Milingo Madness

Milingo Madness

Andrew Brown for Clare Longrigg Thursday, 16 August 2001

Archbishop Emanuel Milingo has spent his whole life fighting demons. They run from in terror, he says; but the fear and revulsion which he inspires in supernatural creatures is more than matched by the terror he inspires in his own side. But his latest escapade which has left a Moonie wife on hunger strike, and apparently pregnant, in Rome after the Archbishop renounced her under threat of excommunication, surpasses in surrealism almost everything that he has done before. The demons of celibacy with which he is so publicly wrestling today are far more frightening to the Roman Catholic Church than the more flamboyant spirits of evil which he made his name, and his infamy, casting out as an Archbishop.

The undisputed facts of the present case are simple: over the last few years, the Archbishop, now 71, has been at something of a loose end in Rome . He had started off as one of the most promising and charismatic priests in Africa; famous for harnessing the drive and theatre of African spirituality to the demands of Christian orthodoxy. He was made Archbishop of Lusaka before he was forty, in 1969. This is about ten years younger than even the most able priests can expect to become Bishops. It seemed that he would become one of the rare African cardinals, and reach the very top of his church. But then things went wrong. He was acknowledged to have a rare gift for healing — supernatural, his supporters said — as well as his other qualities. But his services of healing and of exorcism grew more and more spectacular and less orthodox.

Finally, he was accused of witchcraft when all the other bishops in Zambia denounced him formally to the Vatican. Jealousy, say his supporters; but it was effective, anyway. Thirteen years after his consecration, in 1982, he was summoned to Rome to see the Pope. After his audience, he was confined to a monastery, in a weird prefiguring of his current imprisonment, and disappeared form public view for eighteen months. He was given a wide variety of psychological tests, and apparently passed them to the satisfaction of his superiors. In 1985, he re-emerged with a job as a Vatican bureaucrat, in the council for Tourists and Migrant workers.

Here, he was able to bring his African stylings to a long tradition of European paranoia about Freemasonry and Satanism. In 1989 he told the writer John Cornwell, that "We are now in the last says of Satan’s reign, and he is working overtime through his agents to complete the takeover of the world. His agents are nothing less that the Freemasons who have penetrated to the very heart of Christ’s Church.

"After the last war, bright young Freemasons were placed in seminaries around the world. These agents of Satan were waiting for … the Second Vatican Council [the huge modernising meeting of Bishops which transformed the Church in the Sixties. ]. Many of those brilliant men were by now the leading experts who advised the Council Fathers. And what did they do? They left Christ’s church defenceless against the wiles of the Devil. Above all they succeeded in making Christians think that the Devil does not exist!"

The belief that the advisers of the Second Vatican Council were in fact conscious agents of Satanism is not widely held in Rome, and by 1989, Milingo was unable to find a single parish priest in the whole city who would allow him to celebrate his Masses of healing and exorcism, so he had to hold them in hotel conference rooms. But they drew crowds of several hundred, mostly poor Italians, though there were Africans there too.

Cornwell, who attended one of these services, and had himself trained as a priest, was horrified by what he saw: "The shock of the first series of shrieks was so awe-inspiring - that it took me a few seconds to regain my breath. A young woman, just five yards from me, had gone into a paroxysm of screaming; her eyes had risen so that only the whites were visible, and she collapsed into the arms of those about her. The room had become hot and airless; I guessed the temperature might be as high as 100 Fahrenheit.

"The priests were praying on the altar, some of them with their eyes shut tight, others in a distracted, terror-stricken manner; members of the congregation were weeping and offering supplications in a babble of voices; Milingo was going from one screaming person to the next, talking rapidly and shrilly in a language that I could not understand; he seemed to be expending extraordinary energy.

"Just when it appeared that the seizures and paroxysms had reached their height I saw a middle-aged woman go down, writhing and shaking in a quite obscene fashion. She seemed to be having an orgasm before our eyes. But even as I looked away a young man went down on the floor almost in front of me and began to paw and scrape the floor and bark and whine like a dog."

I have myself seen behaviour pretty much like this at large Pentecostal rallies held by people like the televangelist Morris Cerullo , though the exorcisms tend there to held backstage. Barking like animals was a passing fashion in Knightsbridge evangelical circles some years ago. But it is most extraordinary behaviour for a Catholic service, and the Pentecostal "sects" as the Vatican calls them, where this kind of thing is common, are the greatest threat to the Church’s position in the Third World. So Milingo, once one of the most promising priests in the Church, now seemed to be an ally of its deadliest enemies.

So he was forbidden to celebrate anywhere in Italy and by the end of the Nineties his career was apparently completely over. It was then that he began to grow close the Moonies — the members of Unification Church, founded by the Rev Sun Myung Moon. Moon, who has served time for tax evasion in the USA, puts huge emphasis on families, not just because his followers believe he is part of a "heavenly family" with Jesus. His belief in families, and his followers’ belief in him, is so great that he is famouds for conducting huge mass weddings between couples who have never met each other before he chose them. They do, however, spend forty days getting to know each other after the wedding, before they consummate the marriage; and they are allowed to back out if they dislike the partner Moon has chosen for them.

This sounds weird enough. But Milingo came to believe it was more civilised than the system practised by the Roman Catholic church in Africa, where the priesthood is notionally celibate and in practice scandalous. After his marriage he told one journalist that he had been celibate since the age of 12. This would make him almost unique among his colleagues. An internal Vatican report drawn up in 1995 quoted a high-ranking priest as saying: "celibacy in the African context means a priest does not get married, but does not mean he does not have children." In Malawi, according to the same document, when the sexual abuse of nuns by priests grew so bad that the superiors of the women’s religious orders complained to the Bishop’s conference, the response was simply to shut down the organisation which had complained.

On May 25th this year, Milingo married a forty-three year old acupuncturist, Maria Sung, at a ceremony in New York, alongside ??? other couples. It was the most public offence imaginable to the Vatican, especially as he claimed this was a more moral procedure than that of most of his former colleagues. He still considered himself a Christian, a priest, and a Bishop: but though the Moonies regard themselves as Christians, this claim is not accepted by the Catholic church. He was threatened with excommunication if he did not renounce his wife and Mr Moon by the 20th August. Mr and Mrs Milingo flew to Milan airport. He left her in a hotel there, and set off for a personal interview with the Pope, his situation exquisitely expressed by the wedding ring he wore on one hand, and the bishop’s ring on the other.

We’ll never know, perhaps, quite what the Pope told the erring bishop. Whatever it was, it worked. The wedding ring came off. For the second time, Milingo disappeared into a monastery. The Vatican announced that he was preparing himself in solitude and prayer, for a full submission to the Church;and, once upon a time, that would have been enough. However, this was to reckon without Mrs Milingo. She told a journalist, soon after their marriage, that it was ordained by God and Mr Moon. Now that she has lived with the Archbishop, she’s clearly decided she’s in favour of the marriage too. She turned up in Rome last week demanding to see her husband, and announced that she might be pregnant. On Tuesday, she started a hunger strike to win him back, and her advisers — she is accompanied by one of Mr Moon’s priests — will be able to maximise the embarassment of the Vatican. That doesn’t mean she’ll win. But this a story where all the victories have been Pyrrhic and all the triumphs hollow. At leas ththe devil, along with the rest of the world, must be having a good laugh.

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