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From: News and Views | Beyond the City |
Sunday, August 12, 2001

Bishop's Wife: Where Is He?

Daily News Staff Writer

he odd tale of the archbishop who scandalized the Vatican by marrying a Moonie turned downright weird yesterday as the prelate's wife threatened a hunger strike amid signs he had returned to the Catholic fold.

Maria Sung, a follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, hinted that the Vatican had kidnapped her husband, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, after he met with Pope John Paul last week in an effort to avert his excommunication.

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Emmanuel Milingo with wife Maria Sung

"I am afraid that my husband is not free to speak with me," Sung tearfully told a press conference at a Rome hotel. "I am asking the church ... to tell me where he is."

In keeping with the air of mystery, however, Milingo was said by his Italian handlers to be in the hands of God at a retreat, where he couldn't be disturbed for 15 days.

The faceoff was the latest in a saga that began when Milingo — a Zambian archbishop already on the outs with the church for his exorcisms and faith healings — married Sung, an acupuncturist from South Korea, in May at a group wedding at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

The Vatican immediately read Milingo the religious riot act, telling him he risked excommunication if he did not leave his wife, sever links with Moon and declare his fidelity to the Pope and the Catholic Church's law of celibacy.

The Pope originally set a deadline of Aug. 20 for Milingo to make a decision but suspended the deadline this week after Milingo turned up in Rome sporting his bishop's ring on his right hand and what appeared to be a wedding band on his left.

The 71-year-old Milingo reportedly turned up unannounced at the Pope's summer residence on Monday. The pontiff saw him briefly then and again on Tuesday, after which the Vatican announced Milingo's "total reconciliation."

Milingo has said he doesn't want to leave the church and indicated at a press conference Tuesday that he was going to take time to reflect. In an apparent first for an archbishop, he also was asked publicly if he had consummated his marriage.

The answer, which Milingo declined to give, could affect a solution to the dilemma, given the Vatican's prohibition of sex within the priesthood.

Last night, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said Milingo should be left alone to pray.

"The feelings of Maria Sung deserve respect, but also deserving respect are the spiritual efforts of his excellency, Emmanuel Milingo, who has freely asked for a period of reflection and prayer," Benedettini said.

Whatever the outcome, Sung made it clear yesterday that she would not give up her husband quietly. She said she hoped to begin her hunger strike directly in front of the Vatican within three days.

"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."

With News Wire Services

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