Miami archbishop to lead US Catholic bishops on religious liberty

CNA 4f14d158979de 6249 1 Archbishop Thomas Wenski speaks at a press conference. | Ana Rodriguez-Soto/Archdiocese of Miami

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami has been appointed as the acting chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, following the death of Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown.

Bishop Murry died on June 5, following a relapse of leukemia. He was 71. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the USCCB, thanked Wenski for accepting the position and described him as "an energetic leader with a truly strong commitment to religious liberty and a servant's heart for ministry." 

Shortly after the USCCB announced Wenski as the new acting chairman, the archbishop released a statement requesting prayers for Religious Freedom Week 2020. 

Religious Freedom Week began on Monday, June 22 and continues through June 29 under the theme "For the Good of All."  

"Religious freedom is under stress throughout the world. Even in our Western liberal democracies, discrimination against religion in general and Catholic Christianity, in particular, is growing - albeit in perhaps more sophisticated and less violent ways," said Wenski. 

"Political analysts and human rights advocates do include religion on their agenda. But most emphasize 'tolerance' as if religion were only a source of conflict. Or, they speak about religion in terms of 'individual choices,' as if religion were merely the concern of an individual's conviction and were devoid of any social consequences," he added.

Wenski said that protecting institutions of civil society, including libraries, newspapers, and universities is necessary for ensuring religious freedom. 

"Freedom of religion 'for the good of all' must also encompass protecting those institutions that nourish the individual's free exercise of religion," he said.

"The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person. Religious freedom is the human right that guarantees all other rights - peace and creative living together will only be possible if freedom of religion is fully respected."

During the 2019 USCCB Fall General Assembly, Wenski and Murry both ran for the position of committee chairman, and the two received the same number of votes from their brother bishops. The tie was broken by the fact that Murry was just under two years older than Wenski, making him the winner of the election by seniority.  

At the 2019 Fall General Assembly, Murry was himself elected to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. Kurtz had stepped down from the committee due to ill health as he continues to battle with bladder cancer. 

Murry was elected for just one year, in order to keep the schedule of the committee elections and to finish out Kurtz's term. In November he would have been eligible to pursue a full term as chairman of the committee had he wished. 

Wenski will now finish out the remaining five months of what was originally Kurtz's term, and be able to run for a full three-year term at the 2020 Fall General Assembly. 

Previously, Wenski led the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development from 2013-2016, and in 2005-2008 he was the head of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. From 2002-2006, he was the chairman of the Committee on Migration, and chaired the board of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network during 1998 through 2001. 

He has also been part of the Committee of Pro-Life Activities as well as the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. 

Wenski was consecrated as the auxiliary bishop of Miami on June 21, 1997, and led the Diocese of Orlando from 2004-2010, before being installed as the Archbishop of Miami on June 1, 2010. 

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