The Milingo Affair: Re-thinking the Unification Position on Clerical Celibacy and Ecumenism (2007) by Michael Mickler Ph.D. (UTS’77)


“….a recent conversation between the pope and a bishop from Brazil about the priest shortage may be moving the issue of married clergy onto the pontiff’s agenda.”  Read more……

Alumni and friends may enjoy revisiting an article written in 2007 for the Journal of Unification Studies by UTS Professor of Church History, Michael Mickler Ph.D. (UTS’77)


Until recently, the Unification movement (UM) had little need to develop a thought-out position on clerical celibacy. There were two main reasons for this. First, the UM is a lay movement with no formally ordained clergy or priests. Therefore, the question of clerical celibacy had little organizational relevance. Second, given the extraordinarily high value which the movement places on marriage and family, the issue of clerical celibacy had only limited theological relevance. However, when Roman Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo participated in an Interfaith Marriage Blessing presided over by Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, the situation changed dramatically. Milingo’s struggle to remain within the Roman Catholic Church, his leadership of a new organization, Married Priests Now, and his formal excommunication garnered worldwide publicity, surfacing the issue of clerical celibacy at the highest levels of the Vatican hierarchy. The Milingo affair also surfaced the question of clerical celibacy within the UM as movement spokespersons were called upon to take positions at each stage of the controversy.

At a deeper level, the Milingo affair highlighted a tension within the UM between sectarian and ecumenical consciousness. Regarded as a marginal, stigmatized sect for most of its history, the movement had limited access to mainline forums and its initiatives were generally met with suspicion or disdain. For its part, the UM claimed exclusive access to the “new, ultimate, final truth”[i] and knowledge of “the direction… humankind must go.”[ii] The UM also was aggressively conversionistic. Yet, alongside its claim to possess superior truth, the UM harbored a desire for mainstream acceptance. It expended significant resources in academic and inter-religious outreach, seeking to cultivate allies and establish networks of support. In these encounters, the UM maintained a stance of broad inclusiveness and disclaimed any intention of conversion. In general, the movement was able to manage this internal tension.[iii] However, the UM’s sectarian and ecumenical consciousness collided in the Milingo affair. The movement was more than complicit in the archbishop breaking his priestly vow of celibacy. At the same time, the UM was at pains to affirm its respect for the Roman Catholic Church and all faiths.[iv]

This type of collision was not unique to the UM. Strain between strongly held beliefs and the necessity of finding common ground with adherents of other faiths is the core problematic facing contemporary religion. Sectarian religions maintain their superior, exclusive truths at the expense of finding common ground with other faith traditions. Ecumenical religions acknowledge truths and the integrity of other faiths, sometimes at the expense of their own. Neither of these stances alone is satisfactory, and most traditions, especially those regarded as mainstream, seek ways to balance their sectarian and ecumenical inclinations.

The following three sections highlight this dynamic as it relates to the Unification movement’s encounter with Archbishop Milingo. The first elaborates the movement’s position on clerical celibacy prior to its encounter with Milingo. The second examines the Milingo affair during which tension between the UM’s sectarian and ecumenical consciousness surfaced. The third offers recommendations for re-thinking the Unification position on clerical celibacy, resolving sectarian-ecumenical tensions, and achieving mainstream acceptance in a post-Milingo context.

Continue reading………………

Dr. Mickler (UTS'77)

Dr. Mickler (UTS’77)


First published in the  Journal of Unification Studies  Volume VIII, 2007

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.