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Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami: ‘Latinos Are the Future of the American Catholic Church’

Thomas Wenski - Miami - El American

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Archbishop Thomas Wenski has led the Archdiocese of Miami since 2010. As the archbishop of one of the most ethnically diverse, if not the most ethnically diverse diocese in the U.S., having over 70% of the Latino population, it was only natural that we spoke with him at El American about the new Latino narrative.

Latinos are revitalizing their communities all around the U.S. with an unparalleled entrepreneurial spirit. 2 in 5 new businesses in the U.S. are owned by Latinos despite the fact that only 1 in 5 persons in the U.S. are Latinos. The Catholic Church in the U.S. is one of the best examples of this. 

“Here in the Archdiocese of Miami, I have 110 parishes. And in those 110 parishes, we have eight pastors that I would describe as non-Hispanic whites, and all of them are foreign-born Irish. I have Hispanics from Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, El Salvador. I have priests from all over Latin America and even Spain working here. I have pastors working here that come from India, Brazil, and from Africa,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski said.

We spoke with Archbishop Wenski about the current pandemic, the relationship between the bishops and President Biden, and Latinos in the Catholic Church.

Archbp. Thomas Wenski on the pandemic

“Here in Florida, the governor was careful to say that whatever restrictions he was putting out did not apply to religious gatherings. However, as religious leaders, we also had to behave responsibly and not invite the virus to infect our people. So we believe that we don’t need the whip of the government to have us to behave prudently,” Thomas Wenski told El American. 

Although there’s no official record on this, he claims that due to the proper measures taken within the Miami Archdiocese, there haven’t been any cases of people infected in Catholic masses.

On the bishops and President Biden

It’s no secret that the relationship between the Catholic bishops and the Biden administration these four years will be complex. Biden is the second Catholic president in the U.S. and is at odds with many of the Church’s teaching, most notably, abortion. Some bishops have called to deny the Eucharist to president Biden and other politicians that support abortion, or that, at least, they should refrain from receiving it. In contrast, others, most notably the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, do not support such measures. The United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference is set to vote on a document about Eucharistic Coherence, or, in layman terms: What to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians?

Archbp. Wenski believes this is a decision to be left at the prudential judgment of each bishop within their diocese.

“Just like the United States is a federal system, where the states have a lot of power, the bishop is the vicar Christ in his own diocese. Therefore, the bishops’ conference of the United States is not sort of a superstructure over those bishops. It does require a lot of prudential judgment,” he said.

“This is not a science; it’s more of an art. It’s sort of like raising a kid. If you had a kid and you throw him out of the house every time a 13-year-old yells at you, “I hate you,” that kid would never see 18 years in your house. As a parent, you have to know when to give them a smack and when to pretend you didn’t hear it because you really don’t want to throw your kid out on the street because the street is a dangerous place.”

“Now, you might have to make that decision if that kid is presenting a danger to your other kids. If he’s bringing drugs to the house, you might not have a choice about it. But in most cases, most parents want to keep their kids within the house and protect them and keep them safe, and I think that’s the motivation behind most bishops.” Archbp. Thomas Wenski added.

However, he certainly does not think that President Biden is following a courageous path. “When Obama and Biden were first running for office, they were in favor of traditional marriage. But before their reelection, both of them came out in favor of gay marriage. This does not show courage on their part. Rather than go against the current, they decided to go with the crowd and came out in favor of same-sex marriage, leaving us behind because the Church still has to be faithful to the Gospel. Our task as bishops is not to change the Gospel but to allow the Gospel to change us.

Secularization in the U.S.

At the end of March, Gallup published a poll showing that church membership had fallen under 50% for the first time since the beginning of polling. This steady and rapid process of secularization is one of the most widely discussed topics within the Catholic church in the U.S. and most of the west.

“We can talk about a kind of healthy secularity. And we see that in the way that we can have a separation of Church and state and we can have religious tolerance. That shows healthy secularity. But secularism is an ideological position. Secularism describes what happens when people think that they can organize their society and live their lives as if God did not matter.”

“The Church is witness, that is to say that, by how we live and what we do and what we don’t do, we can show that God does matter. And that’s the big challenge that we have as men and women of faith today: to live lives of coherence and of virtue that will convince the world that God does matter,” Archbp. Thomas Wenski said.

“I think it’s too pessimistic to say that people are not coming to the Catholic Church. This past Easter here in the Archdiocese of Miami, probably about a thousand people were baptized, people that were adults and came into the Church, were on some type of a journey seeking faith, found it, and came.”

On Latinos, immigration and the future of the Church

Archbishop Wenski is a firm believer that Latinos are the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Half of Catholics under 25 years old are Latinos, and seminaries are filled with young Latinos wishing to serve God and the Church as priests.

“All those priests that I described of different ethnicities, they look like the people that we have in our pews because our population here in South Florida is about 75 percent Hispanic. And, if they’re not immigrants, they’re children of immigrants. And so we have a quite dynamic and diverse population. And I think because of that, the Church here in South Florida looks a little bit more alive than perhaps in other parts of the country.”

“The future of the Church in the U.S. is Latino; I have fifty-five students studying in the seminary, and the majority of them are Hispanic.”

“On May 8th, I will ordain eight men as priests. One of them was born in Hawaii. Another one was born in Paraguay; another one was born in Brazil; one Cuban, one in Colombia; one who is a Nigerian, and one born in the United States, but his parents are from Haiti,” he added.

One of the reasons why Archbishop Wenski is best known is for his defense of migrants, especially Haitian migrants. How should the Church deal with migration? “We have to make the Church visible to them and make them visible to the Church. So that’s what our ministry among immigrants should be about,” he says.

And he thinks the 2020 election should show the Republican Party a way ahead to be more open to humane immigration reform.

“Here in South Florida, you have a large Nicaraguan community, a large Venezuelan community, and a huge Cuban community and all three of those communities are not very enamored with socialistic ideas. So, you add that certain people in the Democratic Party are promoting socialistic ideas, and you see why they might go the other way,” Archbp. Thomas Wenski said.

“Many Republicans thought that immigrants would always be a natural constituency for the Democratic Party and opposed immigration reform because of that. The fact that many immigrants or children of immigrants have supported the Republican Party shows that immigrants will vote in their best interests. It’s up to each party to appeal to those interests; no party can claim the loyalty of immigrants,” he added.

Therefore, Archbishop Thomas Wenski is hopeful that the nativist wing of the Republican Party will not lead the party’s policies in immigration: “Hopefully, the gains that the Republicans made among Hispanics in this last election will open the eyes of many of those who have been opposing immigration reform to look at it with fresh eyes.”

“I think we do need immigration reform because we don’t need a permanent underclass in America. We did that before, and it was called Jim Crow. And we don’t need to do it again.”

Edgar is political scientist and philosopher. He defends the Catholic intellectual tradition. Edgar writes about religion, ideology, culture, US politics, abortion, and the Supreme Court. Twitter: @edgarjbb_ // Edgar es politólogo y filósofo. Defiende la tradición intelectual católica. Edgar escribe sobre religión, ideología, cultura, política doméstica, aborto y la Corte Suprema. Twitter: @edgarjbb_