Vatican accused of muzzling maverick

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Vatican City - Maverick Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo said yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church wanted to muzzle his unorthodox faith-healing and exorcism ceremonies and that he felt he had to speak out.

Milingo's controversial methods have sparked fierce debate within the Church over how far African spiritual traditions can be married with Catholic liturgical practice.

"Up until now, Milingo has never defended himself, he has always obeyed," the 65-year-old African told a congregation in Rome. "And I've been made fun of too. Now I must reflect deeply. I cannot just shut up."

Milingo, who was recalled to Rome in April 1982, resigned as Archbishop of Lusaka in August 1983, after pressure from the Vatican, which subsequently appointed him as a special delegate to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerants. Yesterday, he said that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano had written, urging him to stop the ceremonies.

Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed that Cardinal Sodano sent Milingo "a letter in the name of the Holy Father, recalling the general principle in force throughout the Church whereby pastoral and liturgical activities must be carried out in contact with the local bishop and under his coordination".

Milingo began his service with a request for all "our brothers who are possessed" to be taken aside because Sodano had written to tell him he must not conduct "para-liturgy".

Milingo, who was ordained in 1958 and said he discovered the "gift of healing" in 1973, admits he does not fit in, but says his unorthodox powers stem from his devotion to Christ. "I do what I do in the name of God."