VATICAN CITY, Aug.
28 -- Emmanuel Milingo would hardly be the first man to want out of
a relationship without the fuss of a face-to-face encounter, or to
conclude that a well- worded note would do the trick.
Neither, of course, is Maria Sung the first spouse to react to
such treatment with dire threats.
But though the language of romance has been used to describe the
continuing saga of Archbishop Milingo and Ms. Sung seems less a love
story than an interfaith firefight.
The archbishop married Ms. Sung at one of the Rev. Sun Myung
Moon's multiple weddings in May, left her several weeks ago,
reconciled with the pope, then dropped out of sight.
In response, Ms. Sung has staged a hunger strike for 15 days and
counting, tearfully threatening to starve herself unless her husband
tells her the news in person. (At a news conference today she called
the fast "a promise I made to God.")
She has refused to read the letter he sent, or to believe he
meant what he said when he read portions of that letter on national
television. She has repeatedly said he must have been drugged or
Yet none of the Italian reporters who are covering this tale has
come up with much evidence that the ex- couple of the moment ever
knew each other very well. And in religious circles, the spectacle
is widely seen as a straightforward and highly successful public
relations attack on the Vatican by an outfit that the Curia does not
even deign to consider its spiritual competition.
William Devlin, the evangelical president of the Urban Family
Council in New York, who works with both Catholics and followers of
Mr. Moon and his Unification Church, said he feels that the latter
have been unfair. "They've been so ready to use this to criticize
the Catholic doctrine of celibacy for their priests that it's very
disappointing," he said.
Michael Novak, who holds the George Frederick Jewett chair in
religion and public policy at the conservative American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, said he was surprised. "I really didn't
anticipate this much animosity in the Unification Church toward the
Catholic Church," he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Moon's organization, the Rev. Phillip
Schanker, said in an interview at Ms. Sung's hotel here on Monday
night that nothing could be further from the truth. "We love this
pope to death," he said. "I'm not accusing him of anything the
Family Federation" Mr. Moon's group "has been accused of,
brainwashing and drugging."
Then Mr. Schanker went on to accuse the Vatican of stonewalling
and sexism, and quoted the archbishop as having said that priestly
celibacy was the cause of "all the lawsuits and all the
Today, the Catholic camp counterattacked. A close friend of the
archbishop, Cardinal Giovanni Cheli, said in an e-mail message in
response to written questions, "He recalls as a nightmare the
psychological coercion and the continual control to which he was
subjected in the period of his being separated from the Church."
Before his marriage in May, the archbishop was a relatively minor
church figure who had finally been forced out of his Vatican job
last year after decades of inside-the- walls unhappiness over his
exorcisms and healings, both in his native Zambia and in Italy.
Still, his defection was more than just a passing embarrassment.
Bishops have the right to ordain priests and consecrate other
bishops, and the threat of a schism was an especially painful
prospect in Africa, where a substantial and growing percentage of
new Catholic priests now come from.
There is no question that Ms. Sung has put the Vatican on the
defensive. In the weeks since the pope talked Archbishop Milingo
back into the fold, Mr. Moon's followers have forced Catholic
officials to bargain with them, through diplomatic intermediaries,
over the details of the private meeting with the archbishop that Ms.
Each day seems to bring fresh humiliations for the church and new
questions about why the archbishop just does not meet with Ms. Sung
and end the drama.
When he finally resurfaced on Friday, after what the Vatican had
called a two-week retreat, it was on the evening news, in the
Italian equivalent of a Connie Chung-Gary Condit post-scandal
"I love you like a sister," he said to Ms. Sung, reading from the
letter he said he had written her, "and I will continue to pray for
you all of my life."
He said he wanted to meet with her, but each side has accused the
other of setting unreasonable conditions. Though the heat is clearly
on the Vatican as Ms. Sung's hunger strike drags on, the Italian
press has taken her fast with somewhat less than total seriousness.
Corriere della Sera, for example, ran before and after shots of a
now noticeably slimmer Ms. Sung. But her rigorous schedule of daily
news conferences and interviews has inspired numerous sly
suggestions that she might still be nipping out for a gelato at odd
One such report, on the national news agency ANSA, said, "Maria
seems to be holding up well after 14 days on hunger strike, and
today at noon, in the torrid heat of Rome, she arrived at St.
Peter's, crossed the piazza briskly, went around the obelisk, walked
up the steps of the basilica and went into the church," in spike
heels no less, the report noted.
The Vatican knows it is falling behind in the public-relations
war. So churchmen who would presumably rather not dignify the
Milingo spectacle with a response have belatedly begun weighing
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, issued
a statement comparing Ms. Sung's efforts to "a woman threatening
suicide if the already married man she wants to marry will not leave
his lawful wife."
On Monday, Ms. Sung prayed at St. Peter's at 6 a.m. and again at
noon, but in the evening, receiving reporters one after the other at
her bedside, she did look exhausted, speaking in a faint whisper and
apparently drifting in and out of sleep.
When asked to answer those who feel she's been used by Mr. Moon,
she came to, though, snorting, "They should check their own
consciences before they say that."
She again promised to fast until death, though Mr. Schanker said
he would not let it go that far. "The people around her would
abandon her at that point," he said.