Friday, April 6, 2012

Obamacare: the untold story of what the Pope thinks.

Given that this is Good Friday (as opposed to other Fridays, those are usually just good ); and that we have been doing a fair amount of posting on Obamacare; and that a majority of the Supreme Court justices are Roman Catholic; and that some conservatives, like Rick Santorum, believe that one's faith should influence how America is governed, I wondered what the Pope thinks about Obamacare (I am not positive, but am pretty sure this is the longest sentence I have ever written).

The Pope does not seemed to have specifically addressed Obamacare.  However, the Pope has discussed health care and governments. I found a story from the Catholic News Service.  The story reports that in a 2010 message to "Participants in the 25th International Conference Organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers" the Pope wrote that it is the "moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay."

This statement struck me as a big deal since Roman Catholics consider the Pope infallible on matters of faith and morals.  Or at least they are supposed to consider him infallible on matters of faith and morals when the Pope speaks ex cathedraThat is,when the Pope speaks "in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter."

The story didn't link to the message but the Pope's website has his homilies, letters, messages, or speeches arranged in chronological order. The Pope's message to the council is here

The Pope’s message says that health care “is of particular interest for the Christian community in which care for the human being, for his transcendent dignity and for his inalienable rights is central.”  It goes on that, health  “is a precious good for the person and the community to be promoted, preserved and protected, dedicating the necessary means, resources and energy in order that more and more people may benefit from it.”

The Pope also writes, that it “is necessary to work with greater commitment at all levels to ensure that the right to health care is rendered effective by furthering access to basic health care.” According to the Pope it is “is important to establish a real distributive justice which, on the basis of objective needs, guarantees adequate care to all.” 

The Pope points out that the “the Church’s social doctrine has always highlighted the importance of distributive justice and of social justice in the different areas of human relations.”  Thus, according to the Pope, “Justice in health care must be among the priorities on the agenda of Governments and International Institutions.” 

That sounds to me like the Pope thinks that governments have a role in determining how people get health care.  However, the phrase ex cathedra does not appear in the message so I guess the Pope might be wrong about this.  

One conclusion that people might reach from all this would be that the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision will be evidence that some of the Catholic justices might be "cafeteria Catholics."  I don't care to get into judging whether or not someone is a good Catholic.  The thing that interest me is that as far as I know not one mainstream media outlet has reported on the possibility that the Catholic justices will rule in accordance with the Pope's teaching.  Things have come a long way since the days when William Brennan was asked at his confirmation whether he could abide by the laws of the United States and not the laws set down by the Pope

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. Some thoughts / questions it provoked in me:

    1) How much health care does the pope think everyone is basically entitled to? That seems to be the $__[insert large number here]___ question. Because if you think about it, the United States already does guarantee health care to all, regardless of ability to pay in that it is illegal for emergency rooms to turn away patients for inability to pay.

    2) I'm skeptical of the notion that there is a "human right" to health care. First, it immediately raises the question I asked above: "how much?" Second, until about 1920 or so, going to the doctor was more likely to make you sicker than it was to make you healthier—so it seems strange that there was a human right to that kind of treatment. Third, we simply do not have enough wealth, as a society, to fund maximum health care for everyone. I believe that we get all the rights we can afford; right now we cannot afford maximum health care for all.

    3) I advocate reframing the debate. Health care is not a human right; it is a wonderful privilege of modern life. In fact, it is so wonderful that it is grotesque to distribute it on the basis of ability to pay. But this doesn't mean that everyone is entitled to maximum health care, regardless of cost. It means that everyone is entitled to minimum health care, regardless of cost. So I believe that any solution has to start with a rejection of the premise that health care is a human right.

    4) It's an interesting point that most of the Supreme Court Justices are Catholics. But I really don't think they are being put to any kind of Hobson's Choice. They are not being asked to determine whether the US should fund health insurance for all. They are being asked whether a part of a piece of legislation is within the enumerated powers of Congress under the constitution. I don't think the pope has taken a stand on this.


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