The Vatican released a letter yesterday it said had been written by an errant archbishop promising to renounce a wife he married in a mass wedding in New York in May and to renew his devotion to the Roman Catholic Church.
The release of the handwritten letter, addressed to Pope John Paul II and dated 11 August, was the latest attempt by the Vatican to defuse the growing dispute over the fate of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, 71. The woman he married, a Korean acupuncturist named Maria Sung, is accusing the Vatican of holding him against his will.
Ms Sung, 41, also insists that her husband has been coerced by the Pope and his officials into turning his back on the marriage and embracing the church again. She returned to pray in St Peter's Square yesterday on the second day of a hunger strike. She has, meanwhile, indicated she may be pregnant.
The saga began with Archbishop Milingo's participation in the wedding. It took place in a New York hotel and was presided over by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the controversial head of the Unification church and the Family Federation for World Peace. The marriage scandalised the Vatican and the entire Catholic Church.
The letter released yesterday appeared to be in the archbishop's handwriting. Signed "Milingo", it said he will recommit his life "in the Catholic church with all my heart, renounce my living together with Maria Sung and my relationship with the Rev [Sun Myung] Moon and the Family Federation for World Peace".
There is no end in sight to the duelling between the Vatican on one side and Ms Sung, supported by officials of the Unification church, on the other. Ms Sung has said she will persist with her hunger strike until she is reunited with Archbishop Milingo. "I'm continuing my fasting condition until I see him," she said.
The Rev Phillip Schanker, who is a spokesman for Mr Moon, cast doubt on the letter, a typewritten version of which was released by the Vatican on Tuesday. He suggested it had been written "under duress" by the archbishop. "We'll respect whatever he wants, but we're not convinced this is what he wants," he said. "Let him stand up in front of the world and talk to the world."
Archbishop Milingo was forced to resign as Archbishop of Lusaka in 1983 for his holding non-conformist views and was given a post inside the Vatican. He has for years complained that the rule of celibacy was poisoning the Catholic priesthood. He travelled to Rome to explain himself to the Pope last week after the Vatican threatened to excommunicate him if he did not break from his new wife by 20 August.