Troublesome archbishop runs a little further from grace

A Zambian cleric continues to prove difficult for the Vatican, writes Desmond O’Grady in Rome.

Archbishop Emanuel Milingo has done it again: run off with a woman. Vatican sources say that the Zambian archbishop, who has been under “monastery arrest” since returning from marriage to a Korean member of the Moonie sect, has absconded again.

He is reported to have fled from a religious community at Zagarolo, near Rome, to Lecco, north Italy, with a female painter, Alba Vitali. He has long known the painter – she did his portrait before the marriage. It is believed that she is convinced he needs a more congenial atmosphere than at Zagarolo, and also medical care.

The Vatican press office said it had nothing to say about Archbishop Milingo. His actions are a total surprise because only recently he received Vatican approval to visit Zambia early next year. He had complained publicly about the delay in granting this permission, which required the approval of other Zambian bishops and the Vatican representative there.

In 1983 Archbishop Milingo was removed from Zambia because he performed ambiguous exorcisms and faith-healing ceremonies and incorporated tribal customs in the Mass. He was given a sinecure in the Vatican with the title of archbishop emeritus of Lusaka. He continued his exorcisms and public healing ceremonies in Italy despite the disapproval of several bishops.

His critics claimed his performances were tinged with witchcraft but he was convinced that he had a Christian mission and was frustrated by the hostility towards him.

On May 27, 2001, Archbishop Milingo shocked the Vatican by marrying a member of the Moonies in a collective ceremony in a New York hotel. He wore a tuxedo for the occasion and kissed the bride, a 42-year-old divorcee. They went to Korea for some weeks and then lived in New York but Vatican emissaries convinced him to return to Rome. After a meeting with the Pope he renounced the marriage. He explained that he had been frustrated in Rome and agreed to Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s condition that he had to marry to be able to preach in venues arranged by the Moonies.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he said about the marriage in a book, Fished From The Mud, published last year. “Only later did I understand the wedding was a way for them (the Unification Church founded by Moon) to get total control over me.”

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