Archbishop's Wife Accepts Decision

ROME (AP) - The wife of a Roman Catholic archbishop said Wednesday she had accepted his decision to leave her after the two met for the first time in three weeks, ending a saga that had embarrassed the Vatican (news - web sites) and captivated Italy.

``For the great love for my husband, I'll respect his decision'' to leave me, Maria Sung told reporters late Wednesday. ``But that doesn't change the feeling I have for him in my heart.''

She said she would never be with another man and would try to support Milingo in his work throughout her life. She said she hoped they would be reunited ``in the afterlife.''

She said Milingo hadn't asked her forgiveness for having left her. But he ``expressed love to me as a brother to a sister.''

Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and Sung met for three hours at the Arcangelo Hotel in Rome, where he delivered a letter to her explaining his reasons for leaving her.

``My commitments in the life of the church, with celibacy, don't allow me to be married,'' Milingo said in the handwritten letter, a copy of which was sent by the Vatican to news organizations. ``The call from my church to my first commitment is just.''

He said he was aware of Sung's suffering, and that he would pray for her every day.

The two were married May 27 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in a group wedding at a New York hotel that outraged the Vatican already incensed by Milingo's exorcisms and faith healings. Moon is head of the South-Korea based Family Federation for World Peace and Unification Movement.

It wasn't immediately clear what lasting effect the scandal would have on either the Unification Movement, which has been striving for mainline respectability, or the Vatican.

Massimo Introvigne, a noted Unification expert, said neither side won out in the end, calling the public relations handling of the episode by both sides ``disastrous.''

``The Vatican achieved a final result of keeping Milingo in the fold, but it's not a winner because it had a number of P.R. problems because of Maria Sung's hunger strike,'' he said.

The Unification Movement, meanwhile, may have weakened its own cause by accusing the Vatican of drugging and kidnapping Milingo - accusations that have in the past been leveled against sects, said Introvigne, head of the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin, Italy.

Sung's spokesman, the Rev. Phillip Schanker, called the three-hour encounter a ``wonderful meeting.''

``Both of them expressed a lot of love for each other,'' Schanker told reporters gathered outside the hotel. ``We all learned a lot of important things. Everyone present was crying.''

The case not only embarrassed the Vatican, but also raised concerns that Milingo, once the head of the Lusaka, Zambia diocese, might break from the church and consecrate his own noncelibate bishops. Before announcing his return to the church, Milingo had said celibacy was poisoning the priesthood.

Last week in a prime-time television interview, Milingo announced he had left Sung, saying he had embraced Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II's appeal to return to the Catholic Church and keep his vow of priestly celibacy.

Sung said at the time she didn't believe him and suggested that he had been drugged. She has been on a hunger strike for 16 days to press her demand that the Vatican let her see Milingo face-to-face.

In the end, the two never met privately. At least five members of Sung's entourage were on hand, and even more from the Vatican side, Sung said.

Sung, a 43-year-old South Korean national and member of Moon's church, hadn't heard from the 71-year-old Milingo since Aug. 8, the day after he met with the pope in a bid to avert his threatened excommunication for having gotten married.

The Vatican hasn't disclosed his whereabouts, saying only that he has been on a spiritual retreat. Sung had said she believed he was being held against his will.

Milingo, wearing a black suit and a crucifix around his neck, left the hotel in a Vatican car after the meeting, but his destination wasn't known.

Sung appeared before reporters shortly thereafter, announcing her acceptance of Milingo's decision and her own decision to end her hunger strike.

She said Milingo had given her a rosary as a parting gift.

She wouldn't answer any questions about what her future plans were.