Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski likes to say that he's "political with a capital P," meaning he doesn't tow a particular party line. And in his two years in charge of South Florida Catholics he has, in fact, criticized everyone from Barack Obama to Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But as the U.S. Supreme Court gears up to rule on the president's signature healthcare reform legislation this summer, Wenski has emerged as Obama's biggest Catholic critic. Yesterday, in a sermon to Catholic lawyers and judges, he said religious freedom was under "outright assault" under Obama.
"Catholicism is under attack at this present time," he tells Riptide ahead of today's "Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally" downtown. The Obama administration is "running roughshod over religious freedom" in this country, Wenski claims.
As we wrote back in 2010, Wenski is a hard-charging, hog-driving polyglot priest. At times he sounds like a Tea Partier: he listens to Rush Limbaugh and thinks that a godless malaise is eroding away at American values.
But he also chides Republicans for war mongering and anti-immigrant legislation. "I tell it like it is," he says. "I'm not talking from a list of talking points prepared by any party."
Yet Obama has been his favorite target of late. When the Obama administration announced on January 20 that it would require some religious institutions to cover contraception in their insurance plans, Wenski quickly condemned the mandate as a violation of the First Amendment.
And when Obama compromised two weeks later by saying that the insurance companies -- not religious institutions -- would offer contraceptives, Wenski was having none of it.
"Compromises are not usually arrived at unilaterally," he says. "It's all smoke and mirrors. If it sounds like we are a little bit put off, well, we are."
Wenski says that he's not opposed to healthcare reform. In fact, he says that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been in favor of the idea for over 40 years. But, he is bitterly opposed to the law as currently written.
"We think that the mandate is unjust, we think it violates that the constitution, and we will prevail in the Supreme Court," he says.
"Universal care should cover everybody and it shouldn't kill anybody," he says of the contraception requirement.
Wenski says that he has never spoken to the president -- "Obama hasn't called me. I haven't called him" -- but claims that Catholic input has been ignored.
"Obviously the administration has a deaf ear to our concerns," he says. "Obama had allies in the church, instead of using them he's decided to alienate us and pick a fight."
Wenski will throw a few punches of his own today outside the federal courthouse downtown during a the rally, which starts at 11:30 a.m. Similar rallies are taking place across the country.
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