Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milingo Moves the Pope

At this hour, Pope Benedict is presiding at his pontificate's third meeting of the dicastery heads of the Roman Curia. While the first two gatherings dealt with various issues, most prominently a pulse-taking on questions surrounding a wider indult for the Tridentine Mass and the reconciliation of the Lefebvrist schism, the sole topic of this summit is clerical celibacy.

Ostensibly, the pontiff was acting on a letter sent to him earlier this month by Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the controversial Zambian prelate who was excommunicated in late September after ordaining four clerics to the episcopacy at a Washington, DC ceremony. Milingo, who married a Korean acupuncturist in a 2001 mass wedding of the Rev Sung Myung Moon's Unification church, reconciled with the Holy See shortly thereafter.

However, the renegade archbishop vanished again from his Roman residence last June, only to resurface in July in the US capital, where he announced that he would return to his wife, Maria Sung, and would spearhead an initiative aiming to restore clerics who have left to marry to the priesthood and the church.

Though excommunicated and with the new ordinations deemed invalid by the Holy See, the group, "Married Priests Now!" now considers itself a personal prelature of the church, along the lines of Catholicism's sole licit organization of the kind, Opus Dei. In their letter, dated 4 November, Milingo and his bishops said that they "stand ready and willing to work with" Benedict on the issues of celibacy and married priests.

"The Faithful of the Church are now already reaching out to married priests in an enormous way," the group told the Pope. "A new Catholic Church is forming with or without your blessing. There is great urgency in this matter.

"If you sanction this approach to reinstating married priests and bishops, you will be preserving the unity of the church," the married clerics said. "The right time is now."

At the news of today's meeting, "Married Priests Now!" had scheduled a candlelight prayer vigil last night.

In its announcement of the meeting on Tuesday, the Holy See stated that the papal cabinet had been convoked "to examine the situation created following the disobedience of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and to complete a reflection on questions of dispensing from the obligation of celibacy and questions of the readmission to priestly ministry presented on the part of priests [who have] married in the course of recent years."