Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 11, 2001
A tawdry example of infidelity
The sad story of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is an unfortunate example of how easy it is for the lives of good, well-intentioned Christians to go off the rails. Milingo's decision to get married and work for the Moonies was certainly shocking. But it was also the outgrowth of a series of decisions stretching back more than 20 years.
Milingo first hit the pages of the WCR in 1982 when he complained that the Vatican was forcing him to "choose between being archbishop of Lusaka (Zambia) or a healer." In 1978 the Vatican had ordered him to stop his public healing services and exorcisms, an order he refused.
No one has ever said what was so out of whack with the archbishop's healing ministry that he came under a Vatican investigation. The Church has allowed various priests to conduct healing ministries and commissioned others to serve as exorcists. All we know different about Milingo is that he was ordered to Rome in 1982 for a psychological investigation and medical checkup. And we know that he has refused repeated orders to cease and desist.
In any event, Milingo was forced to resign as archbishop of Lusaka in 1983 and was given a minor post in the Pontifical Commission for Migration and Tourism. Instead of obeying the Vatican's ban on his healing services, he merely moved them to Europe. Now, as well as having the Vatican and the African bishops upset with his activities, he began to draw the ire of the Italian bishops.
Nevertheless, one official with the Rome Diocese said the Church was taking "a very soft position on Archbishop Milingo." He continued to carry out his exorcisms and healing services despite many dioceses prohibiting him from doing so. The Milan Archdiocese banned Milingo, even though it had 10 official exorcists of its own.
In 1996, the Vatican again banned him from carrying out his activities. The archbishop persisted, now holding his services in hotels, warehouses and cruise ships.
All the time, Milingo has presented himself as a victim. Some would see him as a provocateur. He accused the Vatican Curia of doing the devil's work. "I say that Satan is found even in the Vatican," he said. As for his future plans, he concluded a 1997 book, by writing, "No one will stop me."
Even now, the penny has not dropped. After getting married by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and saying that he will go to work for the Moonies, Milingo says he is Catholic. "How can you put out of the Church someone who believes in the Church?" he asks.
Milingo clearly respects no authority within the Church. He is a law unto himself. And in that he may not be so different from the spirit of this age. Too often, in the Western world at least, a cafeteria Catholicism rules. And when one gives no allegiance to anything or anyone but one's own desires and conclusions, one is not the servant of God, but rather the servant of oneself.
Religious truth is mediated by the Catholic Church, in particular by the pope and the college of bishops. It is hard to know in what sense Milingo "believes in the Church" if he shows no respect for its authority.
We live in a culture that tends to view renegades as courageous and the faithful as cowardly. But if we are serious about holiness, if we are serious about the Church's teaching, including its social teaching, then we cannot put ourselves above the dictates of the visible Church. Fidelity remains a virtue, despite the entreaties of popular culture to cast it aside.
Milingo has woven a tangled web by persistently acting as though his own pipeline to God is superior to that of the Church. Pray that we do not make the same mistake.
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