This morning’s appointment of Bishop Thomas Wenski as the next Archbishop of Miami is welcome for a variety of reasons, some close to home and some noteworthy for changes on the Vatican’s selection criteria for bishops.
Most immediately, Wenski came to national prominence on the strength of his work with the Haitian expatriate community in Miami and has strong ties to the island nation. He joined Archbishop Jose Gomez, head of the Bishops’ ad hoc committee on Haiti and Cardinal Sean O’Malley on a trip to the island last month to assess the on-going reconstruction work. From the high profile archdiocese of Miami, which is not only the gateway to and from Haiti but home to the largest Haitian-American community, Wenski will be able to keep the focus on the still pressing needs there.
Second, Wenski’s career track is happily different from that of many other bishops. For example, he was never a bishop’s secretary nor did he ever function primarily as a curial official. He was a pastor and his first administrative experience came from being a circuit-riding pastor to three parishes rather than learning the ropes of the local chancery. He also did not attend the North American College. I have nothing against the NAC; my best friend went there. But, it is healthy to have bishops from a variety of educational and pastoral experiences. Bishop Wenski has a Master’s degree in sociology from Fordham, for example, not a degree in moral theology from the Angelicum. And, in addition to being unfamiliar with the ways of the local curia in Miami, he never had to learn the ways of intrigue that seem to characterize so much of life on the Janiculum or at the Casa Santa Maria. Archbishop Gomez, newly named coadjutor in Los Angeles, also happily has a different educational experience from the norm, studying at the University of Navarre in Spain and the incoming bishop of Scranton studied at the University of Toronto.
Wenski also attended summer courses at the University of Lublin in Poland. His biography does not list the dates, but Archbishop Josef Zycinski of Lublin is one of the top five if not the smartest prelate on the planet, having authored a range of books on philosophy and the relationship of science and religion, and I hope Wenski had the opportunity to spend time with him. I am quite certain he would have visited two important sites in Lublin. In one of the many beautiful churches in the city, there are two pulpits, one on each side of the nave. This dates from the time of the Reformation. The church would host debates between Protestant reformers and Catholic apologists, a testament to Poland’s desire to respect conscience, rather than the force of arms, in determining the religion of its people.
The other site is grim: Within the city limits are the remains of the concentration camp of Madjanek. Unlike Auschwitz-Birkenau, where there are lots of well-done exhibits to instruct the visitor, and guides to explain and lead you from one hall to the next, and always lots of tourists (although the word seems somehow inappropriate in this context), at Madjanek there are no crowds or exhibits any only one or two guards. Few buildings remain standing but at the top of the hill there is a large domed structure covering a basin that holds the cremated remains of the victims. It is very large. It is important when some in the West write silly things about the Jews and their sense of alarm at the first signs of anti-Semitism to have religious leaders who can feel in their bones why such alarms are warranted. A few hours at Madjanek will teach you all you need to know about human evil.
It is always difficult to parse a single appointment. No one knows for sure who was on the terna going to Rome, or on the terna from the Congregation for Bishops to the Holy Father. Better to say, those who know won’t talk and those who talk don’t know. But, however it is happening, the latest round of appointments in Miami, Los Angeles, Brownsville, Scranton and others introduce the American Church to its next generation of leaders, and all signs indicate that they are profoundly pastoral and capable men.
Michael Sean Winters