Thomas Wenski – “hard charging, hog-driving” Archbishop of Miami

Michael E. Miller (Miami New Times) provides a detailed — and fascinating — profile of Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski:

Dressed all in black, the biker roars his 1,800-cc Harley-Davidson Street Glide to a halt on the gravely shoulder of Florida Avenue in Lakeland. Ray-Bans hide his eyes. With his spike-topped black helmet glinting in the South Florida sun, he more closely resembles a Prussian soldier than Easy Rider.

Lucas Benitez spots the motorcyclist and his palms begin to sweat. All day, the stocky Mexican with a buzzcut has led a thousand Latino tomato pickers on the 11-mile march from Plant City to Lakeland to protest the stingy pay of $50 per two tons of fruit torn off the vine. When he looks at the biker, all he can think is: Not another pinche redneck picking a fight.

Then the heavyset motorcyclist steps from his machine and ambles toward the marchers. “Buenas tardes,” he says, holding out a hand. “I’m Bishop Thomas Wenski.”

Hog-riding Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Hog-riding Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski

Pulling a faded black Army cap over his graying hair, the Orlando bishop falls into stride alongside the protesters in their bright green T-shirts. When they reach the headquarters of the nation’s largest supermarket chain, Publix, Wenski climbs onto the back of a produce truck.

“In this long march of ours,” he says in Spanish, Bible in hand, “we may feel tired, but we will never tire of seeking justice and a better life for all our brothers and sisters.”

That was April 17, 2010. Three days later, Pope Benedict XVI named Thomas Gerard Wenski the new archbishop of Miami. He now oversees the religious life of more than a million Catholics in one of the church’s most internationally significant but challenging strongholds.

Wenski is unlike anything the church has ever seen. He’s a hard-charging, hog-driving cleric and licensed pilot who speaks six languages fluently. In the past seven months, he has come on like a blessed freight train, booting dozens of longtime priests from their too-comfortable parishes and suing the City of Miami for $140 million. He’s risked the ire of Miami Cubans by engaging the island’s communist government and had his phone tapped by the Castro regime. Just two weeks ago, he helped open the first seminary in Cuba since the revolution. …

Wenski made the headlines in 2009 for his criticism of President Obama as “one of the most radical pro-abortion presidents we’ve ever had” and delivering a “Mass of Reparation” for Notre Dame’s bestowing of an honorary degree on the President. A fierce advocate of immigrant’s rights (particularly of the Haitan people), staunchly pro-life (including contraception), Wenski strikes me as a bishop who strives to embody the social doctrine of the Church.

The author, predictably, writes from the perspective of a disgruntled liberal journalist: Wenski-the-seminarian is praised for his Kent State anti-war protests and “questioning his teachers” on priestly celibacy and women’s ordination. Wenski-the-bishop is subsequently mourned for “losing his fiery spirit of independence” (and/or berated as a “rabid Tea Party conservative”) when he embraces the moral teachings of his faith.

Might Wenski’s prophetic resistence to the libertine spirit of this age be considered a mark of genuine independence?

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