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Wednesday, August 15, 2001 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Church: Archbishop returns to fold

By Tom Hundley
Chicago Tribune

VATICAN CITY — Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, whose marriage scandalized the Vatican, is giving up his wife and returning to the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said yesterday.

It also said Milingo was breaking off his relationship with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Milingo was married in a ceremony conducted by Moon on May 27 in New York.

A popular African cleric, Milingo hasn't been seen in public for more than a week. According to the Vatican, he is engaged in "prayer and reflection."

According to his wife, the archbishop is being held prisoner in the papal apartments. She began a hunger strike yesterday and promised to "fast to the death" unless she is allowed to see him.

She also hinted she might be pregnant with his baby.

For the Vatican, the Milingo affair has blossomed into a bizarre scandal that embarrasses the church and challenges its position on priestly celibacy and the sanctity of the family.

The scandal also threatens to undermine the church's standing among its growing ranks of believers in Africa while embroiling the Vatican in a messy argument with African-American Protestants.

The Vatican tried to defuse the crisis yesterday by releasing a letter from Milingo in which he declares his loyalty to the pope.

Milingo, 72, the former Archbishop of Lusaka in Zambia, built a large personal following in Africa by combining Catholic spirituality with native African mysticism. His specialties were faith healing and exorcisms.

But this blending of doctrine with folklore troubled church authorities, and in 1983 he was transferred from Lusaka to a desk job at the Vatican.

Milingo continued to perform exorcisms and other exotic rituals in Italy, drawing large and enthusiastic congregations to services that sometimes were held in warehouses.

A year ago, the Vatican issued a new set of guidelines dealing with exorcisms and healings that was clearly aimed at reigning him in.

Last May, he took a wife in a group wedding ceremony performed in New York by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church.

Milingo married Maria Sung, a 43-year-old Korean acupuncturist chosen to be his bride by Moon.

For this breach of his celibacy vows, the Vatican threatened Milingo with excommunication. He had a private visit with Pope John Paul II on Aug. 7, and last spoke to his wife the following day.

At a teary news conference yesterday, Sung said that her husband was being kept from her against his will and that in addition to the hunger strike, she also would stage a daily prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square until she is allowed to see him.

"I love Emmanuel Milingo with all my heart, and I am ready to give my life to protect him, just as he would do for me. I want to meet my husband face to face, without anyone's control," Sung said, reading from a prepared statement in Italian.

She was flanked by advisers from the Unification Church and by the Rev. Zagery Oliver, a representative of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, a group with ties to Moon. Oliver said that African-American clergymen "are very concerned that (Milingo) could possibly be subject to ill treatment because of his ethnic background."

Some of Milingo's supporters said they were trying to get the Rev. Jesse Jackson to intervene. The Vatican "would not treat a European priest this way. You would not hear anyone calling him a `voodoo priest' if he were white," said the Rev. Phillip Schanker, a Unification Church clergyman who has been acting as spokesman for Milingo and his wife.

At a hastily called news conference last evening, Sung contended that Milingo's letter — in which he said he was recommitting himself "in the Catholic Church with all my heart (and) renouncing my living together with Maria Sung and my relationship with the Rev. Moon" — had been coerced and that her husband might have been drugged.

A Vatican spokesman denied that Milingo is being held against his will or that he is being "deprogrammed."

Before he disappeared from public view, Milingo said he remained a Catholic believer but rejected the church's teaching on celibacy.

"They'll never change Milingo's mind (about celibacy). This has been a very deep thing for him for 30 years," Schanker said.

At this point, the church appears to be wary of ex-communicating Milingo. He has a large following, and his style has proven to be a winning formula in Africa, where the church has enjoyed its most significant growth in years.

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Maria Sung says she'll fast until she's allowed to see her husband

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