VATICAN CITY (RNS) Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the excommunicated African prelate who scandalized the Catholic Church by marrying in 2001, has been defrocked for continuing to ordain bishops without permission of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican announced on Thursday (Dec. 17).
Citing Milingo’s “grave crimes” against church unity, and his “persistent contumacy” in defying papal authority, the unusually strong Vatican statement said the Zambian-born archbishop had been dismissed “from the clerical state,” meaning that he may not minister as a priest or bishop, nor even wear clerical attire.
Milingo, 79, who heads the Washington-based group Married Priests Now!, was excommunicated from the church in 2006, when he ordained a group of married men as bishops.
Thursday’s announcement was the latest turn in the charismatic prelate’s long and highly public struggle with church authorities.
The archbishop resigned as head of the archdiocese of Lusaka, Zambia, in 1982, after the Vatican challenged his practice of large-scale faith-healing and exorcism.
In 2001, Milingo bucked the church’s celibacy requirement and married a South Korean woman in a ceremony conducted by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
Milingo’s marriage to Maria Sung scandalized the Vatican, prompting a personal appeal from the late Pope John Paul II. The archbishop avoided excommunication at that time by renouncing the union and returning to the fold.
In 2006, however, Milingo went missing from the Rome convent where he had been assigned, and turned up a month later at a press conference in Washington, where he called on the Vatican to drop the priesthood’s celibacy requirement
After the archbishop ordained four married men as bishops in Washington that September, the Vatican announced that Milingo and the newly ordained bishops had incurred the penalty of automatic excommunication.
Since then, Milingo has campaigned for an end to priestly celibacy as head of Married Priests Now!, which Milingo has acknowledged is funded by the Unification Church.
According to Thursday’s Vatican statement, Milingo has continued to ordain bishops, as recently as the last few months.
The church “does not recognize these ordinations, nor does she intend to recognize them, or any subsequent ordinations based on them, in the future,” the Vatican statement said, noting that all those ordained by Milingo have been automatically excommunicated.