'Odd couple' of Moon and Milingo maybe not so odd after all

New York

The budding alliance between Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, a 76-year-old Zambian exorcist and advocate for a married Catholic priesthood, and Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a 86-year-old Korean business tycoon and spiritual leader who claims to be “humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent,” may appear to form the ultimate odd couple, but it reflects a long-term strategy on the part of Moon’s Unification Movement to appeal to African-Americans in the United States, and to minorities generally.

In that sense, it is hardly random that Milingo and Moon found one another, especially given that a key figure in Milingo’s movement has his own ties to Moon: Rev. George Stallings of Washington, D.C., whom Milingo recently ordained as an archbishop without the pope’s authority.

Stallings, a former priest of the Washington archdiocese and a protégé of the late Cardinal James Hickey, broke with the Catholic Church in 1989 to found his own “African-American Catholic Congregation.”

Over the weekend, Milingo’s “Married Priests Now!” movement held a convocation in New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan, where Milingo continued his defiance of the Vatican by ordaining two married men to the priesthood. Stallings was also in attendance.

The event was funded by Moon.

“Today we are present as beneficiaries of Rev. Moon,” Milingo wrote in a statement distributed to the press. “In order to ensure the success of our convocation, he dedicated his key organizations to give their utmost support in every way needed to the Married Priests Now!”

"I have witnessed [Moon's] zeal for the realization of the Kingdom for God," Milingo wrote. "His concern for the welfare of the whole world makes him not only a world benefactor, but more importantly a person whose vision, humility and saintly life has awakened our own courage and determination to organize and do what we ourselves know is right from God."

Both Milingo and Stallings were married in one of Moon’s “blessing ceremonies,” essentially a mass wedding ceremony, in May 2001. Stallings has served as the national leader of a group called the American Clergy Leadership Conference, a body for ministers from various denominations sponsored by the Unification Movement. The ACLC, which claims 20,000 members, has had its greatest success with African-American ministers.

Stallings has accompanied Moon on speaking tours of the United States. During a stop at a Minneapolis church in 2001, for example, Stallings introduced Moon.

“I know there are people saying, ‘Why in the world are you having that man [Moon] in your church?’” Stallings said. “Before tonight is over, you will know that God has put a prophet in our midst!”

Such claims have startled even some of Stallings’ own flock at his Washington, D.C.-based Imani Temple, given that several aspects of Moon’s teaching are difficult to square with orthodox Christian doctrine.

Moon, for example, has suggested that the salvation won by Christ on the Cross is incomplete because Christ died before he could marry and have a family. In that sense, Moon believes he offers a “material” salvation to complement the “spiritual” salvation of Christ. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, are known as the “True Parents” to members of the Unification Movement.

(Milingo's dependence upon Moon, however, didn't stop him from inviting Margaret Starbird, an author who says Jesus was married to Mary Magdelene and that the two had a child, to address the "Married Priests Now!" event. Dan Brown cited Starbird's writing as a source for "The Da Vinci Code.")

In Easter 2003, the Moon-affiliated American Clergy Leadership Conference sponsored a “Tear Down the Cross” campaign, designed to persuade Christian pastors to remove crosses and crucifixes from their churches. The argument was in part that the cross is a symbol of division for Jews and Muslims, while the Unification Movement advocates unity across religious boundaries. In part, however, the campaign was also motivated by belief that the cross obscures the significance of Moon’s coming as a “Second Advent,” and his teaching as opening the door to Cheon Il Guk (“the Kingdom of God on Earth”).

Moon has also floated other ideas which, if they don’t pose doctrinal problems, nevertheless strike some as quirky. For example, Moon has said he envisions creating a new human family, where his interracial wedding ceremonies eventually will produce a single race that is “yellow.” He has also recently proposed building a $200 billion, 52-mile “Peace King Tunnel” across the Bering Strait, linking Russia and the United States as a symbol of global harmony. (The term “peace king” is understood as a reference to Moon).

The Unification Movement is financed in part by Moon’s business interests, which include The New Yorker Hotel, United Press International, The Washington Times and a seafood conglomerate, True World Group Inc., which supplies sushi-grade fish to thousands of restaurants in the U.S.

Moon’s success with African-American clergy, observers say, stems in part from his condemnation of racism, in part from a sense that Moon, like some black heroes, has been unfairly marginalized by the American “mainstream.” Moon’s organization also supports its friends financially. One news report in 2006 indicated that the Unification Movement has paid for travel to destinations such as Israel and Korea for members of the American Clergy Leadership Conference.

This tissue of connections between Moon, the Unification Movement, African-American clergy, and the broader spread of Moon’s message helps explain why the Vatican has taken the Milingo phenomenon more seriously than some believe it warrants. Most recently, a Nov. 14 communiqué from the Vatican Press Office indicated that an unusual meeting of Pope Benedict with all the cardinals who head Vatican offices had been summoned “following the disobedience of Monsignor Emmanuel Milingo.”

The deep worry in Rome, exaggerated or not, is that Milingo’s appeal for a married priesthood, combined with his use of exorcism and traditional spiritual practices, in tandem with Moon’s money and a message of racial harmony, could prove a formidable competitor to the Catholic Church in Africa, and among black Catholics and other minority groups elsewhere.

On Moon’s side, his outreach to minorities, especially to Africa-Americans, explains why the Unification Movement has gone out of its way to court Milingo and to back his initiatives.

Milingo, it should be recalled, his repeatedly said that he still understands himself to be a Roman Catholic, and has no desire to launch his own church. He's also said he would like to promote better relations between the Catholic Church and the Unification Movement. Moon’s Unification Movement likewise says it is not a separate denomination, and presents a message of harmony across religious divides. Yet the intersection of these two men’s agenda creates a synergy hardly likely to reassure Catholic officials about their intentions.

The story may have the whiff of soap opera about it, but judging by the press attention it’s garnered so far, it’s at least a soap opera with strong ratings.

On Sunday morning, Stallings and I appeared in separate CNN interviews.

“We truly believe that priesthood is a call from God, as well as marriage is a call from God,” Stallings said, arguing against priestly celibacy. “And marriage is a good thing. If priests are allowed to marry, then that widens the pool of possible candidates for ordained ministry and it also makes for a healthier priesthood.”

I was asked how the ties between “Married Priests Now!” and Moon affect the former’s anti-celibacy cause.

“If by ‘the cause,’ you mean trying to bring pressure on the Catholic Church to reform its teachings, I think it doesn’t help at all,” I said. “In many circles of Catholic opinion, [the connection] certainly doesn’t encourage people to take this movement especially seriously. “

On the way out of the studio, I told Stallings that Milingo’s statement about Moon’s support for the weekend conference seemed smart – if you’re going to take money and logistical support from Moon, at least don’t try to hide it. Stallings said he agreed with that approach.

The relationship, Stallings suggested, will continue, saying that Moon is 86 and “clear as a bell.”

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