SADDLE BROOK, N.J. — An African archbishop whose marriage to a woman chosen by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon scandalized the Roman Catholic Church says the Vatican is demanding that he end his new campaign for optional celibacy or lose his authority in the church.
Speaking Sunday night at a conference he organized for married priests, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo said that the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops has demanded that Milingo send a letter of repentance by Oct. 15 to Pope Benedict XVI or face “canonical suspension.”
“Your behavior, activities and public statements during these past few months are completely contrary to the obligation of every bishop,” Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re wrote in a letter to Milingo that the archbishop showed The Associated Press. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I beg you to reflect seriously on your behavior and all its consequences.”
Asked how he would respond, Milingo said, “I will stay with them” _ meaning the married clergy.
Milingo’s advocacy group, Married Priests Now!, has gathered about 120 couples for a strategy meeting north of New York City that will run through Tuesday. Before the opening dinner, he celebrated Mass for the men and their wives. Milingo’s wife, wearing a nametag that read “Mrs. Maria Milingo,” helped him clear the makeshift altar afterward.
The Vatican said Milingo violated church law when he created “the so-called `Married Priests Now’ association,” and when he previously celebrated Mass with married clergy. A “canonical suspension” would bar Milingo from ordaining priests, leading Mass and performing other sacraments, according to the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit writer and expert on the church.
Milingo, 76, has had a troubled relationship with the Vatican for years.
Before his marriage, Catholic officials accused him of promoting African indigenous beliefs by performing mass exorcisms and healing ceremonies. Then in 2001, the archbishop married Maria Sung, a South Korean acupuncturist Moon chose for him, at a mass wedding in New York.
Four months later, Milingo renounced the union, after a personal appeal from Pope John Paul II. But Milingo said he grew frustrated by restrictions on his ministry, so he fled Rome.
This past July, he reappeared in the United States to announce his new organization. He says he now lives with his wife in the Washington, D.C., area.
Some American advocates for married priests have kept their distance from Milingo, concerned about his ties with Moon’s Unification Church. The Rev. Dairo Ferrabolli of Brazil, a married priest working with the archbishop, vehemently denied an ongoing link between Milingo and Moon.
“He got his wife and now it’s over,” Ferrabolli said Sunday.
But in a packet of statements the archbishop distributed to the conference participants, he said that he traveled to Korea this year “to join the many Catholics and Catholic married priests who are in the Unification movement.”
Married Priests Now! paid for the hotel rooms and meals of the couples, who came from the United States, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere. Asked if Moon covered the costs, Milingo said, “This we do not talk about.”
Milingo said at least one other Vatican prelate had tried to persuade him to end his campaign by inviting him “to have a dialogue” in Lugano, Switzerland, “on neutral ground, so he said.” The archbishop would not identify the official, but said, “I did not accept the invitation because I did not feel that going back to Europe was safe for me.”
Still, Milingo, of Zambia, said he did not fear excommunication because he was following the path of the “good Samaritan” by caring for the clergymen and their families.
Milingo was told that Catholics in Rome had been praying a novena, or nine-day prayer, leading up to the New Jersey meeting, hoping he would repent.
“They’re praying,” the archbishop said, “that Milingo comes back to his senses.”