By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) — The Rev. Sun Myung Moon — founder of the church whose followers are colloquially known as the Moonies — died early Monday in South Korea, an organization affiliated with his church said.
The Universal Peace Federation said on its website that Moon died early Monday morning of complications related to pneumonia. He was 92.
The Washington Times, one of several publications that Moon founded, similarly reported Moon’s death.
“Words cannot convey my heart at this time,” said Thomas P. McDevitt, the Times’ president said in a story on the newspaper’s website. “Rev. Sun Myung Moon has long loved America, and he believed in the need for a powerful free press to convey accurate information and moral values to people in a free world.”
McDevitt added that the Times is a “tangible expression of those two loves.” In 2010, the newspaper was sold to a group operating on Moon’s behalf, according to a statement on the paper’s website.
Doctors put Moon in intensive care in a Seoul hospital Tuesday after he suddenly fell ill, church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeol said then. At the time, physicians gave him a 50% chance of survival.
The Unification Church gained fame worldwide for its mass weddings decades ago, including at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Many met their spouses-to-be for the first time during the ceremony. In addition to weddings in South Korea, couples from various countries took part in the ceremony through satellite hookups.
The controversial Moon, whose church critics compare to a cult, served a federal prison term in the United States for tax evasion.
He was also a strong supporter of Republican politicians including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said Eileen Barker, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Moon was “virulently anti-Communist,” having been imprisoned in North Korea during the Korean War before being freed by the allies, she said.
He softened his hard line on North Korea, though, over time — even meeting North Korea’s founder (and grandfather of its current leader), the late Kim Il Sung, and investing money in the north.
His church believes that Jesus was divine but he is not God, a position that puts the Unification Church outside the bounds of traditional Christianity.
Followers instead regard Moon as the messiah who is completing the salvation mission that Jesus Christ failed to accomplish.
Moon had multiple health problems in recent years. He had heart surgery that was performed in the United States about 10 years ago, his son, the Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, said in an August sermon posted on a church website.
“Father, who is responsible to save the world, pushed himself way beyond his limits,” said the son in remarks in which he referred to his father’s ailing health.
Hyung Jin Moon in that speech praised his father’s efforts over the years, as well as stating some of the family’s political positions as regards China, Russia and others.
He made a point to thank those who have been praying for his father’s health.
“We need to remember, father is not just a normal person,” said the Rev. Hyung Jin Moon. “Father’s body is not just a normal body.”