A Roman Catholic Archbishop from Zambia with a colorful history of rousing the Vatican and ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, will once again annoy his bosses this Sunday when he ordains three married men as priests at a church in West New York.
Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo returned to the United States this July to kick-start his movement, known as Married Priests Now. This weekend he will host a conference at a Sheraton hotel in Parsippany, convening as many as 600 married priests from around the world. On Sunday, Milingo will perform the ordinations at Trinity Reformed Church in West New York. Milingo would have had little luck finding a local Catholic Church to perform the ordinations. He was excommunicated by the Vatican in September after he ordained four married men as bishops, including a priest from Newark. Excommunication renders all of Milingo’s holy activities illegal in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.
A Clifton resident and coordinator for Married Priests Now, Bishop Dairo Ferrabolli, is sanguine about the Vatican’s rejection.
“We are Catholic. If the Vatican doesn’t want to recognize us, it’s OK,” he said. “The mother is rejecting the son. What do you want the son to do?”
Ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in Brazil in 1979, Ferrabolli said he had to resign from his church when he married. He then formed an independent church, the Catholic Family Church, with about 350 families in the United States and the Caribbean, according to Ferrabolli.
He also occasionally performs spiritual services for weddings and birthdays, he said. He is still married today with two daughters and a son.
Milingo and his followers say that allowing married Catholic priests to return to full ministry is a solution to the priest shortage, will improve the status of women in the Catholic Church and serve as a model of a Christian family.
The weekend-long conference of renegade Catholics is partly funded by a group associated with Moon, the controversial South Korean founder of the Unification Church, known for his deep pockets and mass weddings.
“We are a new organization. We don’t have much of a budget to take care of things,” said Ferrabolli of their sponsorship.
Milingo has been associated with Moon before. In 2001, Moon chose a South Korean wife for Milingo, and married the couple in one of his mass wedding ceremonies. After pleas from Pope John Paul II, Milingo renounced the marriage. But he reportedly reunited with his wife when he returned to the United States this July, according to the Catholic News Service. Clifton’s Ferrabolli also has ties to one of Rev. Moon’s organizations.
The connection may be more than just sponsorship, according to John Gorenfeld, a New York-based freelance writer who is currently writing a book about the Rev. Moon and the Unification Church.
On his Web blog devoted to Moon, Gorenfeld reveals that the Web site for Married Priests Now (www.marriedpriestsnow.org) was registered under the same domain name of Moon’s personal Web master, David Payer. Payer’s name has since been removed, but his Iowa address and telephone numbers remain. The same contact info appears on the domain registration for the Unification Church homepage.
Moon is known for trying to build inter-religious federations, said Gorenfeld. And his partnership with Milingo and the renegade Catholics could serve to bolster his legitimacy, he added. In 2004, the ex-president of Uganda married a Japanese women selected for him by Moon in a mass satellite wedding ceremony.
Moon is “interested in aiming big and finding wives for influential figures who come under his flag,” said Gorenfeld.
This weekend’s conference in Parsippany will include a holy Mass, linking via satellite 1,200 priests and their wives from Europe, Africa and Latin America, said Ferrabolli. The activist clergy will be dressed in full regalia, just like their counterparts in Rome.
Milingo does not preside over a church today. But if you ask him and his followers, their Catholic Church has no walls. Milingo often presides over mass, said Ferrabolli. “Even when he travels, he carries all his holy items. We pray mass in the airport. We celebrate the Eucharist.”
Milingo’s push for married papacy is getting the attention of his bosses at the Vatican. In a November meeting in Rome, led by Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic leaders met to “discuss the disobedience” of Milingo, according to a Vatican statement. By the meeting’s end, the Vatican reaffirmed their stance on mandatory celibacy for priests. Some experts say the Vatican is concerned over Milingo’s activities because of the fear of his influence. He was an archbishop of Zambia. Africa and South America are regions where the Catholic Church is showing its greatest growth.
“The Catholic Church is becoming a complicated diverse community,” said Stuart Charme`, chairman of Rutgers’ department of philosophy and religion.
“And the unquestioned authority of the Church of Rome is no longer taken for granted by some parts of the Catholic Church in new markets in the third world.
“In some ways it’s a showdown of authority,” said Charme`.
And he doesn’t see the Vatican backing down any time soon.
“The Catholic Church is an extremely tradition-bound institution, comprised of men who were socialized in a different generation, not open to change,” said Charme`.
Monsignor Robert Wister, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University, said Milingo’s support for married clergy “is not the answer to the priest shortage.”
The Vatican, too, is concerned about the shrinking ranks of priests he said, but has responded by stepping up their efforts to encourage men to become priests.
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