MIAMI — Nearly a year after an earthquake crippled Haiti, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski warned that the country's recovery will remain sluggish as long as its institutions are unable to get a handle on aid pledges from the international community.
Speaking to The Miami Herald's editorial board Thursday, Wenski cited the Haitian Catholic Bishops' Conference as an example.
"They don't have the capacity to absorb the money that we want to throw at them," he said, noting that U.S. bishops collected $90 million in earthquake relief immediately after the Jan. 12 temblor.
"Without the capacity, it will be like pouring water in sand. It will be wasted."
The U.S. bishops plan to set up an office with their Haitian counterparts to coordinate rebuilding churches and schools, Wenski said, but that is still some time away considering construction materials are scarce and Haiti has not set forth a new building code.
In a wide-ranging interview, Wenski also touched on the church's role in Cuba, which he called the "ultimate sugar-daddy state."
Last month, Wenski hosted a delegation of Cuban priests in Miami, following a high-profile visit the archbishop made to the island earlier in November for the opening of Cuba's first seminary in 50 years.
"There does seem to be a thawing in the relationship between the church and the government there," Wenski said.
The church has been criticized for negotiating with the Cuban government for the release of dozens of political prisoners who have been exiled from the island after being freed. Wenski echoed the Cuban priests last month who said they still expect remaining prisoners to be released even if they don't agree to leave Cuba.
Since his installation as archbishop six months ago, Wenski has shaken up the archdiocese. He has reassigned priests and deacons, reconfigured his Cabinet and reopened St. Robert Bellarmine, an Allapattah church that closed last year along with a dozen others in Miami-Dade and Broward.
On Thursday, Wenski reiterated that he may open other closed churches and does not intend to close any more.
"It won't be possible to bring them all back at this point," he said.
The archdiocese is not the only institution struggling in the foundering economy, he noted, but grappling with the downturn's effects has been challenging.
"I didn't expect to find it in the economic crisis that it's been," said Wenski, the former bishop of Orlando.
Wenski also spoke about the Rev. Alberto Cutie, a celebrity priest caught by a tabloid photographer kissing a woman on a South Florida beach last year. The scandal resulted in Cutie leaving Catholicism for the Episcopal church and marrying the woman, who recently gave birth to a baby girl.
"Lots of people were hurt, lots of people were disappointed — probably including his own mother," Wenski said of Cutie's move, which prompted a media frenzy and harsh words from former Archbishop John Favalora.
Wenski said he understood Cutie's falling in love — though "grown-ups," he added, also choose to fall out of love — but said he had a harder time dealing with Cutie's decision to abandon the church altogether. Cutie could have left the priesthood but remained a Catholic, Wenski said, emphasizing that the church did not force Cutie to leave.
"We had the Kennedys," Wenski quipped. "They gave us heartburn, and we didn't throw them out."