Vatican suspends excommunication threat against married archbishop

Wednesday, August 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ With talks beginning, the Vatican said Wednesday that it has suspended its threat to excommunicate a Zambian archbishop who was married in one of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's mass weddings.

The announcement came a day after the Rev. Emmanuel Milingo had an audience with Pope John Paul II in what the Vatican said was the start of a dialogue it hoped could ``lead to positive developments.''

Milingo said Wednesday the pontiff asked him to think about what he had done.

``I must reflect,'' Milingo told a news conference. ``I must examine my conscience.''

But he stressed that any decision on how to proceed was not his alone to make.

``By this time, I am no longer single and I must consider another person _ my wife _ and her human rights,'' he said. ``Also my wife must understand the church's reasons.''

The Vatican had threatened to kick Milingo out of the church if he doesn't leave his wife by Aug. 20, sever ties with Moon's movement and remain celibate.

A Vatican official briefing reporters said no new deadline was set and the Vatican expected it will take some time to resolve the case. A second meeting between the pope and Milingo was scheduled for Friday.

Milingo had sought the papal audience to explain his reasons for marrying and his belief that priests should be allowed to have families. He has said that celibacy has fulfilled its purpose but is now poisoning the priesthood.

The 71-year-old archbishop was married May 27 in a group ceremony at a New York hotel in one of Moon's mass weddings. His bride, 43-year-old Maria Sung, was selected by Moon, as is customary in Moon's movement.

After the wedding, Milingo asked to be released from his vow of celibacy. But the Rev. Phillip Schanker of Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification _ and Milingo's own official Web site _ said Milingo consummated the marriage before hearing back from the Vatican.

Milingo dodged reporters' questions Wednesday about whether his marriage was actually legally registered.

``The less said the better about these details,'' Milingo said. ``And let's have respect for my wife. Besides, we are in a process that's already under way and I can't speak about it.''

He said the threat of excommunication didn't come up in the 40 minutes he spent with the pope at the pontiff's summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome _ or during an hour-long meeting with other senior Vatican officials.

Milingo has long been at odds with the Catholic hierarchy.

He was archbishop of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, when he ran afoul of the Vatican over his faith healing and exorcisms. He resigned under pressure in 1983.

Milingo then was brought to Rome as a functionary in the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, but continued public healing and exorcism. Last year, he was quietly retired from that post.