Archbishop 'a virtual prisoner of Vatican'

A Zambian faith-healing archbishop who embarrassed the Roman Catholic church last year by marrying a Moonie is being held a virtual prisoner of the Vatican and denied contact with his family, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo's sister claimed yesterday.

Irene Chilumbu said she had travelled to Rome to find out where her brother was but had run into a wall of Vatican obstruction. "They have told me that I can't see him, that I can't write to him and that I can't even speak to him on the phone," Mrs Chilumbu said in a tearful interview with the Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

"But what are they doing to him? Where have they hidden him? A criminal in prison can receive visits but not my brother, who is an archbishop," she said.

Archbishop Milingo sparked a war of religions when he married a South Korean acupuncturist at a ceremony celebrated by the Rev Sun Myung Moon in New York in May last year.

The archbishop, known for his African-style exorcisms, was persuaded to return to the Catholic fold after a private meeting with the Pope.

The Unification Church mounted a highly publicised bid to lure him back to his jilted bride, Maria Sung, who went on hunger strike, granted interviews from her hotel bed and prayed for the return of her husband in front of St Peter's Basilica every day.

After a final, strictly chaperoned farewell meeting with the archbishop, Ms Sung agreed to abandon her protest and he was spirited away to a secret location in an unknown country to meditate on his sins. His deprogramming has taken almost a year and it has been reported that he may soon return to Italy.

"How long can a period of penitence last? And what has my brother done wrong?" Mrs Chilumbu asked.

She said she was worried for the archbishop's safety and that his family was dying of hunger during his enforced absence. "They are holding him prisoner," she told the Corriere della Sera. "I thought the Catholic church knew how to forgive."