TCA Podcast – “Conversations with Consequences”

Episode 35 – Advent and Christmas traditions from around the world, with Father Christopher Pollard

Your hosts Dr. Grazie Christie and Andrea Picciotti-Bayer discuss their favorite Advent and Christmas traditions with Father Christopher Pollard, who is pastor of St. John the Beloved parish in McLean, VA.

They discuss German Christmas traditions that Father experienced growing up with two parents who were converts to the faith; Grazie’s Christmas experiences growing up in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States; Andrea talks about her experience of Christmas traditions in Colombia; Lessons and Carols, which comes from the Church of England tradition; the Jesse Tree; and more.

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1. Justices could limit job bias lawsuits against churches.

By Mark Sherman, The Associated Press, December 18, 2019

The Supreme Court said Wednesday it will consider expanding protections for churches against job-discrimination claims.

The justices agreed to review two cases in which a federal appeals court allowed discrimination lawsuits by teachers against two Catholic schools in California to proceed.

The court has previously ruled that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination. But it did not make clear the distinction between a secular employee, who can take advantage of the government’s protection from discrimination and retaliation, and a religious employee, who cannot.

The question for the justices in the new cases is whether religious institutions can invoke a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws more broadly, even when the employees do not have special religious training or titles. This doctrine says the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the government’s reach.

2. High court will consider religious employers.

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, December 19, 2019, Pg. A3

The Supreme Court will consider how much leeway religious organizations have in firing their employees in two cases from California filed by teachers who lost their jobs at Catholic schools.

The court said Wednesday that it will combine the cases, in which panels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco said teachers could proceed with their lawsuits against the schools. One teacher alleged age discrimination, and another, now deceased and represented by her husband, said she was fired after informing the school that she had breast cancer.

The cases ask the court for further guidance on when an employee should be considered secular and, thus, able to take advantage of anti-discrimination laws — or religious, and thus unable to do so.

Religious organizations — and dissenting conservative judges on the 9th Circuit — said the decisions in the two California cases did not follow precedent set by the Supreme Court in 2012. In the unanimous decision, the court said the “ministerial exception” meant that a former teacher at a Michigan Lutheran school could not sue her employer.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said in a brief asking the Supreme Court to intervene that only the 9th Circuit has interpreted the standard so narrowly that only cases exactly like the one decided by Hosanna-tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC were prohibited.

3. Survivors, experts agree: End of pontifical secrecy a step toward transparency.

By Elise Harris, Crux, December 19, 2019

When Pope Francis in a landmark move eliminated the so-called “pontifical secret” in clerical abuse cases on Tuesday, the decision was immediately hailed by Vatican officials as a sign of “transparency and cooperation with civil authorities.”

As it turns out, this is at least one instance when the Vatican, clerical abuse survivors and experts in child protection all agree.

In comments to Crux, Chilean clerical abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz praised the decision as “courageous,” saying it is key to helping civil authorities obtain the documents necessary to properly investigate accusations.

Likewise, German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, head of the Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said the move is a “real and concrete” step in the right direction, which will allow Church officials “to really take one’s own responsibility in helping to find out what has happened in cases of abuse and to promote justice.”

4. Book Review: We are the Lord’s.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Catholic News Agency, December 19, 2019
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

Two years ago, I joined a Catholic women’s symposium that discusses the weighty matters affecting our Church and our culture. One member of our group recently told us that her elderly father was in his last days. She asked for prayers and any resources we might have to guide her and her siblings and mother in navigating weighty end-of-life issues she expected they would face. There was a flurry of supportive responses and commitments to pray, but it took a while before anyone could forward along any helpful material. For my part, I knew of nothing to suggest off-hand.

I won’t face this problem again, thanks to Father Jeffrey Kirby’s We are the Lord’s: A Catholic Guide to Difficult End-of-Life Questions. A copy of this excellent, straight-forward end-of-life book arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, though, alas, a few days after my colleague’s father passed away (a “happy death” with family around, she relayed) and the email thread ended. Kirby sets forth basic principles of discernment for answering some of the hardest – and most common – questions surrounding end-of-life medical care and treatment. He also addresses the challenging practical issues that face the dying and their family members at this time.

Father Kirby begins by confronting the great modern misunderstanding of the human condition and dying. “No person is a burden,” he writes. Yes, this may seem obvious to so many us, but it’s no less important a truth, because we live in a culture that is “intoxicated with utilitarianism” – the notion that “any inconvenience for another person, or any service that makes us uncomfortable, is unmerited.” Christian teaching, however, has “always asserted that the only response to a person is love.” Loving the dying – seeking their good, delighting in them – exposes, Kirby argues, the “selfishness that disguises as compassion.” For children of God, Kirby reminds us, “quality of life” is “matured by love and an openness to live with inconvenience, discomfort, imperfection and suffering.”

The overarching lesson of We are the Lord’s is to abide, and encourage our loved ones to abide, in a spirit of abandonment to the will of God. In living. And dying. The book’s title – coming, as it does, from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans —reminds us how end-of-life decisions for ourselves or others should be faced: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

I’d not only recommend reading We are the Lord’s, I’d also suggest having a copy or two of Father Jeffrey Kirk’s handy guide available for the next time a friend, family member or colleague faces an end-of-life issue.

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“Conversations with Consequences” is a new audio program from The Catholic Association. We’ll bring you thoughtful dialogue with the leading thinkers of our time on the most consequential issues of our day. Subscribe today or listen online and enjoy our entertaining and informative weekly episodes.