Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo says he has no intention of launching a new sect in Africa funded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon as a rival to Roman Catholicism, and charged that his latest break with the Vatican is the result of "intolerable restrictions" imposed on him over the last five years, as well as a deep "lack of appreciation" for his spiritual gifts as an exorcist.
Now, Milingo says, he wants to help reconcile married priests with the Catholic church, as well as to promote better understanding between Catholicism and Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Milingo spoke to NCR July 14 in an exclusive interview in a hotel room in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington.
Earlier in the day, Milingo took part in a press conference announcing the formation of a new group, "Married Priests Now!", which will agitate for the return of roughly 150,000 married priests who have left the church in recent decades.
Milingo, who was made a bishop by Pope Paul VI in 1969 at the age of 39, has long been a thorn in the side of church authorities because of his controversial practice of mass exorcism ceremonies.
In 2001, he broke away from the Catholic church and wed a follower of Moon, a then-43 Korean acupuncturist named Maria Sung. After a tempestuous few weeks, including a surprise meeting with Pope John Paul II at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, Milingo returned to obedience.
He was allowed to resume a limited form of his healing ministry outside Rome.
Two weeks ago, however, Milingo disappeared from Italy and reappeared in the United States at the side of Archbishop George Stallings, leader of his own breakaway group, the African American Catholic Congregation, based in Washington, D.C., as well as followers of Moon.
Milingo rejected fears, frequently voiced in Rome, that if he were ever to fall back under the spell of Moon, the charismatic 76-year-old Zambian prelate might lead a breakaway congregation in Africa offering a married priesthood and drawing on traditional African religious practices, especially healing and the casting out of demons. Such a movement, some Vatican officials worry, could hobble the Catholic church on the continent where its recent growth has been the most dramatic.
"We have no ambition at all, in any way, to do anything of that kind," Milingo said.
Milingo added that he was "very surprised at how the Catholic church has spread so much evil against the Rev. Moon," and that he would like to be an "intermediary" between the two religious bodies.
Milingo claimed that Moon's vision for global peace and the family are consistent with recent papal teaching. He said he has been fishing three times with Moon, and was "very, very surprised" at Moon's "simplicity" and his spirit of "living for others."
"I've seen what he has done," Milingo said.
In a 2002 memoir titled Fished from the Mud, Milingo was quoted as hinting that Moon's people may have drugged or brainwashed him, prompting his marriage and eventual break with the church.
In his NCR interview, however, Milingo insisted that he had said no such thing, and that it was church authorities who insisted that he had been brainwashed.
"All my problems come from the lack of appreciation [by the authorities of the Catholic church] for the spiritual gifts I have," he said.
"It was too much for them to believe that in the modern world, I can simply say 'let this happen,' and it happens," he said.
Milingo offered several examples of his alleged spiritual prowess, including a recent phone call from a woman in Modena, Italy, who complained that 20 days after the birth of her child she could not produce mother's milk. Milingo said he instructed her to draw a glass of water, which he blessed over the phone. He instructed the mother to drink it, and immediately afterwards she began to lactate.
"They can't believe such things are possible," he said, with respect to Vatican officials and bishops who were reluctant to have him in their dioceses.
Milingo told NCR that for the time being, he intends to establish a base of operations in Washington at Stallings' Imani Temple. Eventually, he said, he will return to Zambia and resume his ministry of preaching and healing. Milingo said Sung, whom he insists he has always considered his wife, is with him in Washington and the couple will make a home together there.
He said that he has written to Benedict XVI to inform the pope of his whereabouts and his intentions, but that at present he sees "no reason" for requesting a meeting with the pope, as he did with John Paul.
Milingo had nothing but affection for the late pope, who, he said, had appealed to Milingo as his elder, with "beautiful words" of reconciliation. Yet he told an at-times harrowing story of his subsequent treatment, beginning with what he called his "violent separation" from Sung after his return to the fold in the summer of 2001.
"The shadow of Maria Sung always hung over me, it was very strong," he said. "It was dangerous for me to even be talking with any woman at all."
"I found myself literally surrounded by spies," he said. He said these "spies" were primarily priests and sisters who claimed to have the authority of the Vatican, including what he called some "enthusiasts of Medjugorje," the site of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the former Yugoslavia.
At one stage, Milingo alleged, three different groups, whom he declined to identify, planned to "kidnap" him from his residence in Zagarola outside Rome, to use him for their own purposes.
Apparently realizing the extraordinary nature of his account, at one point Milingo exclaimed, "I am not drunk!"
The kidnap plots led him, he said, to "rebel" and to leave Italy for Zambia in December 2004, not to return until early February in 2005. Upon his return, he said, the Vatican agreed to get rid of most of the people around him.
Shortly after the election of Benedict XVI, Milingo said, the new pope received him and said he was glad they had been able to "take away these stumbling blocks that are stifling your work."
Yet, Milingo said, he was still required to travel with a Vatican bodyguard, at his own expense, wherever he went.
Milingo said he decided to make a definitive break now for two reasons.
First, he said, he had lived through five years of "doubts and difficulties," wondering if he had made the right choice. During all that time, he said, he thought of himself as married to Sung.
Second, he said, the resistance to his preaching and healing gradually became more and more intolerable.
"People knew my gift was beyond doubt," he said. "But the dioceses didn't want me. Some bishops jumped so high at the mention of my name, it was as if the church had springs."
This led him to ask God, he said, "Why do you have such a structure that separates itself from humanity?"
In the last two weeks, Milingo said, he gradually planned his escape. He called a private friend and asked her to make his travel arrangements, avoiding local travel agencies and well-known carriers. He said when the morning came, he celebrated Mass, ate lunch, and then when people in the residence were expecting him to nap, he simply walked out into a waiting car.
"We had to leave without arousing too much dust," he explained.
He said he left the key to his room on the altar in the chapel.
Those who have watched the ups and downs of the Milingo story over the years will be hesitant to say that its last chapter has now been written, or that the mercurial Zambian prelate doesn't have other surprises in store.