|For two weeks,
I was the lone journalist to show up every day at 6:00 am in
St. Peter’s Square to witness Maria Sung’s morning vigil.
Others came and went, but my Midwestern genes seem to afford
me a capacity unique in the Vatican press corps to start work
at the crack of dawn.
I thus had privileged access to Sung on
a daily basis. Moreover, I put questions to her in five press
conferences, interviewed her alone in her hotel room, and
observed her on several other public occasions.
Based on that experience, I can offer
the following contribution to the public record: No one
controlled Maria Sung.
Sung, of course, was one of the
principal actors in the most riveting soap opera of this Roman
summer. A 43-year-old Korean acupuncturist and a devoted
follower of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, she was personally selected
by Moon to wed 71-year-old Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel
Milingo. The marriage, along with Milingo’s alliance with
Moon’s Family Federation for World Peace and Unification,
shocked the Catholic world.
Milingo, after a surprise
heart-to-heart with the pope, said August 11 he wanted to back
out of the marriage and cut ties with Moon. Sung, convinced
Milingo was bullied by the Vatican, went on a hunger strike
until she was allowed to meet him. The encounter finally
happened August 29, and Milingo repeated what he told her in
an earlier letter: that he loved her as a “dear sister” but
that he was going to return to the Catholic church.
In the bitter public relations war
surrounding the affair, Sung’s freedom of action became an
acute point of debate. (So did Milingo’s, but that’s another
subject). Vatican officials believe, and have said so
repeatedly off the record, that Moon’s people pressured Sung
into her hunger strike and prevented her from listening to
reason. Words such as “brainwashing” and “mind control” were
Vatican-friendly Italian papers
expanded on the theme, accusing Moon of goading Sung into a
kamikaze-style suicide to inflict damage on the Catholic
church in Africa and elsewhere.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of
Washington, D.C. involved himself in the debate Aug. 22,
saying that Sung’s actions were likely the result of
“psychological pressure and unrealistic reasoning.”
Milingo himself, in his first public
appearance on Aug. 24 after 16 days of seclusion, accused Rev.
Phillip Schanker, an officer of the Family Federation and
Sung’s key advisor, of blocking attempts to contact
One can understand the suspicions. Moon
is an ambiguous figure, and some former members of his
Unification Church have publicly charged they were manipulated
by what they describe as a “cult.”
(It should be noted that independent
examinations of such complaints draw mixed conclusions. Tim
Miller of the University of Kansas, one of the country’s
foremost experts on new religious movements, said the pressure
the Unification Church exerts on members is probably not much
different from that generated by more “mainstream”
Whatever one’s preconceptions, I became
convinced that Sung was not carrying water for Moon in this
case. She truly believed that in the three months they lived
together, she and Milingo had established a lasting love. She
believed the Emmanuel Milingo who later said he regards her as
“a sister” had been drugged, coerced. She believed that if
they could only meet, she would break through to the real man,
and their rekindled love would “be like a river that cannot be
These convictions may appear either
admirable or ridiculous, depending on one’s point of view. But
they were indisputably her own.
Do I believe the Family Federation
benefited from Sung’s suffering? Yes. They stood toe-to-toe
with the Vatican, despite the fact that the Catholic church
numbers one billion adherents worldwide while Miller says most
scholars would be surprised if Moon has more than 200,000. No
amount of Moon money could buy this kind of elevated public
Do I believe some of the people around
Sung enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, relishing the hordes of
journalists who waited hours in hotel lobbies for a glimpse of
them, who hung on their every utterance?
Again, yes. To suggest otherwise would
reflect a poor grasp of human nature.
Yet I saw Sung, in public and in
private, reject suggestions from her advisors. I watched her
retinue cringe as she said things that clearly veered
off-script. They never, however, impeded anyone’s access to
her, and they always honored her wishes.
In response to a suggestion from my
wife, I asked Sung this question one morning: Would she drop
her hunger strike if Moon specifically ordered her to do so?
She waved her finger at me and barked a firm “no,” and I
Whoever profited from it, whatever
larger social or political significance it carried, Sung wrote
her own script.
If the Vatican, if anyone, doesn’t like
it, their beef is not with Sun Myung Moon. It’s with Maria
The e-mail address for John L. Allen
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