Emmanuel Milingo, the archbishop, who scandalised the Catholic world by defecting to the sect of Rev Sun Myung Moon and marrying a Korean woman, has turned up in Rome in an apparent attempt to make peace with Pope John Paul II.
Church sources said the archbishop, who was born in Zambia, showed up unexpectedly on Monday night at the papal summer residence of Castelgandolfo, south-east of Rome, and spent about half an hour inside.
It was not clear if the 71-year-old archbishop, a charismatic faith healer and exorcist, actually met the Pope or whether he spoke to a papal aide.
The visit took place just two weeks before a Vatican deadline of 20 August for the archbishop publicly to renounce Mr Moon's sect, leave the wife chosen for him by Mr Moon (in defiance of Roman Catholic celibacy rules) and return to the fold – or face excommunication.
The visit, the latest surprise by the colourful maverick prelate, could lead to a last-minute personal reconciliation with the Vatican. But most church observers believe the archbishop's career in the Roman Catholic Church ended when he joined Mr Moon's controversial Unification Church in New York in May last year.
Vatican sources said at the time the Pope felt hurt by the archbishop's action because the pontiff had often been lenient with him when others in the church felt he should have been disciplined.
The archbishop's marriage and defection was the latest in a string of embarrassments he caused the Vatican over what some church authorities consider his unorthodox methods. Last month, the Vatican ordered him to comply with conditions set by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or face being cut off from the church. Excommunication has been rare in recent times, particularly for high-ranking prelates.
After his wedding in New York last May, the archbishop told reporters he was unconcerned by the threat of excommunication.
"God is still with me," he said. "I love my church." But he also said the Vatican was judging him and trying to put him up against a wall.