Moon, who urged him to think about getting married. There’s a tradition in Unification thought that a marriage can be performed in the spirit world: A living person can be joined spiritually to one that has passed on. At first, that’s what the archbishop thought we had in mind, and he seemed agreeable to the idea. But Reverend Moon said, ‘No, you should have a wife.'” According to Kaufman, the interest the Family Federation has taken in Milingo is not unique. The late grand mufti of Syria, Ahmed Kuftaro, once traveled to the United States for Unification lessons. The former president of Uganda, Godfrey Binaisa, married a woman of Moon’s choosing. In recent years, Moon has focused particular attention on African American clergy. A Family Federation offshoot known as the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) — founded, according to its Web site, “on a mountaintop in South Korea” — exists to sponsor conferences in the United States. One of the ACLC’s recent initiatives: encouraging pastors to “tear down the cross” in their churches and replace it with Moon’s religious symbol of choice, a crown.
One of the ACLC’s co-chairs is the District’s own George Augustus Stallings, a former Catholic priest who started the Imani Temple on Capitol Hill then split with Rome. Married to a bride of Moon’s choosing on the same day Milingo wed Maria Sung, Stallings was one of the four men Milingo ordained as a bishop of Married Priests Now.
Despite his growing respect for the work of Moon and his followers, Milingo demurred at first on the issue of marriage. But still he allowed himself to begin a process that Unificationists call “matching.” This ritualized selection of marriage partners can take many forms. Originially, it involved crowds of men and women in a large room with Moon pairing them off. More recently, matches of young Unificationists have been made by parents. In Milingo’s case, Moon himself would decide whom he was to marry.
The Unificationists proposed multiple candidates, Milingo recalled. “None of it felt comfortable,” he says. “I myself founded three congregations based on the perfection of celibacy. I always felt I should be the first example of that celibacy.” Although, as a priest, he had spoken many times about the benefits of marriage for the laity, the idea of his own marriage was so alien that he could not imagine how such a thing could come to be, even if he desired it, which he did not.
But neither could he have imagined what awaited him in Rome. Around the time he returned from the United States in 2000, he was removed from his post on the pontifical council. In November came another blow: He learned that the church’s rules governing exorcism had been changed — changed, it seemed, specifically to slight him. The new guidelines echoed many of the criticisms he had heard through the years: “Anything resembling hysteria, artificiality, theatricality or sensationalism should be absent from such gatherings . . .” And then it got personal: “. . . above all on the part of those who are in charge.”
“The church that I love treated me as a stranger,” Milingo said later, “exiling me and ultimately placing shackles upon my ministry . . . But still the command of Jesus resounded within me: ‘Heal the sick; cast out devils; preach the Gospel.’ What was I to do?”
Early in the new year, Milingo decided to take up Moon’s offer. To ease the way, Moon chose for him someone Milingo had already met: an acupuncturist who had treated him in Rome.
When he flew to New York to be married in May 2001, he was 71. He had known no life but the one the church had given him since he was a boy hunting mice in the Eastern Province. “In the summers, we did not need to watch the cattle,” he remembered, “and so we were free.”
“DID YOU EVER SEE ‘STAR WARS’?” the Rev. Phillip Schanker asked me. We were sitting together in his office at the national headquarters of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, about two miles south of Milingo’s residence on 16th Street.
“You know at the end, when they get that shot right into the middle of the Death Star? You know?” He put a meaty fist in the air, a rough model of Darth Vader’s orbiting battle station, then spread his fingers like debris flying into space. “Boom.” That, he said, is what “Reverend Moon knew that marrying a bishop of the Roman Catholic faith would be like.”
The Family Federation’s vice president for education, Schanker has been a member of the Unification Church since 1972. He was 18 when he joined and, he said, “a perfect example of the kind of person who responded to Reverend Moon when he first arrived in this country.” Schanker had taken a semester off from college to hitchhike around the United States. “I wasn’t in the gutter; I wasn’t a pot-smoking hippie; I’d already stopped that stuff,” he said. “But I was sensitive to injustice in the world, and I was unwilling to go a normal career path until I could figure out a way to make some contribution to the world.”
Then came Moon, and he decided not to return to the life he had known.
“I was raised as a Unitarian, which meant I had a lot of questions but not a lot of answers. When I told my parents that I was joining Reverend Moon’s church, they knew me well enough, and the sense of integrity with which they’d raised me, to know that I had made the decision on my own. My father didn’t think I was brainwashed; he just thought I was stupid.”
Schanker is an exceedingly thoughtful and articulate apologist for his faith, which is why he, more than any another Unificationist, has been positioned close to the center of the Milingo affair. He was with the newlyweds in August 2001 when the archbishop decided to return to the good graces of the church. Acting as Maria Sung’s primary spokesman, he orchestrated a campaign that managed to turn the tide of public opinion in Italy toward her favor. At the start of the “summer soap opera,” as the Milingo wedding and its fallout became known, she had been portrayed as a cultist vixen who had brought a respected clergyman low. By the time Milingo reconciled with John Paul II, an editorial cartoon in the Italian newspaper La Stampa showed the archbishop and the pope locked in an embrace, oblivious to the plight of the woman nailed to a cross behind them. Such a reversal was no mean feat in a country in which the Catholic Church’s influence remains significant, and Schanker was responsible for it.
Considering his media savvy, he no doubt noticed my reaction as I jotted down his Death Star response to a question about Moon’s interest in Milingo.
“I don’t think his thinking is to destroy the Catholic faith. I don’t think his thinking is to fight with the Catholic faith,” Schanker said of Moon, adding that Moon wants to start “a necessary process for the church to renew, to grow, to develop.
“Married priests can create a renewal movement withi n the faith, one that shows that marriage is a step up from the celibate priesthood.”
For the most part, Unificationist leaders shy away from the notion that they have a stake in changing other religions. They prefer to keep the focus on marriage. Except where Catholic clergy are concerned, it’s a cause with which few would disagree. Yet when Moon’s followers speak about supporting marriage, they are, in fact, making a larger statement.
Moon’s teachings raise the oft-repeated ideal of “traditional family values” to a cosmic and metaphysical level. The reason for the spectacle of stadium-size weddings is that for Unificationists, marriage is not, as in other faiths, one of many equally significant religious rituals. It is in fact their only sacrament. It is also the key to their theology, which motivates everything they do.
“Unificationism is real simple,” Schanker says, giving me a quick precis of the movement’s teachings. “The institution created in the Garden of Eden was the family, not any religion. And that family became separated from God through their immature use of love. Through marriage, we can repair this separation.”
The primary text of Unificationism, Divine Principle, Moon’s book-length interpretation of scripture and history, positions him at the end of a chronology that begins in Eden and passes through Jerusalem on its way to Korea and the revelation of his birth and ministry. Adapting the biblical Genesis story, Moon teaches that Eve not only ate the forbidden fruit but also had sexual relations with Satan, then passed along this pollution to Adam. In the process, they became “evil parents,” and their children, “evil children.” This designation included all humanity until God told Moon how he could put an end to it: Moon himself would become “True Father” to reverse the mistakes of the “Evil Father,” Adam; his wife would become “True Mother” to counter the “Evil Mother,” Eve. Through the “True Parents'” marriage blessing, those trapped in “evil lineage” would be released to a “true lineage.” As Unificationists see it, every couple blessed by Moon brings the world one step closer to the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, and moreover re-affirms his role as Father and King, second only to God. If, through Milingo, Moon could move what Schanker called “the world’s most influential religion” one step closer to the Unificationist view of marriage, it certainly would be worth the price of a few conferences and Milingo’s upkeep.
As Schanker summed up Moon’s intentions: “He’s the messiah, right? His mind is ‘I’m going to save the world.'”
THE MARRIED PRIESTS NOW MEETING I ATTENDED as a speaker last fall was only a warm-up for a more ambitious event held in Parsippany, N.J., in December. Milingo and his supporters hoped this would be 10 times as large, convening 1,000 priests and their wives. Dairo Ferrabolli, a former Catholic priest who has been associated with Moon for 20 years, said the budget for travel and lodging exceeded $160,000.
The weekend began with a banquet held beneath the six chandeliers of the Parsippany Sheraton’s grand ballroom. With registration of married priests far below expectations (fewer than 200 of those hoped for), members of the FFWPU and the ACLC were on hand to fill seats in what otherwise would have been a vast and mostly empty room.
Also in attendance was an odd assortment of representatives from a variety of religious traditions, whom Family Federation president Michael Jenkins had invited to provide the interfaith element that has been part of Unification events since the ’90s. Among the Muslims was Dawud Assad of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey. “When you are not married, you have only half faith,” he proclaimed. “When you are married, your faith is complete.”
The Rev. Jesse Edwards, a Pentecostal preacher in a shiny gray suit that matched his silver pompadour and gave him a slight resemblance to Oz’s Tin Man, treated the crowd of Catholic dissidents to a little old-time religion. He’d had his marriage rededicated at the same ceremony in which Milingo wed, he noted. Then he revved up his preaching engine. “Archbishop, the day we were blessed, I believe the world was changed!” he shouted. “Archbishop, the day we were blessed, it was not just a ceremony to remember! It was a fulfilling of the word of God!”
“It has been the dream of every Pentecostal preacher to come into a room full of priests and preach to them,” Edwards said later. “My wife has been kidding me I might get converted! I told her, if I do become a Catholic priest, I’ll make sure there’s a Jacuzzi in every confessional.” Then a man who looked as though he had stepped from the pages of an Orthodox Jewish clothing catalogue — black suit, black beard, black fedora — walked into the room. He’d flown in Friday night for the occasion.
The next day, he handed me a business card that read, “Rabbi Dr. Mordehi Waldman: Have Shofar Will Travel.” The leader of a “struggling” congregation in Michigan, he had enjoyed 15 minutes of fame about three years ago, when he appeared at a reception held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building and blew his shofar to announce the coming of the messiah just before Moon had himself crowned “humanity’s Savior” and “returning Lord.”
After freelance journalist John Gorenfeld wrote about it in June 2004, the event was a major embarrassment for the congressmen who attended. It had been a big day for Waldman, however. Though blowing the shofar — a curved piece of ram’s horn used like a trumpet — is usually reserved for the Jewish High Holy Days, Waldman now blows his at every opportunity. He has done so for Unification events across Asia and Europe, occasionally referring to his patron as “Rabbi Moon.”
What’s in it for him?
“About a year ago, they said to me, ‘Rabbi, it’s not good for you to be alone,'” he told me. “You should have a wife, they said. Then they asked me: ‘What kind of wife would you like?’ So I said, ‘A slender blonde.'”
I wondered if I was hearing a bit of shtick, but then he added, “That’s how I met this lovely lady right here.” Sure enough, he pulled a slender blond woman to his side. “Look at us, a German Lutheran and a Jewish rabbi! Hello! Reconciliation, right?”
When next I saw the rabbi, he was back in the grand ballroom, blowing his shofar midway through the centerpiece of the weekend, a combined Catholic Mass and Unification marriage blessing. Begun with a procession of priests and their wives — in which the priests wore stoles and vestments, and the wives wore bulk-rate bridal veils that a team of Unificationist women had affixed to their heads — it was a long, awkward, confusing ritual.
Milingo presided dressed in full Catholic regalia, while his wife, beside him, wore a formal, white and red Korean hanbok, which covered her from the floor to the tips of her fingers. After communion, Milingo called for the singing of one of his favorite hymns. “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me,” he sang. “Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.”
As others picked up the melody and sang along, Milingo stretched out his arms and gave his blessing to the small crowd before him. At the hymn’s end, he departed from any recognizable language and chanted an incantation of rapid-fire syllables. Both Catholic and Unificationist couples then took part in a “marriage rededication,” pledging to be “True Parents” in order to “become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Later that day, Milingo would be distressed to learn that some of the married priests felt uncomfortable that the traditional formula of the Mass had been rearranged to make room for the Unification rites. Among those concerned was the Rev. William Manseau, my father, who took part in the Mass but not the rededication. He had come to Parsippany full of hope, believing that Milingo was the kind of attention-getting, high-level supporter his movement had been needing. Now he was less sure.
“They seem to be saying Moon’s blessing is necessary for membership in the Kingdom of Heaven,” he said. “But as Catholics, we believe we have that already, by baptism.”
At a news conference after the ceremony, Milingo assured the married priests of his devotion to Catholicism.
“My religion is not superficial,” he told me later. Moon “has great respect for the Catholic Church,” yet “there are certain things on which certainly we do not agree.”
Despite a career spent moving from one continent of controversy to another, Milingo is at heart a nonconfrontational man. He glosses over theological differences he has with both Moon and Rome, a tendency that allows him to assert his orthodoxy even as he diverges from church teachings.
Milingo says he and Moon have “never discussed” their differences. “They have their own viewpoint. How do you discuss? It is no different from discussing such things with a Jew . . . or a Muslim; they believe different things.” Instead, Milingo says, “we speak of the high things: to live for others, to live for peace, and of course the family and so on.” As someone who spent years merging African and Roman beliefs, he doesn’t seem distressed by the addition of yet another element.
Which perhaps was why, when the ceremony was done, he joined Catholics and Unificationists alike as they chanted the traditional closing notes of Moon’s marriage blessing: “Ok Mansei! Ok Mansei! Ok Mansei!”
Ten thousand years of victory!
AFTER HE HAD RETURNED TO ROME IN 2001, there had been a brief attempt by the Vatican to improve Milingo’s opinion of his place within the church. Thanks to his protector, John Paul II, he was given a spiritual center of his own. He was allowed to travel and continue his healing ministry. For a time, Milingo seemed repentant. In a book-length “conversation” published in Italy, the archbishop agreed with his interviewer, Vatican-approved journalist Michele Zanzucchi, that Moon had been fomenting a split of Africa’s Catholic church. The only reason Milingo had gotten married, he said, was because it was the condition under which the Unificationists would provide him with the opportunity to preach to the large gatherings they sponsored. Given the restrictions he had faced in Rome, it had seemed a price worth paying.
Not long after John Paul II died in 2005, however, Milingo’s fortunes changed again. He learned that his prayer services would be limited to once a week. “They saw me then like a hurt bull: They never knew what I might do,” he says. A priest or two nuns chaperoned him wherever he went. “Intolerable restrictions,” he recalled. When he disappeared from Italy in June 2006, he flew to South Korea to see the one man he thought could help. For Milingo, Moon was a way out. And for Moon, Milingo might yet prove a way in.
“This is a most serious moment,” the president of the Family Federation wrote to its members concerning Milingo in November. “We must now do massive outreach to Catholics.”
In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Milingo denied the words Zanzucchi had attributed to him, saying they were not his but those of a Vatican-orchestrated PR effort. Yet all talk of conspiracy and motive leaves something crucial out of the equation, something I saw one evening over dinner. The night before the conference in Parsippany, I joined Milingo, Maria Sung, an Italian married priest and his wife, and a senior Korean Unificationist in the hotel restaurant.
As they settled into their places, Sung straightened the archbishop’s placemat. Then she arranged his fork so that it was better aligned with his spoon.
“So, what are we having?” Milingo asked when the waiter arrived.
“Rack of lamb for you,” Sung answered. For herself, she ordered only a salad.
As the meals arrived, talk flowed down the table from Italian to English to Korean. They spoke mainly about the publicity Milingo had so far received, but no one mentioned his excommunication. The Italian priest presented a folder full of clippings, then reported that an interview with Milingo on an Italian Web site had received 5 million hits in one day.
“Cinque milioni?” Milingo repeated. As if so impressed he had to share the news, he said to me, “Five million!” as Sung simultaneously turned and repeated the number in Korean. The conversation proceeded in that awkward way for some time: Italian to English, Italian to Korean, Korean to English to Italian. Sung was the only one among us who could more or less communicate with everyone else.
With her husband, it seemed she didn’t need to say anything at all. As his wife picked at her salad, Milingo touched her arm lightly, then handed her a lamb chop from his plate.
She smiled as if she’d been presented a blue Tiffany box.
“Oh, molto generoso,” she said, beaming and laughing with playful gratitude. ” Grazie, mio marito.”
The archbishop nodded humbly, seemingly pleased his sacrifice had been accepted.
“Would anyone care for dessert?” the waiter asked.
All declined save Milingo, who studied the dessert menu intently. When Sung noticed that he intended to order, she chided him theatrically — “Oh, basta!” — and patted his belly. ” Basta!”
But Milingo only grinned. Something had caught his eye, and he was not about to turn back. Pointing to the description of one dessert, he asked the waiter, “What is this here, this, ah, whipped cream?”
The waiter scanned the faces at the table. Having heard everyone else speaking Italian or Korean, he seemed to think I was the only other one who had understood the question. Our eyes met for an instant: How do you describe whipped cream?
“It’s sort of like milk, but thick,” I offered.
Milingo squinted in my direction.
“It is good, it is good,” the waiter said.
“Yes. I will have that, then.”
As the waiter departed, the archbishop rubbed his hands together, grinning like a child.
“Whipped cream!” he said. His eyes glowed with anticipation.
When his dessert of strawberries and cream arrived a moment later, Sung reached freely with her spoon to taste this delicacy herself. Milingo offered no protest. They were married after all, Mr. and Mrs. Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, clinking dessert spoons in a single bowl. What could those behind the Vatican walls know of such easy intimacy?
They sure do seem happy, I thought.
Only a cynic would note that Moon’s man picked up the check.
Peter Manseau is the author of Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and their Son. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site: www.petermanseau.com. He will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at noon.