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Vatican excommunicates Zambian archbishop

india Updated: Sep 27, 2006 10:14 IST
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Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the charismatic Zambian prelate who angered the Vatican by getting married in 2001, has been excommunicated for again defying the Holy See, this time by installing four married men as bishops, the Vatican said Tuesday. Although Vatican authorities, including the late Pope John Paul II, had tried for years to coax Milingo into mending his ways, Rome lost patience with him over the unauthorized ordinations, which threaten papal authority.

The Vatican said Milingo was "automatically excommunicated" under church law for the ordinations Sunday at a church in Washington, D.C.

Milingo finds himself in "progressive, open break with communion with the Church," the Vatican said in a statement. The four men claim affiliation with the breakaway Synod of Old Catholic Churches. They, too, were automatically excommunicated for being ordained, the Vatican said.

The Vatican, accusing Milingo of "sowing division and disarray among the faithful," said it had tried to persuade him against going ahead with the ordinations.

Milingo's spokesman in Washington did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The 76-year-old Milingo has long had a troubled relationship with the Vatican. In 2001, he was married to a South Korean acupuncturist chosen for him by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, in a group wedding ceremony in New York.

After Pope John Paul II made a personal appeal a few months later, Milingo renounced that union. But last summer, the prelate surfaced in the United States and said he was living with his wife in the Washington area.

He had a strong following in a church near Rome because of his reputation as an exorcist and healer. Catholic officials accused him of promoting African indigenous beliefs by performing mass exorcisms and healing ceremonies.

The defiant ordination of the men appeared to be the last straw for Rome.

Prelates "at various levels of the church tried in vain to contact Archbishop Milingo, to persuade him from going ahead with scandal-provoking actions, above all among the faithful who followed his pastoral ministry in favor of the poor and sick," the Vatican said.

Considering that the pope had, "even recently, shown him understanding, the Holy See waited with vigilant patience to watch the evolution of the events which, unfortunately, led Archbishop Milingo to be in a condition of irregularity and of progressive, open break with communion with the Church, first by being married and then with the ordination of four bishops," the Vatican statement said.

One of the men whom Milingo ordained, the Rev. George Augustus Stallings, Jr., said by telephone from Washington that Vatican officials had "badgered" the Zambian prelate by telling him he would risk "going to hell" if he went ahead with the ordinations. Stallings was excommunicated in 1990 when he announced he was forming the breakaway African American Catholic Congregation. "They excommunicated me then, and I rose from the dead, I guess, and came back to haunt them," Stallings said, contending that Milingo was a threat because the Vatican knew "he could ordain other priests, other bishops."

Under Vatican teaching, the authority to name bishops rests with the pope. The church also requires celibacy of its priests ordained under the Latin rite.

The Vatican said it did not recognize the ordination of the four, and warned that it would not recognize any ordinations done by these men in the future.

An analyst of the Vatican's moves, the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Washington-based Jesuit, offered a similar reading to Stallings. He said he believed the Vatican was most afraid that Milingo's actions could "create a schism" that could continue for a long time as renegade bishops ordained new ones.

"They always kept reaching out to him, trying to bring him back, but once he ordained another bishop" without Rome's approval, "that puts it into a whole new ball game," Reese said in a telephone interview from the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Previously, the Vatican said that Milingo violated church law when he created an association of married priests and when he celebrated Mass with married clergy.

Reese drew parallels to the 1988 excommunication of French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent.

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