Wife of Archbishop Demands to See Her Husband

Saturday: Maria Sung cries during a press conference.
Saturday, August 11, 2001

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VATICAN CITY — The wife of an archbishop who scandalized the Vatican by getting married pleaded tearfully Saturday to be allowed to see her husband and threatened to go on a hunger strike if church officials denied her request.

Maria Sung suggested that the church was holding her husband, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, against his will after he met with the pope and Vatican officials in an effort to open a dialogue and avert his excommunication.

"I am afraid that my husband is not free to speak with me," Sung told a press conference at a Rome hotel, reading from a prepared statement in Italian. "I am asking the church that my husband loves to tell me where he is."

Milingo, a Zambian, and his wife traveled to Italy last week, and Milingo met Tuesday with Pope John Paul II to discuss his reasons for getting married in one of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's group weddings. Milingo has said priests need not be celibate and that God's blessings were meant to be given through the family.

Emmanuel Milingo is escorted by Italian police officers after a meeting with the pope.

After the meeting, the Vatican suspended its threat to throw Milingo out of the church while talks continued. The Vatican had previously said Milingo faced excommunication if he didn't leave his wife by Aug. 20, sever his ties with Moon's movement, publicly promise to remain celibate and "manifest his obedience to the Supreme Pontiff."

In a statement Saturday, the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog ・the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith ・said Milingo had decided to reconcile after meeting with the pope and being reminded "of his responsibilities to God and the church."

"After the lamentable events to which he was a protagonist, he has decided to take a period of reflection and prayer in view of his total reconciliation," the statement said.

Milingo has said he doesn't want to leave the church, and after his meeting Tuesday with the pope said he was going to take time to reflect and pray. But he said he would have to consult his wife before deciding what to do next.

Sung said she hadn't seen her husband since Monday. They spoke briefly by telephone Wednesday. "He told me he was facing a difficult fight, and that he was not free to talk, but would call back soon," she said.

Efforts to reach Milingo through his Italian handlers had failed, she told reporters, speaking behind a pink-framed photograph of the smiling couple.

One of Milingo's Italian handlers, Alba Vitali, who helped arrange the meeting with the pope, has said Milingo was in the hands of God in retreat, where he couldn't be disturbed.

Sung, who repeatedly broke down in tears and at one point briefly left the press conference, said she would begin fasting in three days or less if she wasn't allowed to see her husband.

"My husband told me he would give his life to protect me," her statement read. "But I don't know where he is, and I am afraid for what is happening to him. So now, I am willing to give my life to find him."

Milingo has long been at odds with the Catholic hierarchy.

He was archbishop of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, when he ran afoul of the Vatican over his faith healing and exorcisms. He resigned under pressure in 1983.

Milingo then was brought to Rome as a functionary in the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, but continued public healing and exorcism. Last year, he was quietly retired from that post.

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