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Milingo in His Own Words - Almost

A review by Massimo Introvigne of Emmanuel Milingo, Il pesce ripescato dal fango. Conversazioni con Michele Zanzucchi, Cinisello Balsamo (Milan): San Paolo, 2002

Note (April 2007): This review was written when the book was released in 2002. After he left (again) the Roman Catholic Church in 2006, Milingo stated repeatedly (as confirmed in the long interview by Peter Manseau: “A Marriage Made in Heaven?”, The Washington Post, March 11, 2007) that the book did not include “his words but those of a Vatican-orchestrated PR effort”.

Mons. Emmanuel Milingo, the popular Roman Catholic Bishop – born in Zambia, but from many years living in Italy – who on May 27, 2001 shocked the Catholic world by being married to Korean acupuncturist Dr. Maria Sung by reverend Sun Myung Moon, then shocked the Unification movement by leaving Maria and returning to the Catholic fold, has now published his long awaited book, where he tells his truth on the incident to Italian Catholic journalist Michele Zanzucchi. The book is selling quite well both in his Italian and Spanish editions. My conclusion, after reading the book, is that, at the same time, it offers useful insights, tries to lead the reader astray, and misses some opportunities. All three conclusions will no doubt prove controversial in certain quarters. Let me shortly explain each of them.

Firstly, contrary to what was said by irate spokespersons for the Unification movement, Zanzucchi managed to ask some of the right questions, and did obtain some useful answers. The book tells us a lot about Milingo’s psychological situation prior to May 27, 2001. It confirms what various observers indicated during that chaotic summer of 2001 (before Milingo was displaced once and for all from the front pages of the Italian newspapers by September 11), i.e. that the main reason for what he did was protesting against what he perceived as a “persecution” by a number of his fellow Catholic Bishops. The book shows, quite vividly, the contrast between Milingo’s African Catholicism, made of lights, sounds, healings, exorcisms and noise (too many exorcisms and too much noise, for the taste of several Italian Bishops), and a rationalist Christianity prevailing both in Italy and among “modernized” African Bishops, who called for his “exile” to Rome in the first place. Milingo’s insistence on how important singing is for him, and how humiliated he felt when he was told not to sing in TV and at pop music events (which he did, before being censored), appears to be quite significant. If we miss the element of protest, we miss a lot about Milingo’s wedding. It is true that Zanzucchi (who apparently read only a couple of anti-cult exposes about the Unification movement) manages to induce Milingo to say (after repeated attempts)) that “perhaps I was subject to same sort of brainwashing” (p. 47), and that he “cannot exclude with full certainty that drugs or hypnotism were involved” (p. 41) – but the African Bishop immediately adds: “However, I rather think that I was really convinced by their preaching” (p. 41). For anybody remotely familiar with anti-cult literature on brainwashing, there are in the book much more credible candidates for practising brainwashing than the “Moonies”: the duo of Italian painter Alba Vitali and businessman Maurizio Bisantis. Milingo tells us how the strange duo “mistreated and abused me like I was a small boy” (p. 52), virtually kidnapped him in Milan, secluded him from any outside contact, and took him around Italy without even telling him where he exactly was. Unificationist criticism, however, missed entirely the point above Vitali and Bisantis: in no way were they agents for the Roman Catholic Church or hired guns for “the Vatican”. They had their own agenda, i.e. persuading Milingo to leave the Unification movement while at the same time having him expose the Catholic hierarchy as guilty of his previous “persecution”.

From another point of view, the book tries to lead the reader astray, and it is unclear whether this is Milingo’s or Zanzucchi’s fault. The African Bishop explicitly states about the Unification movement that “I didn’t know a great deal” about it before marrying Maria, although he vaguely “heard about (…) those mass weddings” (p. 36). Since the Bishop is supposed to have read the whole manuscript, and even to have suggested the controversial title, “The Fish Taken Out of the Mud”, he should also have allowed Zanzucchi to write that Milingo “started” his relationship with reverend Moon’s movement shortly before May 2001 (p. 9). This is definitely not true. Not only did Milingo know the Unification movement from several years, but in 1999 he had already been censored in a document by the Roman Catholic Bishops of South Korea. for having shared the podium with reverend Moon himself on February 7, 1999, at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium, at the largest mass wedding in history. Milingo also says that he did not know his bride Maria Sung until a few days before the wedding, when reverend Moon chose her for him. This, of course, was discussed at length in the Italian media (not only in the tabloids) in 2001. What emerged was a rumour (not an official declaration) in Unificationist circles that Milingo did know Maria Sung (who lived in Naples) well before the wedding, and had himself “suggested” the choice to reverend Moon. Scholars shouldn’t bother to ascertain who is right in a typical “he says, she says” situation (and what Maria really says will probably only be clarified by her own announced book, if she will in fact publish it). On the other hand, Maria did have a living, non-divorced husband in Naples, the Unification movement did know it, and without Milingo’s insistence it would be difficult to explain the choice. Clearly, in creating a situation which would surely attract enormous media attraction in Italy, the Unification movement could not expect that Maria’s non-divorced husband (living in Naples, not in faraway Korea) may escape detection by some Italian investigative journalist forever – and he didn’t. All this makes it more difficult to believe Milingo when he states that, through the wedding, he planned to find “many new disciples in this huge association” (the Unification movement, which after all is not that “huge”), “a crowd ready for evangelization” (p. 48). Nor is it completely clear how this evangelization programme squares with the conspiracy theory which has impressed so many Italian reviewers, i.e. that by recruiting Milingo reverend Moon planned to create in Africa “a parallel Catholic Church independent from Rome, with its own hierarchy (…). I was handpicked as the leader of this new church” (p. 50). How exactly a splinter Catholic Church in Africa would have suited reverend Moon’s own plans is unclear. With the move from the Unification Church to the Family Federation, Moon seems to have switched to claim for himself the role of a leader in an international, inter-religious conservative movement: a project for which the last thing he needed was a clash with the Roman Catholic Church because of his sponsorship of a schismatic Catholicism, in Africa or elsewhere. On the other hand, it is not that clear either what the Unification Church really thought it could achieve through the whole Milingo incident. Some (presumably sincere) Unificationists keep telling me, and other scholars, that one aim was a dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. This was, of course, incredibly naïve at best, and the result has been just the opposite. The Milingo case has re-energized an almost dying Catholic counter-cult movement, which has received new funding and resources and is now taken much more seriously by the hierarchy than it was before Milingo married Maria Sung. Counter-cultists were able to persuade several Catholic Bishops that leaving the “cults” alone would simply no longer do:  “cults” are not leaving alone Catholics, and dared to enter the very Vatican to “steal” and claim as their own one of the Bishops working in the Roman curia.

Thirdly, the book misses an opportunity. One of Zanzucchi’s conclusion is interesting, when he writes that “it is absolutely crucial to explain that reverend Moon’s doctrine really interested and fascinated Mons. Milingo. Without this key point, we will never understand what happened in 2001” (p. 46). This is a very good starting point, but Zanzucchi does not go on and ask himself – or Milingo – why on Earth a Roman Catholic Bishop should by fascinated by “Moonie” theology. The conflict before 2001 between Milingo and his fellow Catholic Bishops is entirely explained through Milingo’s deeds, not creeds. Nowhere is analyzed what Milingo wrote before 2001: and he wrote a lot. A complete analysis remains to be done, but it would be interesting to study both Milingo’s millennial and apocalyptic ideas about an imminent second coming of Christ, and his extreme demonology, both much more typical of some brands of Evangelical theology than of Roman Catholicism, and perhaps predisposing factors for his fascination with Moon’s Divine Principle. Nor does Zanzucchi elaborate on Milingo’s previous controversy with the Catholic hierarchy, i.e. his participation in the activities of Father Nicholas Gruner, the leader of the International Fatima Rosary Crusade (IFRC), a fringe Catholic group repeatedly denounced by Rome. At a conference organized by Gruner in 1996 (which he attended despite a Vatican prohibition), Milingo told the audience that Satanists (including members of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan) had infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church, at the highest levels and particularly in the U.S. He repeated just the same after marrying Sung. These are interesting themes I would have liked to see discussed in the book: not in order to add to Milingo’s private and all too human sufferings, but to understand exactly what happened, and why it happened, in 2001 – precisely the stated aim of the book.

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