Vatican City -- - An African archbishop who married a Korean acupuncturist in a group wedding conducted by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon can no longer be considered a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said on Monday.
In an unusually strong statement, Vatican chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo "could not be considered a bishop of the Catholic Church" and would be subject to "foreseen canonical sanctions."
Analysts said "sanctions" almost certainly meant formal excommunication.
He had "inflicted a serious wound on the communion which priests above all must show with the Church," Navarro-Valls said.
According to Canon Law, Milingo -- a Zambian -- will be excommunicated if the Vatican considers him guilty of apostasy or violating the Church's strict celibacy laws. Priests are not allowed to marry without first leaving the clergy.
Zambia's Roman Catholic bishops said they would meet in Lusaka on Tuesday to discuss what they see as a crisis. "Bishops are shocked. It is stunning," a spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops told Reuters.
Milingo, a controversial 71-year-old faith healer who also practices exorcism, married 43-year-old Maria Sung in a ballroom at the New York Hilton on Sunday.
The service, one of 60 performed during the day, was conducted by Moon, who chose Milingo's bride for him.
After the wedding, Milingo told reporters he was unconcerned by the threat of excommunication.
"God is still with me," he said. "I love my church."
Milingo said on Saturday that as a celibate priest, matrimony had been the farthest thing from his mind.
"It is only through the command of Jesus, and the counsel and support of Reverend and Mrs Sun Myung Moon, that I take this unexpected and bold step that I have wrestled with in my heart for some time."
But he has appeared at times to see himself as a victim of religious persecution.
"The restrictions they are putting on me have me against the wall," he told reporters after recapping his contentious history with the Vatican, where he has lived for 20 years. "They are judging me."
Milingo's marriage is the latest in a string of embarrassments he has caused the Vatican over what some Church authorities consider his unorthodox methods.
In defiance of diocesan bishops in Italy, he has presided at colourful masses and meetings at which he has carried out impromptu exorcisms.
Last September, Milingo, who moved to Rome in 1983, was quietly stripped of his job in a Vatican department.
In November, the Vatican issued strict new rules on exorcism and faith healing. Milingo was not mentioned by name, but many of the rules seemed to be drafted with him in mind.
Milingo's decision to marry is viewed as a slap in the face for Pope John Paul, who had shown him leniency despite pressure from leading Vatican officials.
Senior Roman Catholic church sources said the Zambian bishops would ask the Vatican to expedite the excommunication of Milingo from the Church for what they saw as a betrayal.
"Milingo has betrayed the Zambian people and the Catholic Church. If it is in the name of Jesus and the glory of God he acted, then it is incomprehensible that he was married by a man whose followers consider (him) the messiah," one source said.
Reverend Moon, leader of the controversial Unification Church, is hailed as the messiah by his followers.
The Unification Church has been linked to devil worship in Zambia and has been forced to clear its name in the courts.