CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

"Between a Melodrama's Lines, an Interfaith Battle"

by Melinda Henneberger ("New York Times," August 28, 2001)

VATICAN CITY - Emmanuel Milingo would hardly be the first man to want out of a relationship without the fuss of a face-to-face encounter, or to conclude that a well- worded note would do the trick.
Neither, of course, is Maria Sung the first spouse to react to such treatment with dire threats.
But though the language of romance has been used to describe their peculiar melodrama, the continuing saga of Archbishop Milingo and Ms. Sung seems less a love story than an interfaith firefight.
The archbishop married Ms. Sung at one of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's multiple weddings in May, left her several weeks ago, reconciled with the pope, then dropped out of sight.
In response, Ms. Sung has staged a hunger strike for 15 days and counting, tearfully threatening to starve herself unless her husband tells her the news in person. (At a news conference today she called the fast "a promise I made to God.")
She has refused to read the letter he sent, or to believe he meant what he said when he read portions of that letter on national television. She has repeatedly said he must have been drugged or brainwashed.
Yet none of the Italian reporters who are covering this tale has come up with much evidence that the ex- couple of the moment ever knew each other very well. And in religious circles, the spectacle is widely seen as a straightforward and highly successful public relations attack on the Vatican by an outfit that the Curia does not even deign to consider its spiritual competition.
William Devlin, the evangelical president of the Urban Family Council in New York, who works with both Catholics and followers of Mr. Moon and his Unification Church, said he feels that the latter have been unfair. "They've been so ready to use this to criticize the Catholic doctrine of celibacy for their priests that it's very disappointing," he said.
Michael Novak, who holds the George Frederick Jewett chair in religion and public policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said he was surprised. "I really didn't anticipate this much animosity in the Unification Church toward the Catholic Church," he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Moon's organization, the Rev. Phillip Schanker, said in an interview at Ms. Sung's hotel here on Monday night that nothing could be further from the truth. "We love this pope to death," he said. "I'm not accusing him of anything the Family Federation" - Mr. Moon's group - "has been accused of, brainwashing and drugging."
Then Mr. Schanker went on to accuse the Vatican of stonewalling and sexism, and quoted the archbishop as having said that priestly celibacy was the cause of "all the lawsuits and all the pedophilia."
Today, the Catholic camp counterattacked. A close friend of the archbishop, Cardinal Giovanni Cheli, said in an e-mail message in response to written questions, "He recalls as a nightmare the psychological coercion and the continual control to which he was subjected in the period of his being separated from the Church."
Before his marriage in May, the archbishop was a relatively minor church figure who had finally been forced out of his Vatican job last year after decades of inside-the- walls unhappiness over his exorcisms and healings, both in his native Zambia and in Italy.
Still, his defection was more than just a passing embarrassment. Bishops have the right to ordain priests and consecrate other bishops, and the threat of a schism was an especially painful prospect in Africa, where a substantial and growing percentage of new Catholic priests now come from.
There is no question that Ms. Sung has put the Vatican on the defensive. In the weeks since the pope talked Archbishop Milingo back into the fold, Mr. Moon's followers have forced Catholic officials to bargain with them, through diplomatic intermediaries, over the details of the private meeting with the archbishop that Ms. Sung wants.
Each day seems to bring fresh humiliations for the church - and new questions about why the archbishop just does not meet with Ms. Sung and end the drama.
When he finally resurfaced on Friday, after what the Vatican had called a two-week retreat, it was on the evening news, in the Italian equivalent of a Connie Chung-Gary Condit post-scandal appearance.
"I love you like a sister," he said to Ms. Sung, reading from the letter he said he had written her, "and I will continue to pray for you all of my life."
He said he wanted to meet with her, but each side has accused the other of setting unreasonable conditions. Though the heat is clearly on the Vatican as Ms. Sung's hunger strike drags on, the Italian press has taken her fast with somewhat less than total seriousness. Corriere della Sera, for example, ran before and after shots of a now noticeably slimmer Ms. Sung. But her rigorous schedule of daily news conferences and interviews has inspired numerous sly suggestions that she might still be nipping out for a gelato at odd hours.
One such report, on the national news agency ANSA, said, "Maria seems to be holding up well after 14 days on hunger strike, and today at noon, in the torrid heat of Rome, she arrived at St. Peter's, crossed the piazza briskly, went around the obelisk, walked up the steps of the basilica and went into the church," in spike heels no less, the report noted.
The Vatican knows it is falling behind in the public-relations war. So churchmen who would presumably rather not dignify the Milingo spectacle with a response have belatedly begun weighing in.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, issued a statement comparing Ms. Sung's efforts to "a woman threatening suicide if the already married man she wants to marry will not leave his lawful wife."
On Monday, Ms. Sung prayed at St. Peter's at 6 a.m. and again at noon, but in the evening, receiving reporters one after the other at her bedside, she did look exhausted, speaking in a faint whisper and apparently drifting in and out of sleep.
When asked to answer those who feel she's been used by Mr. Moon, she came to, though, snorting, "They should check their own consciences before they say that."
She again promised to fast until death, though Mr. Schanker said he would not let it go that far. "The people around her would abandon her at that point," he said.

"Archbishop, Wife Meet at Rome Hotel"

(Associated Press, August 29, 2001)

ROME -- A Roman Catholic archbishop met with his South Korean wife for the first time in three weeks Wednesday and told her he couldn't stay married to her because of his commitments to the church, the Vatican said.
Emmanuel Milingo and Maria Sung, whose marriage had outraged the Vatican and led to fears he would be ex-communicated, met at the Michelangelo Hotel in Rome. He delivered a letter to her explaining his reasons for leaving her, the Vatican said.
``My commitments in the life of the church, with celibacy, don't allow me to be married,'' Milingo said in the handwritten letter, a copy of which was sent by the Vatican to news organizations. ``The call from my church to my first commitment is just.''
The Zambian archbishop said he was aware of Sung's suffering.
The two were married May 27 in New York by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in a group wedding. The Vatican had already been incensed with Milingo for his exorcisms and faith healings.
Sung, 43, hadn't heard from the 71-year-old Milingo since Aug. 8, the day after he met with the pope in a bid to avert his excommunication. The Vatican hasn't disclosed his whereabouts since then, saying only that he has been on a spiritual retreat
Last week, Milingo announced he had left Sung, telling national television that he had embraced the pope's appeal to return to the church.
Sung said at the time she didn't believe him and suggested that he had been drugged. She had been on a hunger strike for 16 days to press her demand that the Vatican let her see Milingo face-to-face.
Sung, a member of Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification Movement, has said she believed he was being held against his will.
The case not only embarrassed the Vatican but also raised concerns that Milingo, once the head of the Lusaka, Zambia diocese, might break from the church and consecrate his own noncelibate bishops. Before announcing his return to the church, Milingo had said celibacy was poisoning the priesthood.
On Wednesday, the Turin daily La Stampa reported that Sung had allegedly been married to an Italian man before marrying Milingo. A Sung spokesman, the Rev. Phillip Schanker, said he knew nothing about the alleged marriage.
Citing unidentified sources, La Stampa wrote that Sung supposedly married the man in the mid-1990s when she was working in Naples as an acupuncturist. A patient of the acupuncture studio told a priest of the marriage and the Vatican was subsequently told, the newspaper said.
Also citing unidentified sources, La Stampa wrote that the Neapolitan man reportedly told a relative that Sung had suddenly left him.
Sung has been asked at news conferences about similar reports of previous marriages. She has refused to reply, saying it was her private business.

"Il vescovo non è solo vittima, ha usato Moon": Intervista a Massimo Introvigne

di Filippo Salatino ("Il Quotidiano della Calabria", 28 agosto 2001)

Ixtaplan (Messico) - Perché un vescovo cattolico accetta un’unione combinata da un gruppo non cristiano e con una donna sconosciuta? Ci chiarisce l’intricato caso Milingo, Massimo Introvigne studioso dei fenomeni postmoderni, fondatore del CESNUR Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni

“Mons. Milingo rappresenta una religiosità popolare disprezzata da ambienti teologici progressisti, accolta dai fedeli, dal Santo Padre e da una minoranza di vescovi, che ne conoscono le possibili deviazioni ma ritengono vada evangelizzata non demonizzata: il rischio è che i fedeli si rivolgano altrove. Quando Milingo si sente perseguitato da molti vescovi inizia, dal 1994, ad avvicinarsi a Moon che lo accoglie. Nel 1999 concelebra un matrimonio di massa con Moon. Di fronte a quelle che gli sembrano nuove vessazioni, lascia al suo avvocato un nastro e afferma ”Se mi trattano da pagliaccio, farò il pagliaccio”; va a New York e si fa sposare da Moon. Milingo non è solo vittima; in certa misura, più o meno consapevolmente ha usato i moonies e Maria Sung, per aver udienza nelle alte gerarchie della Chiesa, cosa sempre impossibile in precedenza. Ma il ricorso a mezzi estremi lo mostra come un personaggio psicologicamente in sofferenza, ambivalente, oscillante quindi con un futuro assai incerto nella Chiesa”.
Perché la Federazione, nuova sigla della Chiesa dell’Unificazione di Moon, di tendenza antiprogressista, provoca un’aspra diatriba contro il Papa riciclando pregiudizi anticattolici?
“Il movimento vede nella vicenda la possibilità di tornare alla ribalta non per attività politico-culturali ma strettamente religiose. Se volesse trarre un bilancio di quanto è avvenuto dopo lo scioglimento formale della Chiesa dell’Unificazione nel 1994, dovrebbe ammettere che è positivo sul piano sociale (adesioni prestigiose, giornali divenuti autorevoli) quasi fallimentare su quello religioso: i fedeli che credono veramente che Moon sia il Messia, fuori da Giappone e Corea sono poche migliaia. Con Milingo si torna a parlare di Moon come leader religioso. Ma a un prezzo: la maggior parte della stampa ne parla male, pensando che abbia “manipolato” il povero Milingo ed è possibile che ciò rianimi in area cattolica, campagne contro le “sètte” prima in ribasso in Europa e Stati Uniti. La Santa Sede, può esprimere soddisfazione per il ritorno di Milingo ma deve pur interrogarsi sul rapporto con lui prima degli eventi (perché non dialogare?) e sulla non perfetta gestione della comunicazione (certa rigidità è disapprovata da molti mass-media), dando paradossalmente fiato ai nemici di sinistra del celibato (mentre Moon e Milingo sono descritti quali ultra-conservatori). Bisogna comprendere che la Santa Sede ha preso a cuore Milingo più di altre centinaia di preti e qualche vescovo che si sposano, perché non si tratta solo di una vicenda personale. Tra Italia e Africa Milingo ha decine di migliaia di seguaci e il rischio non era che diventassero tutti moonies quanto che Milingo fondasse una “Chiesa indipendente africana”: ne esistono più di 7000, in genere protestanti ma centinaia sono di origine cattolica”.
Per Messori ciò è causato da potenti settori clerico-intellettuali, infastiditi dalla proposta del Cristianesimo come rito gioioso, trascendenza, pratiche tradizionali
“Si stanno confrontando tendenze differenti del Cattolicesimo: nel primo, postmoderno, il percorso prevale sul discorso, l'esperienza sulla teologia, la religiosità popolare su quella istituzionale. Nel secondo -nostalgico della modernità come razionalità e religione nei limiti della sola ragione- le masse che cercano esperienza immediata devono esser condannate come superstiziose o ignorate come irrilevanti. Oggi ci sono 400 milioni di protestanti pentecostali e ogni giorno 1000 cattolici latino-americani vi aderiscono. Il Papa è cosciente della situazione, la capisce meglio dei teologi, cerca di evangelizzare la religiosità popolare fatta di miracoli, guarigioni, esorcismi (è nuova religiosità, non semplice ritorno a quella premoderna) senza condannarla. Invece una certa ntellettualità la considera alienante e non versa lacrime se le masse lasciano la Chiesa”.

"Archbishop publicly spurns wife as she continues fast"

by Richard Boudreaux ("Los Angeles Times," August 28, 2001)

VATICAN CITY -- At noon Friday, the 11th day of her hunger strike, the spurned wife of a Roman Catholic archbishop closed her eyes in St. Peter's Square and mouthed a silent prayer for reunion with her husband, whom she claims has been kidnapped by the Vatican.
By evening, Maria Sung's prayers were answered -- and all but crushed.
In a taped interview on Italian state television, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, 71, said he loved his bride, a 43-year-old South Korean acupuncturist, "as a sister" but could not resist Pope John Paul II's appeal that he abandon her.
The Milingo-Sung affair has embarrassed the Catholic Church with a high-profile challenge to its position on celibacy and dragged the Vatican into unwanted negotiations with the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who matched and married the couple in a May 27 ceremony in New York.
The Vatican does not formally recognize Moon's organization.
Friday's newscast ended the African cleric's two-week disappearance from public view but not the awkward standoff between the two churches.
"No, I don't believe it! It's not possible!" Sung said after watching the TV interview in the lobby of her Rome hotel and voicing concern over his "tired-looking face."
"He's been drugged," she declared.
Sung, who had looked wobbly as she clutched the archbishop's gold pectoral cross during her midday prayer, said she will continue starving herself "until he is free to meet me or until I die."
Milingo's appearance may bring the unlikely soap opera, which has seized Italy's late summer headlines, a step closer to a denouement. With South Korea's ambassador acting as a mediator, the two churches are trying to agree on terms for a meeting of the estranged couple.
The archbishop, wearing simple clerical garb, said on TV that he was looking forward to a meeting so he could explain his decision to Sung. "She'll understand," he said. "She's not a girl. She's an adult."
According to the Vatican, Milingo has been on spiritual retreat at an undisclosed place since Aug. 8, a day after the pope received him privately and admonished him: "In the name of Jesus, come back to the church."
"How can one resist this faith, this trust that the Holy Father showed me?" the archbishop said on TV.
Three days after the papal audience, Milingo said he wrote letters to John Paul and his wife saying his marriage had been a mistake. On TV, he charged that officials of Moon's church had withheld the letter from her.
Sung started her fast after reading a copy of the letter to the pope. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published photographs of her ripping it up, saying her husband must have been coerced. On Friday evening, she told reporters she was offered the letter addressed to her but decided not to read it.
"I will understand what's really happening only when I can be with him, talk to him," she said.
Fellow Catholic clergymen, who describe Milingo as a "loose cannon," have been trying to figure him out for more than two decades.
A rising clerical star in his native Zambia, he became, at age 39, one of the youngest Catholic archbishops. He returned the Vatican's favor by performing scandalous faith healing and exorcism rituals before large crowds.
In 1983, he was transferred from Zambia to a Vatican desk job. But he continued his exotic practices in Italy against his superiors' wishes, performing in hotels and factories, until he was removed again and stripped of his ultimate perk: a Vatican apartment.
The archbishop's lawyer, Emanuela Comiero, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that his eviction from the apartment last year pushed Milingo over the edge. He embraced Moon's church because it "showed him the respect and consideration that were denied him at the Vatican," the lawyer said.
Milingo and Moon found common cause in defying the Vatican's centuries-old celibacy rule for priests. The Zambian began attending group weddings conducted by Moon, a central practice of the Unification Church, and eventually allowed the reverend to choose a bride for him. Milingo and Sung met two days before they and 59 other couples were wed in unison.
The couple have declined to say whether their marriage was registered with civil authorities in South Korea, where they lived after their wedding, or in any other country.
Defending his marriage, Milingo asserted last month in a statement that the celibacy rule had failed its purpose of strengthening the Catholic clergy's spiritual purity. Instead, he said, the priesthood was "riddled" with "secret affairs and marriages, raping of nuns, illegitimate children, rampant homosexuality, pedophilia and illicit sex."
Saying he has not renounced Catholicism, he pleaded with the Vatican to accept him as a married cleric.
The reaction was curiously cautious. Instead of excommunicating Milingo outright, as it threatened to do, the Vatican gave him an Aug. 20 deadline to renounce his marriage.
The reason for the caution, Vatican watchers explain, is Milingo's rank. Any bishop has authority to ordain priests. If Milingo goes his own way, the Vatican is said to fear, he might continue to act as an archbishop, creating his own clergy -- married and otherwise -- and dividing the church.
A potential schismatic following exists. Priestly celibacy is a hotly debated topic among African Catholics. Worldwide, the Vatican admits, about 60,000 men have left the priesthood to marry over the past 30 years.
Before he vanished from view this month, Milingo moved about Rome wearing his bishop's ring on his right hand and what appeared to be a wedding band on his left.
After his disappearance came his wife's mineral-water-only fast and weepy prayer sessions in St. Peter's Square.
Pressing her campaign, Sung has stepped up her prayer visits . The noon appearance Friday was her third in 16 hours. About 100 followers joined her Thursday night, rallying around a banner that read, "Where is Milingo?"

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