Sunday, January 21, 2007

An Exchange of Letters

In the Vatican's strongest rebuke yet to the excommunicated Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, a letter written at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI has warned the married Zambian prelate that "there is no other way for the welfare of your soul" than to abandon the movement of married clergy he established last year.

The late November document, sent under the signature of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, came as a response to two letters from Milingo and his Married Priests Now! prelature in the wake of the Holy See's September announcement that, after ordaining four married clerics to the episcopacy in a Washington ceremony, the controversial archbishop and his ordinands had incurred the most severe canonical penalty. While the splinter group sought to profess loyalty to the pontiff, it also took issue with the judgment of the excommunications and the Vatican's statement that it would view Milingo's ordinations not only as illicit, but also invalid.

In light of his actions, Re informed Milingo that Benedict "has suffered and still suffers with your comportment." Reiterating that the latter's sacramental progenation was "seriously illicit and illegitimate," the prefect held the Roman line that "they will never be accepted by the Church, and will therefore do a lot of harm to the Church and profoundly so to the People of God.

"At the same time you are aware that such actions will render you responsible before God loaded with such a grave sin, which will cut you away from the Church, and of course excommunication," the letter continued. "One day each one of us will have to render account before God for such actions which will be judged according to the truth."

Dated 27 November, the letter came eleven days after the Pope called a meeting of his dicastery heads -- the third of his pontificate -- to discuss the Milingo situation and reaffirm the normative place of mandatory celibacy in what Re termed the "integral discipline" of the Western church. Taking direct aim at Milingo's stated objective to reintegrate into the church clerics who left active ministry to marry, Re said that "there must never be any hope that the Church may admit once more those priests who have failed to maintain celibacy and have ended up by contracting marriage."

Re closed with an appeal in Benedict's name that the sanctioned prelate "reflect as to what you have done, causing serious scandal and unbelievable damages to yourself and to many souls," and a prayer that he cease from engaging in "any other harm to the Church with new ordinations," that he may not have to "present [him]self to the tribunal of God as an excommunicated Archbishop."

Two weeks after the letter was sent, Milingo ordained two married men as priests at the close of a Married Priests Now! convocation in New Jersey.

In a lengthy reply to the Roman note, Milingo and his council of the four bishops he ordained last year said that "we are acting in a profound matter of conscience." The group requested a senior English-speaking prelate to act as an intermediary between it and the Vatican, chiding the Curia for its delays in communication.

While repeating their finding of priestly celibacy as "unjust" and professing their loyalty to Benedict, Milingo and his aides promised to keep the pontiff appraised of "our ordinations of the past year and... of the married men we call to the priesthood."

The saga continues....