Pope Francis is blasting employers who deny workers health insurance coverage, referring to them as “true leeches” who “live on the bloodletting of the people they make slaves to work.”
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the pontiff made the comments while delivering a homily at Casa Santa Marta on Thursday evening. He reportedly outlined a hypothetical situation in which a business employs someone from September to June but denies them health care coverage during their tenure. Francis observed that when the job ends, the worker “must eat air.”
“Exploitation of people today is a true slavery,” the pope said, referring to the suffering of workers who aren’t treated fairly. “We thought that slaves do not exist anymore. They exist. It’s true, people don’t go to Africa to take them and then sell them in America, no. But it’s in our cities.”
“Living off the blood of the people: This is a mortal sin,” he added. “And it takes much patience, much restitution to convert ourselves from this sin.”
The pontiff then pretended to be the hypothetical business leader, saying, “I will pay you this much, without vacation time, without health insurance, all under the table — but I will become rich!”
“May the Lord make us understand today that simplicity that Jesus tells us in the Gospel today,” Francis said. “A glass of water in the name of Christ is more important than all the wealth accumulated by exploitation of people.”
The comments are in line with Francis’ longstanding advocacy on behalf of the poor and underprivileged. Francis’ first apostolic exhortation as pope focused on progressive economics and the flight of the impoverished, saying that trickle-down economics has “never been confirmed by the facts.” And in May 2014, the pontiff called for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits,” arguing that the Bible demands an economic system that cares for the “poorest and those most excluded.”
Francis has said less about the specific issue of health care, although he sometimes attaches the issue to concerns about struggling families. Earlier this year, Francis lamented in an exhortation that so many poor families work meager jobs that force them to live without adequate health coverage. Francis’ comments also come just hours after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it is rolling out a new parental leave policy for 7,000 eligible church employees, offering mother and fathers three months paid leave, plus three more months without pay.
Other aspects of health care have proven to be sources of division for U.S. Catholics, however. In 2010, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — which has long supported health care reform — officially opposed President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), citing concerns about the bill’s contraception mandate. But a consortium of American Catholic nuns quickly came out in support of the bill, saying expanded health care coverage is in line with the Catholic Church’s “pro-life” agenda.
For Francis, however, denying people health care is ultimately an act of greed — a sin that can permeate many aspects of life. He appeared to condemn the so-called “prosperity gospel” preached by some popular American ministers, dismissing a “theology of prosperity” by quoting the scripture passage “You cannot serve God and wealth.”