Cardinal Martino on Healthcare Reform

Cardinal Martino on Healthcare Reform September 16, 2009

In what is bound to make George Weigel paranoid, Cardinal Renato Martino — head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — has expressed his thoughts on the US healthcare debate:

“The health of their own citizens belongs to the authorities, to the central government. And so I have been 16 years in the States and I was wondering why a big portion of the American people is deprived, have no health assistance at all. I could never explain this…

And you know that everywhere in the world it is a concern of the government first of all, and after there are possibilities also on the private sector, but those who are without anything… the central government must provide to that. So I cannot but applaud this initiative.”


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  • standmickey

    Socialist! Communist! Fascist!

  • Kurt

    I guess the Archbishop is from Kenya, too.

  • A true shepherd.

  • Blackadder

    The health of their own citizens belongs to the authorities?

  • Ronald King

    Spread the love because it is infinite!

  • Michael
    Is that true shepherd watching the conscience of Catholic countries in Latin America first… prior to lecturing us as a mixed country…Latin countries who send us cocaine…from leaves collected by primarily the poor who he ought rather to urge into plantain harvesting rather than coca…lest they perish in damnation. Just keeping it real Michael.

  • David, Chicago

    Bill, blaming the poor (literally economically poor) coca farmers for the US’s cocaine addiction is surreal, not real! I wish it were as simple as “urging” then to harvest bananas!

  • bill bannon – I have absolutely no idea what those sentences you wrote are supposed to mean.

  • David,
    Read me again….slowly. I was noting who the Cardinal should give spiritual advice to firstly presuming that Christ’s admonition to not cast pearls before swine rules out giving that advice to the rich level of the cocaine cartel leaders …I said nothing as to who is wholly to blame for the drug trade which includes the US addicts.
    The four countries involved are Columbia 81-90% Catholic…Producer largest/ Peru 81% Catholic…base/ Bolivia 78% Catholic…base/ and Mexico 89% Catholic…transit.

    It is simply bizarre that Catholic leaders are reproving any non Catholic country first while Catholic countries with e.g. worse murder rates than the US number 17 and they don’t have death penalties yet Maritino told the US and China to do away with theirs…apparently so we can be like Mexico which may one day be simply run by Los Zetas and the other cartels.
    Martino was the papal rep at the UN for years and I can find nothing he did to stop the 4 year delivery of rockets from Syria to Lebanon yet he stuck his nose out to say that Gaza was like a concentration camp (Jan.2009). Lombardi corrected him in public probably per the Pope. Why is he cleaning up the non Catholic world while a large part of the Catholic world is crime central. We look like nosy bodies who have not first gotten the beam out of our own eye.
    The US takes care even of illegal medical bills every week when they simply walk in an emergency room.
    He did not note that.

  • correction:
    That is: the medical bills of even illegal immigrants are covered in the US via hospital emergency rooms.

  • Mark Gordon

    “Spread the love because it is infinite!”

    It’s just the money that’s running out.

  • The money is not running out. It’s being spent on the wrong things. The military is the largest item in the federal budget. Chop it.

    And besides, if any money is running out for healthcare, it’s workers’ wages. Private healthcare costs are running higher tha public healthcare costs — you might be able to see the budget deficit, but not the wage stagnation that private healthcare is causing.

  • David
    Short version:
    Our Popes and Vatican officials need to first produce justice and peace in their own predominantly Catholic countries and then they can correct the US and Israel and China on medical matters or crime matters or war matters.
    But they seem more interested in changing the US on lighter matters than in cleaning up Catholic countries in great matters…ie high crime rates of murder and drug dealing.

  • Liam

    IIRC, the USA has the fourth (or fifth, depending on how you count the Philippines) largest number of Catholics in the world….

  • David L. Gamaliel

    Bill Bannon: What a very peculiar idea, that the Church (or perhaps just some Cardinals?) should follow your order of Catholic Countries first. Aren’t we supposed to address the entire world? If there is an American problem, and we do have a problem, shouldn’t the Church address us here? Your reasoning, defeats me. Why don’t you try again.

  • Liam
    France has twice the number of muslims that Qatar has. But no one calls France a muslim country because percent of population would be the common sense standard to go by. Muslims are 4% of France and virtually 100% of Qatar. Thus Qatar is called a muslim nation and France is not.

  • Mark Gordon

    “The money is not running out. It’s being spent on the wrong things. The military is the largest item in the federal budget. Chop it.”

    The defense budget is the largest single discretionary item in the budget (20% overall in FY2009, I believe). Other discretionary spending amounts to another 18%. The remaining roughly 62% of the budget is made up of non-discretionary entitlements (53%; SS, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) and debt service (8%). In near-future budgets, entitlement spending will continue to rise as Baby Boomers retire; debt service is bound to increase signficantly due to recent and projected budget deficits.

    And yet, your prescription for funding a major new univeral entitlement is to simply “chop” the defense budget? I’m all for cutting defense, and especially costly ground and naval weapons systems, but it’s not clear that you could fund this if you halved the defense budget, and that’s not going to happen, especially when President Obama is proposing almost doubling the US presence in Afghanistan, and has extended his timetable for withdrawing from Iraq to 2011, and especially when we’re borrowing $1 trillion a year just to float the budget as it is.

    So, that leaves taxes, which is fine, except President Obama has said he wants healthcare reform to be revenue-neutral. No new taxes for healthcare reform. His words, not mine.

    Ronald King says love is infinite, and he’s right … about divine love, anyway. But my point remains unanswered: The money is running out.

  • David
    Well Christ told us to first get the beam out of our own eye and then we would see clearly to get the beam out of the eye of the other.

    You are implying that the Vatican can preach justice and peace to the US on this health issue ( a US that actually does cover even illegal aliens for medical bills when they go to emergency rooms) while we have not produced justice and peace in those countries that are predominantly Catholic. Islam is number one in producing opium and heroin for Europe and Catholic Columbia is number one in producing cocaine for the US. We are pretending that is not a problem just as we did for four decades pretend that Catholic priests were not molesting boys and teen boys. The real problem is finding things in the US that we might criticize even while we excel in cocaine distribution. That is what an obsession is.
    An obsession protects us from doing the harder thing.
    If we are on the internet too long, you know and I know that we are there because we for example do not want to clean the basement floor which now needs it but is no fun. Hence Pope Benedict is writing his second book on Christ and 2 million people will buy it and they will be a two million people who do not need it. The 900 million Catholics who do need to read him will never do so.

    His writing it is like our being on the net too much…he is avoiding something harder than writing…perhaps cleaning up Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico…or at least trying as to the poor who will listen but are involved in the drug trade with the rationalization that they are doing so to survive
    but that contradicts their needing faith and scripture
    does not allow such excuses to the poor even if modern
    pundits do.

    First the Popes should clean up Catholic countries and then they will see how to clean up the US.

  • Revenue neutral or deficit neutral? I thought the latter.

  • Mark Gordon


    You’re quite right that the Administration has used the term “deficit neutral” rather than “revenue neutral” in official communications, but the term “revenue neutral” has been used informally by officials, surrogates, and even the President, who insists that no new broad-based taxes will be or necessary to fund reform.

    Instead, the plan will be paid for by savings from the current health system and fees on some private insurers. The problem is that the plan offers no detail. And the Congressional Budget Office is still on record as claiming that reform as proposed by the President couldn’t possibly be deficit neutral.

    From the White House website, here are the relevant passages from the President’s plan:

    “Won’t add a dime to the deficit and is paid for upfront. The President’s plan will not add one dime to the deficit today or in the future and is paid for in a fiscally responsible way … The plan fully pays for this investment through health system savings and new revenue including a fee on insurance companies that sell very expensive plans.

    “Under the plan, if the savings promised at the time of enactment don’t materialize, the President will be required to put forth additional savings to ensure that the plan does not add to the deficit.”

    Love may be infinite, but it ain’t deficit (or revenue) neutral.

  • Mark Gordon

    Bill Bannon,

    The United States is the fourth largest Catholic country in the world, after Brazil, Mexico, and the Phillipines. There are more Catholics in the United States than, for instance, Columbia and France combined. If you are concerned about drug dealing in predominantly Catholic countries, shouldn’t you be at least as concerned about drug use in the fourth largest Catholic country in the world? Or are addicts in America all Protestants?

  • Ronald King

    Love requires giving. Giving is not to be measured according to what gives the giver a continued sense of safety but is to be measured according to the needs of those who are suffering. If it takes 50% of my income to give healthcare, so be it.

  • Mark Gordon

    What about 90%, Ronald? Would you give 90% to “give” healthcare? Why not 100%? Imagine, 100% of your income to “give” healthcare to others. I think you should consider that. You could start today. I assume there’s a hospital or clinic in your town. Go ahead and give all your income, Ronald. After all, you wouldn’t want to retain a sense of safety.

    No you see, it’s easy to spout platitudes, especially when they are cost-free or burnish your own sense of self-righteousness. It’s another thing to exercise the prudential judgement required to balance mercy and justice, liberty and security, in a civil society. So, that’s what MM and I are discussing. Finding a responsible way to fund a much-needed reform of the healthcare system in order to ensure univeral access and reduced costs.

  • Mark
    My interest is in the iconic Catholic country which the US based on numbers is not and which iconic Catholic country should have appeared by now in 2000 years and would be a light to the non believers…rather what we have in the one continent that is mostly Catholic is drugs, high murder rates in many and poverty partly caused by a series of Popes from 1452 to 1511 who gave Portugal and Spain the right to enslave and take the riches of those natives who resisted the gospel (see John T.Noonan Jr./”The Church That Can and Cannot Change).

    My interest (half ny family is Chinese) is in how the great millions of Asians are converted to a Church whose known representative in China, France, in 1862 in the Second Opium war treaty along with England forced on the Chinese simultaneously the opening of all areas to Christian missions and the opium trade of England.
    Pius IX at the time needed France for two reasons so he did not object to the opium settlement: he needed France to protect Rome and the papal territories and he needed France to open China to missionaries since he like many before him had no problem with force which Vatican II did have problems with. That’s why he was involved in a kidnapping of a Jewish boy from his parents because the Catholic maid had furtively baptized him as an infant. Vat.II rejected the coercive as to conscience.

    Once again now in South America, the Asians from a distance see Catholicism and drugs mixed. In the Chinese incident one of their main provincial leaders had written a heart breaking letter to Queen Victoria to stop England from forcing opium on Chinese families but the Queen did not reply.
    Do you think Mary and Christ are tickled pink in Heaven with the image we had then to the Chinese in 1862 and now in Columbia, Peru, Bolivia etc.

    Catholic countries by now in history should be a leaven and a light to the nations of how a country is done in all areas. Instead Catholic countries do not seem to be a shining light of example.
    So no. My interest is not in the US but in the Vatican which constantly plays into the iconic in its largesse of buildings, art collections, clothing, mansion summer palace in case Rome is too hot. This Vatican which is always being iconic along its own lines….should rather be worried about an iconology based on something deeper than pomp and She should want that iconology in Catholic example in Catholic countries.

  • Mark

    I agree with your broad point. Having carefully examined the various proposals, I remain unconvinced that the reform can pay for itself (“internal savings”). I’m naturally suspicious whenever such a claim is made. The arguments are infinitely more sensible than those put foward by the supply-siders about tax cuts, but I’m still unconvinced.

    That said, I do not think any public costs should add to the deficit. It would have been nice, and we would be in a far better position today if Bush has similarly paid for his profligacy (his tax cuts, his war, and his medicare part d reform each cost more than the Obama health plan). Despite what you might read at American Catholic, the deficit today has almost nothing ot do with Obama – it’s the economy first, Bush second. Still, it would be unwise to add more fuel to the fire.

    Personally, I favor a tax on the top income earners to pay for it. It could be done pretty easily. It would support solidarity and a preferential option for the poor – the cost is for subdidizing those below the poverty line. It would not be unduly burdensome as top marginal tax rates are low relative to recent history, and relative to other countries with similar levels of economic development.

    There’s one more point. When I said that “public” costs would increase, I chose my words carefully. The main component, and the fastest rising part, of healthcare costs in the US today is private. The cost is not borne by employers, even if many think it is – the cost is passed onto workers in terms of foregone wages. You can’t measure that. But I think the reform will reduce the growth rate in overall helathcare costs, at least relative to the unsustainable status quo, even if it shifts a greater part to the government budget. It will do so many expanding the risk pool, treating those earlier who would rely on expensive emergency rooms, and delivering economies of scale in insurance provision. The public option would probably get some more savings, but it’s so small and so watered down (for exmaple, it can’t negotiate with drug companies or use medicare reimbursement rates) that it would not make that much difference.

    So, better than the status quo, but not by much. We need to wring savings from medicare, but that is politically untouchable. Republicans denounce socialized medicine with one side of their mouth and defend socialized medicine (medicare) with the other side. We really need to change the way hospitals and doctors are reimbursed. Good luck with that. Even srarting down this road, with the comparative effectiveness panels, leads to wild allegrations of killing grandma to save money.

  • Ronald King

    Mark Gordon,
    Your response to my 50% is interesting. I agree with you that it was easy for me to express my willingness to give 50% of my income to assist in healthcare. Your knowledge of me is amazingly clear in your mind. What makes you think my statement is not prudent?

  • Mark Gordon

    Mr. King,

    I ask again: Why only 50%? Why are you not willing to give all your income in order to “give” healthcare to others. Could it be that you are eager to retain some sense of safety? But I thought you wrote: “Giving is not to be measured according to what gives the giver a continued sense of safety but is to be measured according to the needs of those who are suffering.”

    Surely there is enough need out there to absorb 100% of your income? Why are you violating your own principles by not giving it all?

  • Mark Gordon


    I agree with every single thing you wrote above, a first for me.

    As I read it, healthcare reform is intended to ameliorate the lack of universal coverage, and rising costs in the system. What I don’t understand is why we can’t simply do the following three things: First, open up Medicare to anyone unable to procure insurance. In effect, make Medicare the public option. Second, empower HHS to index mandatory reimbursement rates. In other words, take pricing out of the hands of both healthcare providers and the insurance industry. Third, eliminate the practices of denial on the basis of pre-existing conditions and retroactive revocation of coverage.

    Things are much more pleasant and productive around here when you avoid the violent language of imprecation.

  • Ronald King

    Mark Gordon, I told you what I will give. It is out there for you to judge if you wish. But if you want to know why I do not want to give the whole 100% I will tell you. Beer money.

  • Mark Gordon

    Ronald, if 50% of your income goes to beer, you’re going to need a robust healthcare system before long.

  • Ronald King

    Thatis my prudent assessment also.