Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo says he has no intention of launching a new sect in Africa funded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon as a rival to Roman Catholicism, and charged that his latest break with the Vatican is the result of "intolerable restrictions" imposed on him over the last five years, as well as a deep "lack of appreciation" for his spiritual gifts as an exorcist.
Now, Milingo says, he wants to help reconcile married priests with the Catholic Church, as well as to promote better understanding between Catholicism and Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Milingo spoke to NCR July 14 in an exclusive interview in a hotel room in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington.
Earlier in the day, Milingo took part in a press conference announcing the formation of a new group, "Married Priests Now!", which will agitate for the return of roughly 150,000 married priests who have left the church in recent decades.
Milingo, who was made a bishop by Pope Paul VI in 1969 at the age of 39, has long been a thorn in the side of church authorities because of his controversial practice of mass exorcism ceremonies.
In 2001, he broke away from the Catholic Church and wed a follower of Moon, a then-43-year-old Korean acupuncturist named Maria Sung. After a tempestuous few weeks, including a surprise meeting with Pope John Paul II at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, Milingo returned to obedience.
He was allowed to resume a limited form of his healing ministry outside Rome.
Two weeks ago, however, Milingo disappeared from Italy and reappeared in the United States at the side of Archbishop George Stallings, leader of his own breakaway group, the African American Catholic Congregation, based in Washington, D.C., as well as followers of Moon.
Milingo rejected fears, frequently voiced in Rome, that if he were ever to fall back under the spell of Moon, the charismatic 76-year-old Zambian prelate might lead a breakaway congregation in Africa offering a married priesthood and drawing on traditional African religious practices, especially healing and the casting out of demons. Such a movement, some Vatican officials worry, could hobble the Catholic Church on the continent where its recent growth has been the most dramatic.
"We have no ambition at all, in any way, to do anything of that kind," Milingo said.
Milingo added that he was "very surprised at how the Catholic Church has spread so much evil against the Rev. Moon," and that he would like to be an "intermediary" between the two religious bodies.
Milingo claimed that Moon's vision for global peace and the family are consistent with recent papal teaching. He said he has been fishing three times with Moon, and was "very, very surprised" at Moon's "simplicity" and his spirit of "living for others."
"I've seen what he has done," Milingo said.
In a 2002 memoir titled Fished from the Mud, Milingo was quoted as hinting that Moon's people may have drugged or brainwashed him, prompting his marriage and eventual break with the church.
In his NCR interview, however, Milingo insisted that he had said no such thing, and that it was church authorities who insisted that he had been brainwashed.
"All my problems come from the lack of appreciation [by the authorities of the Catholic Church] for the spiritual gifts I have," he said.
"It was too much for them to believe that in the modern world, I can simply say 'let this happen,' and it happens," he said.
Milingo offered several examples of his alleged spiritual prowess, including a recent phone call from a woman in Modena, Italy, who complained that 20 days after the birth of her child she could not produce mother's milk. Milingo said he instructed her to draw a glass of water, which he blessed over the phone. He instructed the mother to drink it, and immediately afterwards she began to lactate.
"They can't believe such things are possible," he said, with respect to Vatican officials and bishops who were reluctant to have him in their dioceses.
Milingo told NCR that for the time being, he intends to establish a base of operations in Washington at Stallings' Imani Temple. Eventually, he said, he will return to Zambia and resume his ministry of preaching and healing. Milingo said Sung, whom he insists he has always considered his wife, is with him in Washington and the couple will make a home together there.