The Words of the Schanker Family
The Marriage of Archbishop Milingo and Maria Sung, and its Outcome
The unexpected and dramatic events surrounding the return of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo to Rome, his personal audience with the Holy Father, and his eventual decision to end his four-month marriage to Maria Sung and recommit to his vow of celibacy have captured the attention of Italy and the world. For many in the press and general public, this was the summer "soap-opera’" or telenovella that provided entertainment during the sleepy vacation month of August in Italy. Lurid tales of kidnapping, hypnosis, and mental manipulation, all without basis in fact, fueled the image of an attack on the Holy Church by a sinister and diabolical cult. This is an image that serious journalists and objective observers will quickly reject.
On a more thoughtful level, some analysts and theologians have viewed these events within the framework of a confrontation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Such a characterization is embarrassing for the Vatican, which does not formally recognize the FFWPU, and frustrating for the Family Federation, which, while affirming the ideal of marriage and family as the holiest and highest value beyond all religious tenets, did not intend to "attack" the Catholic faith or any faith in particular. While the international press was incessant in the search for evidence of hostilities and accusations, a more thoughtful analysis reveals the inevitable positions, interests and misunderstandings by all parties involved.
The Roman Catholic Church
While the FFWPU cannot presume to speak for the Catholic faith, certain religious and doctrinal realities are clear. To the Church, the marriage of Emmanuel Milingo and Maria Sung on May 27, 2001 was invalid and could not be recognized. From this standpoint, the Archbishop had but one path to follow in order to maintain the standing in the church that he clearly desired to preserve: renounce the marriage and recommit to celibacy. This was an issue between the Bishop and his church, and the church did not originally intend to have to deal with Maria Sung. The Vatican’s reluctance to facilitate a meeting between the Archbishop and Maria, and their seeming unwillingness to negotiate, though criticized by Maria’s supporters and others, stemmed from this non-recognition.
Maria’s demand to have the right to speak with her husband, and the Archbishop’s consistent public announcement that he intended the same, were unexpected. The thrusting of a union that the Church considered both illicit and heretical into the public eye was an embarrassment. Maria’s determined act of fasting, which added moral weight to her cause, was an unexpected pressure. The calculated use of media to publicize and dramatize her situation did indeed seem like an attack. For those in the Church who had only a caricature of the Family Federation as a cult, or had no grasp of the spiritual principles underlying the Marriage Blessing that brought the Archbishop and Maria together, the whole affair was incorrectly perceived as a calculated promotion or a shallow façade.
Far more profound are the issues raised by the Archbishop’s marriage: questions of the value of celibacy and the priesthood, as well as the moral indiscretions, previously hidden, that are increasingly coming to light. These are issues discussed by Archbishop Milingo himself as a major part of his motivation for marrying. They are important yet sensitive topics, and their discussion is alive within the Church even now. The public marriage of Archbishop Milingo has brought fresh attention to these concerns, and their further consideration is not necessary here.
The Family Federation
It is important to understand the FFWPU view of marriage and family and how it contrasts with Roman Catholic orthodoxy in order to fully grasp the misunderstanding that took place. On the surface, the Family Federation view of God-centered marriage is entirely consistent with the strong principle of family that lies at the heart of Catholic faith. Belief in the sanctity of life, and opposition to abortion, euthanasia, birth control, or any other attempt to interfere with the divine process of life are principles shared by both groups. There are clear sacramental differences in the ceremonies, but the real contradiction lies even deeper.
At its simplest level, the Marriage Blessing ceremony that Archbishop Milingo and Maria Sung participated in is an interfaith affirmation of the family as God’s first institution, established in the Garden of Eden, and the foundation in all religions and societies for individual moral development, social harmony and world peace. Both clergy and followers of many faiths participate in these ceremonies on this universal basis. But why would the Federation allow a Catholic prelate, pledged to celibacy, to participate?
At the core of the Marriage Blessing ceremony is the Unificationist insight that the fall was, in fact, not merely the alienation of the individual from God, but the destruction and fall of the family as the vessel for God’s true love. Adam and Eve, once blessed and embraced, were cursed and ejected from the Garden. Even as they were alienated from God, husband and wife were also separated from each other by mistrust and accusation. Parent and child, brother and brother were also alienated, and God was no longer present in the first human family.
Religions have been the vehicles to transmit love and morality, traditions and values to humanity throughout history, but their role is transitional and limited. It is the conviction of the Family Federation that the ultimate work of all religions is the restoration of God’s ideal of the family, and that this new millennium begins an era of interreligious cooperation, centered upon the family. The Federation in fact has deep respect for the tradition of priestly celibacy, as it protected the ideal of purity and chastity throughout man’s history of sexual immorality and false love. But the solution to immorality is not to cover or avoid it, pretending it doesn’t exist, but to cleanse it through lasting love and Godly marriage. It is time, we believe, to transcend the limited traditions of all faiths, and reestablish the original tradition of holy and God-centered families, as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 19:4-8:
The Family Federation respects all religions that teach living for others and moral purity. The Roman Catholic faith in particular is a global example of these virtues in practice. Pope John Paul II has been a model of compassion, reconciliation and unity, and is loved by federation members everywhere. But we recognize that the solution to humanity’s problems lies not in the traditions of the Roman church, Rev. Moon’s church, nor those of any one religion, but in the re-establishment of God’s primary institution, the family, where human beings are meant to learn love, morality, and living for others.
It is important to note that, despite media claims of "bitterness" or "attacks," the only criticisms ever expressed by FFWPU representatives during this crisis were those directed at the Vatican’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate, and at promises made that were not kept. On two occasions Maria Sung, upon seeing a letter or a videotape of her husband, cried out in understandable emotion with claims of drugs or brainwashing. But no FFWPU spokesperson ever made such inflammatory charges, nor did anyone encourage Maria to do so.
Although Archbishop Milingo was clearly separated from his wife deceitfully, through a plan publicly acknowledged by its perpetrators, no suggestion has ever been made that this plot involved Catholic Church officials. No plan was ever conceived or implemented to legally denounce or accuse the Catholic Church. An early statement by an Italian FFWPU spokesman that classic techniques of deprogramming were possibly being used upon the Archbishop was not aimed at any Catholic official or institution, and was based upon information from followers of the Archbishop himself.
As the days passed and the intensity of the confrontation increased, the Family Federation began to receive phone calls and written testimonies from many who claimed to have been victimized by affairs with priests, illegitimate children, forced abortions, and countless other scandals. We made a clear and calculated decision to avoid all such scurrilous and scandalous allegations, out of respect for the dignity of the Catholic faith and the simple purity of Maria’s cause. From the beginning, her request was clear, and compellingly just: the right to meet her husband in private, with no interference, to decide the future of their marriage. And from the beginning, the FFWPU position was also clear: to support the right of Maria Sung to meet her husband, and the publicly stated intention of the Archbishop to meet his wife, with the promise to honor the result of such a meeting. These intentions never wavered, and the promises were kept. The South Korean diplomats who mediated the situation can attest to the sincerity, flexibility, and integrity with which Family Federation members approached this difficult and problematic situation.
Archbishop Milingo and Maria Sung
At the center of this tragic story lies this couple, whose love and concern for each other was clearly shown from beginning to end. In every public appearance since his return, the Archbishop revealed his tenderness and feeling toward this woman. Shallow claims that the marriage was fake melted away in the knowledge of their three-hour, tearful farewell. No recriminations were uttered. No accusations were exchanged. They held hands, they embraced for just a moment. And as the Archbishop explained his unchanging love and loyalty to the church and the irresistible call of the Holy Father, he told her that he would love her forever as a sister, while Maria struggled to let go. Everyone present was moved by the sincerity and depth of the feelings expressed. This was no simple brush-off, no cold formality. The church can rightly reclaim the devotion of one of its sons, but Maria deserves the acknowledgment of and respect for what was a real and loving relationship.
And what of Maria Sung’s past? Though she had shared her former life with the Archbishop, she refused to discuss the growing awareness that she had lived in Naples, and that there was some secret she was protecting. Her reason? She did not want herself becoming the issue, and did not want to distract attention from finding her husband. She promised that once they were united again, she would tell Italy and the world who she was and all that had taken place.
When the couple decided not to be together, but to part, Maria continued to protect her past. However, determined journalists unearthed the truth: she had indeed been married before to a man in Naples. Yet as the entire truth was uncovered, it became clear that once again, Maria had been the victim. She was betrothed to a man who, unbeknownst to her, was not yet divorced from his previous marriage. After learning this, Maria waited months and years for him. When he failed to free himself and commit to her totally, Maria moved on. This was her secret, held to protect Archbishop Milingo more than herself.
Did the Archbishop know Maria before they married? She has always acknowledged openly that she had treated him months before, and in fact cured him of paralysis through oriental medicine. Her claim that no discussion or idea of marriage existed until just days before they were wed, however, is true. The Archbishop himself has publicly acknowledged that marriage had been the furthest thing from his mind.
Was Maria controlled? Was she used by those around her for their own organizational ends? Once again, as in the baseless conclusion that the Archbishop himself was brainwashed into marriage, this is a convenient answer designed to avoid the questions raised by Maria’s protest. But John Allen, correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, after two weeks with Maria each morning at her 6:00 prayer, hours of observation and personal interviews, wrote: "[Maria] Sung wrote her own script. If the Vatican, if anyone, doesn’t like it, their beef is not with Sun Myung Moon. It’s with Maria Sung."
An honest analysis must recognize the conflict within the heart of Archbishop Milingo, which he announced publicly on August 8, 2001. From the time he married Maria until he renounced her, the Archbishop proclaimed his undying loyalty to the Catholic faith, and made it clear that Rev. Moon was not asking him to convert. The Archbishop and those who supported him may have been naïve in hoping the church would change to accommodate his newly defined role as a married prelate. But when forced to make a choice between marriage and the church, Archbishop Milingo chose what he had always maintained was his priority- to follow the Pope and remain Catholic. The Family Federation, as promised, will support his decision, and the Roman Catholic Church seems to have prescribed a path for his forgiveness and reconciliation.
Many ask the question of who won or lost in this situation. Some point to the Archbishop’s return to the bosom of his faith, while others consider the worldwide exposure given the FFWPU during this incident. Such concerns, while interesting, are secondary. The real losers are Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, whose future in the public arena of the Catholic Church activity is still a question mark, and Maria, who made a commitment of faith and stuck to it, yet was victimized by forces and decisions beyond her control.
But the Archbishop and Maria, in the midst of their pain, are winners as well. Monsignor Milingo, always controversial, has raised profound questions that will reverberate within the walls of the church from now on. Yet his high devotion to the church and the Vicar of Christ on earth emerge as his strongest value. Maria’s simple devotion is similarly stirring, for she has announced that she will have no other husband, but will support and wait for the Archbishop until all eternity. This is both a statement of her respect for the archbishop’s devotion to the church as well as a testimony to her conviction that their marriage blessing is real and eternal, and transcends the traditional, "…till death do us part."
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