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A year to ‘adapt’? No thanks

Posted By February 3, 2012 | 5:33 pm | Commentary
STEPHEN KENT
STEPHEN KENT

By Stephen Kent
Anyone looking for validation of the pope’s frank assessment of the state of the culture in the United States didn’t have long to wait.
A day after Pope Benedict XVI described to a visiting delegation of American bishops his view of hostility to unchanging moral truths in the United States, the government offered the perfect example to prove his point.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected requests from Catholic leaders and institutions to revise the religious exemption from its requirements that all health insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization free of charge.
Showing what was either a gratuitous insult or abysmal ignorance, Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, said groups that do not currently provide contraceptive coverage will have an additional year “to adapt to this new rule.”
The secretary showed no lack of chutzpah to say those who hold to millennia of traditional moral teaching have a year to abandon their beliefs, as if basic truths are some sort of platform issue.
Moral truths are not the same as the flip-flop philosophy of politicians for whom long-held beliefs may extend from one election to another.
At the heart of every culture, the pope said, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good.
“Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such,” he said.
These meetings between pope and bishop, known as “ad limina,” are usually polite affairs where a pope will comment on certain situations in the visiting bishops’ dioceses to which they respond.
Not often do you hear a pope say, as did Pope Benedict, that “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”
Curtailing the proclamation of truths by “suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule,” he said, is a “threat not just to Christian faith but also to humanity itself.”
Assaults on the freedom of religion will not come by big things — jackbooted soldiers ransacking churches before locking their doors. It will come from the erosion of so-called little things such as these HHS regulations, easily overlooked as technical rule-making, their significance not grasped.
Religious freedom means more than freedom of worship. It means the freedom to practice beliefs. It is meaningless without respect for freedom of conscience, as the pope said.
“The church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth,” the pope told the U.S. delegation.
“There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America’s Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole,” challenged the pope.
Government grants “a year to adapt.” That can also become a “year to reject” and to provide that witness that freedom of conscience will prevail.

– Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.