Archbishop Thomas Wenski grew up in Lake Worth, FL and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami on May 15, 1976. His longest priestly assignment was as a parish priest among the Haitian communities of south Florida for 18 years. In his words, it afforded him the opportunity to work among the poor and disenfranchised and to be in a sense ‘a missionary priest’ in his own backyard.

On April 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him the fourth Archbishop of Miami and Metropolitan of the Province of Miami (which includes the seven dioceses of the State of Florida). Archbishop Wenski was installed as Archbishop of Miami on June 1, 2010.

Archbishop Wenski also serves as a Consultant on the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Short bio on Archbishop Wenski (prior to becoming Archbishop of Miami):

Archbishop Wenski on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

Transcript of Interview with Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, 6/7/17:

Jim: Your Excellency, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. It is an honor. How are you today?

Archbishop Wenski: Thank you Jim, I’m very happy to be with you on this radio.

Jim: Wonderful. Your Excellency, what is your assessment of our proposal to lower flags to half-staff for the 3,000 daily pre-born victims of abortion?

Archbishop Wenski: I understand the motivation behind it and I applaud that motivation, but I don’t think it will be an effective strategy and I think it could be counter productive because again, there’s a protocol about who can lower flags at half-staff and usually that’s the President that does that. So I think, if a Bishop or a parish priest takes that initiative on himself, then some of his neighbors would look at that a little bit critically and we want to win allies through the pro-life cause, we don’t want to alienate people over things that are really secondary.

Jim: As far as jurisdiction goes, the President does have the power to take that action, but it certainly is a matter of First Amendment Rights, whether people actually follow up on that or not, and governors and mayors can also take that action, and so it does seem appropriate that for someone with authority over a certain jurisdiction they can make that call and lower their flag to half-staff. Certainly any American on their own private residence can make that call. And it seems appropriate to do so when we have 3,000 humans being directly killed every day by abortion.

Archbishop Wenski: I’m not sure. I think you’d get an argument about the appropriateness of some individual making that call for his own property. Because there is a flag protocol. Try putting a flag up-side-down, which is a sign of distress and certainly somebody could argue that we should fly the flags up-side-down because of this holocaust of unborn life that is occurring in our country. But to do so, I think would be counter-productive and that’s my point. We want to win allies. And again, sure there’s freedom of religion issues here, but our culture right now is a bit hostile to religious freedom and so we have to thread carefully and pick our battles carefully and what is the prudential way of proceeding and I think this particular proposal prudence would tell us to think it over and look for a different way of expressing our concern about the unacceptable number of abortions in our country.

Jim: I very much appreciate your viewpoint and I do think you make a very good distinction there between what would be a form of protest in flying the flag, where someone would fly it up-side-down as a sign of distress or protest, versus just honestly flying the flag. Because when we have 3,000 born humans that are killed in a given day in the US, for example on 9/11, it would be certainly appropriate to lower our flags to half-staff and we wouldn’t really even debate it at all, so if we’re having 3,000 pre-born humans…

Archbishop Wenski: And we do it because the competent civil authority has asked us to do it. That’s what the flag protocol calls for, that we lower flags to half-staff when the competent civil authority, the President, the governor, does it. As bishops or as parish priests, we really don’t have that competency in this area.

Jim: Okay. I do agree that there would likely be some backlash, but let me just make sure on that point, that I understand clearly the view that you’re expressing there. You are not saying that flying the flag honestly (half-staff for the 3,000 humans directly killed everyday by abortion) would somehow be an action that is objectively offensive in and of itself, but rather your concern is that there will be some who would take subjective offense and you think that could be counter-productive. Is that correct?

Archbishop Wenski: That’s right, because we’re trying to win allies not alienate the people. There are a lot of Americans that are very sensitive, very patriotic, very sensitive about the proper respect of the flag and they wouldn’t want to see this flag captured, what they might see as a partisan cause. And so therefore, I think we have to think strategically and intelligently as we try to promote a culture of life.

Jim: Great. And last point on this is, is that I do believe that you’re right, there would be some misunderstanding and there would be some backlash. I also believe there would be some support, but to me I guess the question would then become, how do we handle the misunderstanding or the backlash? Because if a bishop or if all the U.S. Bishops took this action, it would certainly gain a lot of attention and that’s kind of where I see the great opportunity here. This would draw attention to the fact that the pre-born and born…

Archbishop Wenski: Again, I think, I know it would draw attention. What I’m trying to say is that the intention would be mostly negative and therefore, not to the best interest of the pro-life cause. So I don’t think the Bishops are going to do this because the Bishops are totally committed to the pro-life cause and they’re not going to do something that could hurt it and I think this particular proposal could hurt the pro-life cause, which is why I tell you that you should reconsider it. I would oppose it. You might be convinced it might help, I don’t think so and I think it could hurt it.

Jim: I appreciate the conversation and I just want to make sure you understand my response because it might make a difference in trying to understand this, which is that I see that there would be an opportunity to draw attention to a fact and the fact is that pre-born – we know this fact – that pre-born and born humans are equal in value. But if we can get people to quickly understand the equality of pre-born and born humans, which we can prove fairly quickly in conversation then reasonable people will concede that pre-born humans have a right to life that must be enshrined into law. So treating them as equal in how we fly the flag leads to conversations about their equality and such conversations have great power to change hearts and minds. So rather than dismiss the idea because there would be some backlash, I guess I’m just asking do you…

Archbishop Wenski: No, I’m saying by doing this you won’t get to that conversation that you want to have.

Jim: Why would we not have conversation about it?

Archbishop Wenski: Because, as I said, it would bring about a negative impact. People would view this negatively and therefore the conversation that you want to have will be clouded over by people being upset with you for usurping a Presidential prerogative and violating the common agreed protocol for the proper respect to the United States Flag.

Jim: Okay, so you’re saying there would be such subjective…

Archbishop Wenski: I said, it’s a great idea that you came up, but I said if you talk it out and you talk with other Bishops, it’s not that great of an idea in the long run. I would say prudentially, I think we would put this on the shelf because the pro-life cause is too serious of a cause to allow it to get distracted by a gimmick.

Jim: Okay, well I think there’s certainly more conversation to be had there, but let’s leave it at that, on that point for now…

Archbishop Wenski: Because you won’t take no for an answer, but that’s all right…

Jim: No, it’s not that I won’t take no. I certainly will, I certainly will take no, if that’s the conclusion, but I think that it deserves…there’s a bit more to be fleshed out in some of those points that you make that we just don’t have the time for right this moment. But I would like to have more conversation on that, but I also want to get to the other questions that I had proposed. So let’s just switch gears a little bit and in general then, in your view, what is the most effective non-violent action that we can take to end abortion as soon as possible?

Archbishop Wenski: Well the most effective non-violent action that we have to take and everything has to start with this, is prayer. We have to pray consistently and constantly to create a culture of life in this country. We also do many other things. You’re aware of the Pastoral Plan of the United States Bishop’s Conference on Pro-Life Activities and I’m a member of the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Bishop’s Conference. And it has basically four pillars if you will, information and education. We have to educate the public and provide them information about what is really involved in an abortion. We have to offer pastoral care for women who are by themselves pregnant, and scared, and are considering abortion. We have to take care of them pastorally and do so with great compassion. We have to step up our public policy efforts, both on state level and the national level. And we see our efforts at public policy do have affect. We see this in pro-life legislation being passed around the nation. And again, more important is bring the pro-life cause to prayer and to worship. We can do that by making sure that intentions are expressed at the Masses for people that are experiencing difficulties in pregnancy that we pray for respect for life, et cetera. Another thing that one of the things I’m very proud of here in the Archdiocese of Miami is that we have five pregnancy help centers throughout the Archdiocese. These pregnancy help centers a woman can go and get counseling, a woman can go and get an ultrasound for example, they can get food if they need it, they can get baby diapers, baby bottles, formula, et cetera. And these five pregnancy centers are scattered throughout the Archdiocese to be more convenient to the population and they’re doing tremendous work. They’re saving lives every day. We have Project Rachel, which is a tremendous ministry to help reconcile to the Church and heal those who have committed the sin of abortion. And we even have a group that is working with fathers. I think it’s called the Joseph Ministry and part of their mission is to give parenting skills for fathers of unwed mothers and to encourage them to be involved in the life of their child and their parents, et cetera. So these are important things, things that we can do. I think what we have to remember, that ultimately, we’re going to win on abortion, but we’re going to win on abortion, we’re going to win by changing the culture. Because it’s only when we change the culture then we will be able to change the politics. Too often we think it’s just a political problem that we have to overcome. Pope John Paul II, St. Pope John Paul II, when he received Bishops in ad limina visits, he would ask them, not what they were doing to change the politics of their different countries, he asked them what are you doing to change the culture of your countries? We have this abortion regime in this country because the culture changed. We have to remember that people like Kennedy, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, these are all pro-life people at one time until they sensed that the culture changed and then they changed to maintain their position within that culture. In the same way, eight years ago every Presidential candidate on both sides, on both parties, was against same-sex marriage. Both Obama and Clinton and Romney and everyone else that was involved in it. Then five years ago, the Democratic candidates came out of in favor of same-sex marriage. They did so, not because they were taking a position of courage but they had their political fingers in the wind and they saw that they weren’t going to lose any votes by opposing it and they probably were going to win some votes. So in other words, the culture changed. And unless we can change the cultures, we’re not going to be very successful in changing the politics. That’s I think the most important thing that we have to remember in the pro-life movement.

Jim: Yes, and I would say that the culture is more pro-life than we would perhaps perceive. Certainly we have a vast number of Catholic folks out there that are, should be at least, I think most of them are, pro-life to the core, at least half of them if we look at the recent election…

Archbishop Wenski: We’re seeing great progress among young people. Young people are more pro-life than their parents were at their age. This is important because they’re pro-same-sex marriage, but they tend to be pro-life at the same time. One of those contradictions that it’s hard to figure out, but young people today are more pro-life than their parents were at the age that they have now. This is a positive sign that is something we have to build on and we see in many states, pro-lifers have had effects with the politics but it’s because they’ve made the change in the culture in the areas where they live. Where the culture hasn’t changed, like on the West Coast and the East Coast, the blue state areas, the culture hasn’t changed much there, therefore you see the politics resisting pro-life legislation. We have a big challenge ahead of us. It’s a generational challenge.

Jim: Yes and there are still though, very many pro-life people even on the West Coast, so there seems to be this need to kind of mobilize and activate folks to stand up in a public witness so that our elected representatives will see that. I’ve gotten interested in the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities and I’ve read the 2001 version, the ‘85 version, and the ‘75 version. Have you ever read that 1975 version that calls for Congressional District Pro-Life Groups?

Archbishop Wenski: I’ve probably read it because I’ve been priest since 1976, but…

Jim: What really jumped out to me and kind of blew me away was in that 1975 version of the Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities, there was a strong focus by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at that time to mobilize and activate pro-lifers of all background and in every congressional district, in order to form a powerful pro-life political lobby to enshrine the right to life for all pre-born humans in the law, with a human life amendment. They were very much focused ongoing to the heart of this and ending it, but unfortunately it was never implemented. Do you think there’s any possibility for restoring that aspect of the ‘75 plan, this time with some accountability built in for some successful implementation?

Archbishop Wenski: The Human Life Amendment is still, we still have a committee for the Human Life Amendment, but at this point, the political prospects of it are very slim, which is back to what I’ve been saying before. And I think that’s what the Bishops have taken into account as they’ve reiterated their pastoral plan over the years, is that we have to change the culture before we change the politics.

Jim: And that’s, again, where I see that “flags to half staff” initiative, something like that, really showing that there are large numbers of pro-life people out there and engaging to get conversations going to talk about the equality of the born and the pre-born. And they’re not easy conversations to have…

Archbishop Wenski: I think we have to get the conversations going on that and we have to talk to our neighbors and we have to try to be consistent witnesses to the value of life, but I think this particular idea of yours, isn’t going to work and I think it’s going to be more harmful than helpful and that’s why I don’t support it. Okay?

Jim: Last thing on that Archbishop, I just want to make sure, because I think you’re making a very fair point, I think what you’re saying is, that you feel like the subjective reception of just getting past the flag thing and trying to understand the flag thing, getting to the conversation that we need to have, you’re saying that there might be such subjective offense taken, that it might be so hard to work through that subjective offense, that we would never really be able to have that good conversation.

Archbishop Wenski: That’s what I’m saying. That’s what I’m saying, because we’re…Yeah, exactly.

Jim: I think it’s a fair point. So finally…

Archbishop Wenski: Thank you very much.

Jim: Can I ask one final lightning-round question?

Archbishop Wenski: Okay, sure.

Jim: Okay, finally Your Excellency, what do you think is the number one social issue that we face today?

Archbishop Wenski: The number one social issue that we face today? All right, in the world, in our country, or what?

Jim: I guess let’s keep it to our country.

Archbishop Wenski: We do have to, again, promote the value of human life, which is under attack not only in the womb but also at the end of life because of the push for assisted suicide and euthanasia that is growing in many states around the country. The dignity and the value of human life is a top priority for us and for our church. Stemming from that, then we have a whole lot of other issues, and right now, we’re a divided country, a country that’s very polarized and a lot of stuff is not getting done that should get done because of that polarization, and so there has to be a coming together. I think a lot of this polarization is, ultimately, the blame of it could be laid at Roe v. Wade so many years ago and that many of the cultural fights that we see in our country today are often fights that are surrogates for this basic battle over the value of human life.

Jim: Okay. We’re out of time so we’ll have to leave it there, but maybe you can come back another time and follow up with us.

Archbishop Wenski: Okay. God bless you.

Jim: Alright, God bless you. His Excellency, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, thank you again for being with us today. It’s been an absolute blessing, an honor to have this important conversation with you. I ask all of our listeners to offer a special prayer for you and for every person within the Archdiocese and Province of Miami whom you Shepherd, God bless you.

Archbishop Wenski: Thank you. Bye, bye.