Top Vatican official: Milingo's at peace in Argentina and will return to Italy soon

VATICAN CITY - A Zambian archbishop threatened with excommunication for marrying a South Korean woman is in Argentina, where he has made peace with himself and his Church, a top Vatican official said in interviews Friday.

Some supporters of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo have claimed that he is being kept against his will by the Vatican, and earlier this week a few of them held a small, peaceful protest in St. Peter's Square.

Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, the No. 2 official in the Vatican office that serves as a watchdog on doctrinal orthodoxy, denied Milingo was being forcibly held and said he would return to Rome by October.

"Milingo is not a prisoner, he never was. He is living out a period of voluntary retreat, but he's a completely free man," Bertone was quoted as saying in the Milan daily Il Giornale.

The Vatican official said that since Oct. 10, Milingo had been living in Argentina, with an Argentine bishop and two priests. Neither the city nor the bishop was identified.

"He has made peace with himself, with the Church, with his vocation as priest and bishop," Bertone said.

Bertone's office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the monsignor was away from the Vatican and could not comment on the report. But it said Il Giornale's piece was accurate.

Bertone made similar comments in an interview Friday on Italian state television.

Milingo married a South Korean acupuncturist, Maria Sung, in May 2001 in a group ceremony led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The marriage embarrassed the Vatican and shocked many faithful.

Milingo said at the time that celibacy was poisoning the priesthood and that his marriage would allow God's blessings to be given through their new family.

But he backed out of the marriage last summer after a personal appeal by Pope John Paul II and after he was threatened with being cut off from the Church.

Bertone said Milingo would return to Italy by October and live in a villa provided by a wealthy supporter in the town of Zagarolo, a suburb of Rome.

"Near the villa will be a large structure where he can meet with hundreds of faithful at a time. There will even be a parking garage," Bertone told Il Giornale, adding that Milingo would continue to keep track of three religious congregations he founded.

Milingo's charisma drew many followers to his Masses.

He was brought to Rome in 1983 after resigning for his post as archbishop of Lusaka for performing faith healings and exorcisms. After thousands of people flocked to Rome seeking cures for AIDS and cancer, the Vatican removed him for his post here dealing with immigrants.

Bertone said the overweight Milingo passes his time in Argentina talking walks, praying, celebrating Mass and writing sacred music.

"He walks a lot, he contemplates nature and this also helps him to control his weight," he said.

Milingo has also written an autobiography, which will be published shortly before his return to Italy, Bertone said. He said Milingo had suggested as a title "The fish pulled out of the mud," but that the publisher hadn't made a final decision.

Last month, Bertone went to Zambia to reassure Milingo's family that he was all right.

Earlier this month, a Zambian chief threatened to ban Catholicism in his territory unless Milingo returned to the country. The Zambian government said it had received assurance from Catholic officials that Milingo is "alive and well."