Vatican excommunicates defiant archbishop

September 27, 2006|By Tracy Wilkinson and Maria De Cristofaro | Tracy Wilkinson and Maria De Cristofaro,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ROME -- Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the provocative and colorful African prelate known for exorcisms, mass healing ceremonies and temporarily breaking with the church to marry a Korean acupuncturist, was excommunicated yesterday by the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI signed off on the most serious punishment that the Roman Catholic Church can mete out, apparently the final chapter in Milingo's bizarre, tumultuous story spanning more than two decades.

The edict came after Milingo presided over the "installation" in Washington of four married men as bishops this week. The ceremony was intended to dramatize Milingo's campaign, called Married Priests Now, to end celibacy rules for Catholic priests.

That act was the final straw for Vatican officials, who have scolded, cajoled and counseled Milingo over the years. Yesterday, the Vatican announced the excommunication, the first of a senior prelate in nearly 20 years, and asked for prayer in "these moments of ecclesiastical suffering."

By advocating an end to mandatory celibacy for priests and with his long history of defiance, Milingo was "spreading division and confusion among the faithful," the Vatican said, adding that Milingo was guilty of "irregularity and of progressively open rupture of communion with the church."

Technically, Milingo, 76, who was named a bishop in Zambia in 1969, can restore himself to good standing with the church if he repents and disavows his actions, but he has seemed bent lately on mounting a challenge to papal authority.

"Representatives at various levels of the church have attempted, in vain, to contact Archbishop Milingo to dissuade him from continuing in actions that provoke scandal," the Vatican statement said. The Holy See "had hoped he would rethink his actions and return to full communion with the pope. Unfortunately, these latest developments have distanced such hopes."

Milingo, in Washington, was "reflecting and praying," his spokesman Prince Pambi said. Pambi added that Milingo said his intention was to help "married priests who are suffering and help the Catholic Church understand them."

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Washington Archdiocese, said Milingo's actions in attempting to name bishops without Vatican approval were "clearly illicit."

The ceremony took place Sunday at the Imani Temple on Capitol Hill, site of a one-time Baptist church that is run by George A. Stallings Jr., a former Catholic priest who left the church in 1989.

Stallings is one of the four men Milingo said he was ordaining. The Vatican said the four - including Peter Paul Brennan, of New York, Patrick Trujillo of Newark, N.J., and Joseph Gouthro of Las Vegas - also were being excommunicated. All belong to a breakaway church.

Milingo, born in a village in what is today Zambia, has long been a source of embarrassment for the church. But he has enjoyed a huge following in Italy and in his African homeland.

His most serious previous confrontation with Catholic hierarchy came in 2001, when he married Marie Sung, a Korean acupuncturist who belonged to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. They were married in a mass wedding officiated by Moon in New York.

The Catholic world was shocked. Vatican officials at the time threatened to excommunicate him but were reluctant to do so, given his popularity. In the end, a personal plea from Pope John Paul II persuaded Milingo to renounce his marriage and return to the church.

Tracy Wilkinson and Maria De Cristofaro write for the Los Angeles Times.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.