Archbishop Wenski's message to Congress: help Puerto Rico

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is currently facing a $72 billion debt crisis, and much human suffering, and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski isn't happy about it. 

In a new letter to Congress, Wenski, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “The people of Puerto Rico are suffering from painful poverty and hunger, persistent joblessness, and other social problems, as a result of the financial crisis gripping the Commonwealth's economy."

"They bear little responsibility for the situation yet suffer most of the consequences," he wrote. 

The message comes as Puerto Rico's debt crisis is further deteriorating.

On Tuesday, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla told a Senate hearing that Puerto Rico is moving toward default on $7 billion in loans owed by its public corporations to free up money in order to repay other massive loans — a financial gimmick that Garcia Padilla called “the beginning of a very long and chaotic process.”

“In simple terms we have begun to default on our debt in an effort to attempt to repay bonds issued with full faith and credit of the commonwealth and secure sufficient resources to protect the life, health, safety and welfare of the people of Puerto Rico,” Garcia Padilla told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The country has been mired in economic recession for a decade. Over 45% of the Puerto Rican population lives in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. 

In his letter to Congress, Archbishop Wenski urged Congress to advance a bill called the Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act, which would give Puerto Rico’s government the same bankruptcy protections afforded to American cities.

A Miami archdiocese press release notes, “Because Puerto Rico is neither a sovereign nation nor a state, it has virtually no ability to restructure its debt and address the crisis.”

Wenski wrote, “Financial instruments should encourage development, not deprivation. We all have a shared responsibility to protect our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters around the world.”

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is]

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