The Times of Zambia, Nov. 29, 2002
Chansa Mulalami And Tetiwe Nkhata
At long last, the cloud of speculation that hang over Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo’s celibacy saga is about to dissolve as the prelate visits Zambia.
Hopefully, Milingo’s visit should provide Zambians with answers to the mind-wretching questions they have repeatedly asked.
From as early as 1977, the name Emmanuel Milingo has been synonymous with never-ending controversy.
Ordained at the age of 39, Milingo’s take-home from Catholicism, it would seem, has been the prodigal son tag.
It all started when he was reported to the Vatican to be practising ‘evil’ in form of wizardry and sorcery and ordered to stop healing sessionsÊat the prime of 1982.
This is the man who, like world-renowned Pentecostal preachers Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, and Reinhard Bonnke, packed auditoriums with multitudes of people either seeking spiritual guidance or first-hand confirmation.
Therefore, more than anything, it was his healing ministry that first got Milingo into trouble with the Catholic Church.
All kinds of derogatory names followed his healing sessions that sent demons screeching out of afflicted mortals.
While some called him the ‘Zambian witchdoctor,’ others labelled him incompetent to execute his duties as the Archbishop of Lusaka Diocese and subsequently had him transferred to the Vatican to be ‘exorcised’.
Only recently, Archbishop Milingo was the focus of the international spotlight when he revolted against his celibacy vows to marry South Korean acupuncturist Maria Sung at a mass wedding ceremony organised by the Unification Church or the ‘Moonies’ in New York in May 2001.
Though the marriage was a shortlived episode, it left a debilitating scar on the reputation of the Catholic Church.
It will be remembered that the Catholic Church has been embroiled in major sexual scandals especially in the United States and Europe.
Therefore, by taking Maria’s hand in marriage, Milingo was thought to be stopping the hypocrisy that has led to homosexuality and abortions believed to have long existed in the Catholic Church.
His marriage, however, was shortlived as the Vatican threatened him with an ex-communication should he not renounce his marriage with Sung and the Moonies.
What followed is probably history and unnecessary at this stage. But what is certain is the fact that Milingo’s actions have ignited questions on the effectiveness of celibacy among Catholic priests.
With that, fundamentalist attacks on priestly celibacy have come in different forms – not all compatible with one another.
Despite this barrage of attacks, the Catholic Church has been consistent in defending celibacy.
According to information from webmaster@ catholic.com on celibacy and the priesthood, most of the criticisms from fundamentalist churches have not been inaccurate.
‘ Although married men may become priests, unmarried priests may not marry and married priests, if widowed, may not remarry.
Moreover, there is an ancient Eastern discipline of choosing bishops from the ranks of celibate priests.
‘The tradition in the Western and Latin-rite church has been for priests as well as bishops to take vows on celibacy, a rule that has been firmly in place since the early middle ages.
‘The theory that church leaders must be married also contradicts the obvious fact that Paul, himself an eminent church leader, was single and happy to be so.
‘Unless Paul was a hypocrite, he could hardly have imposed a requirement on bishops which he himself could not meet.
‘Most Catholics marry, and all Catholics are taught to venerate marriage as a holy institution – a sacrament, an action of God upon our souls; one of the holiest things we encounter in life.
In fact, it is precisely the holiness of marriage that makes celibacy precious; for only what is good and holy in itself can be given up for God as a sacrifice.
Just as fasting pre-supposes the goodness of food, celibacy pre-supposes the goodness of marriage. To despise celibacy, therefore, is to undermine marriage itself- as the early fathers pointed out.
Celibacy is also a life-affirming institution. In the Old Testament, where celibacy was almost unknown, the childless were often despised by others and themselves; only through children, it was felt, did one acquire value.
By renouncing marriage, one affirms the intrinsic value of each human life in itself, regardless of offspring.
Finally, celibacy is an eschatological sign to the church, a living-out in the present of the universal celibacy of heaven: ‘For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven’ (Matt.22:30).
Although most Catholic priests in Zambia have been known not to support Archbishop Milingo on many positions he has taken concerning religious, social and political matters, there are some who are looking forward to his coming.
His return to Zambia, after what many might call an ‘exile’ like the one he had in the 1980s when the Vatican summoned him for ‘theological studies’ will equally attract international spotlight.
Sister Thomasina, who is in charge of the Catholic book shop in Lusaka, said the coming of Archbishop Milingo to Zambia is reminiscent of the ‘prodigal son’ in the Gospel books of the Bible.
‘People should have an attitude of forgiveness like the Bible shows in the parable of the prodigal son. The church helped him to realise that his marriage was wrong,’ she says.
What may be relieving at present, ahead of Milingo’s visit, is that the beloved archbishop may once again have the chance to tell his side of the tale.
Whereas the Catholic Church has been lauded for forgiving Milingo within its vast precinct, it is only Milingo’s final say that will quell the storm, and he has for a long time longed to do just that.
At a congregation in Rome in 1996, the ‘troubler of Vatican’ hinted about his heartfelt desire to open the can on what he has been through over the years as an archbishop:
‘Up until now, Milingo has never defended himself. He has always obeyed. And I have been made fun of too. Now I must reflect deeply. I cannot just shut up, something could happen.’