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Archbishop renounces wife on newscast

By Richard Boudreaux Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2001

VATICAN CITY - At noon yesterday, the 11th day of her hunger strike, the spurned wife of a Roman Catholic archbishop closed her eyes in St. Peter's Square and mouthed a silent prayer for reunion with her husband, who she says has been kidnapped by the Vatican.

By evening, Maria Sung's prayers were answered - and all but crushed.

In a taped interview on Italian state television, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, 71, said he loved his bride, a 43-year-old South Korean acupuncturist, ''as a sister'' but could not resist Pope John Paul II's appeal that he abandon her.

The Milingo-Sung affair has embarrassed the Roman Catholic Church with a high-profile challenge to its position on celibacy and dragged the Vatican into unwanted negotiations with the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who matched and married the couple in a May 27 ceremony in New York. The Vatican does not formally recognize Moon's organization.

The newscast ended the African cleric's two-week disappearance from public view but not the awkward standoff between the two churches.

''No, I don't believe it! It's not possible!'' Sung said after watching the TV interview in the lobby of her Rome hotel and voicing concern over his ''tired-looking face.''

''He's been drugged,'' she declared.

Sung, who had looked wobbly as she clutched the archbishop's gold pectoral cross during her midday prayer, said she will continue starving herself ''until he is free to meet me or until I die.''

With South Korea's ambassador acting as a mediator, the two churches are trying to agree on terms for a meeting of the estranged couple.

The archbishop said on TV that he was looking forward to a meeting so he could explain his decision to Sung. ''She'll understand,'' he said. ''She's not a girl. She's an adult.''

According to the Vatican, Milingo has been on spiritual retreat at an undisclosed location since Aug. 8, a day after the pope received him privately and admonished him to return to the Church.

''How can one resist this faith, this trust that the Holy Father showed me?'' the archbishop said on TV.

Three days after the papal audience, Milingo said he wrote letters to John Paul and his wife saying that his marriage had been a mistake. On TV, he accused officials of Moon's church of withholding the letter from Sung.

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 8/25/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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