Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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More Christian Perhaps, but Effective?

January 7th, 2013 · 5 Comments

John Schwekler has a blog over at Dotcommonweal about restorative justice in a murder case.

This was also the medieval model: the reconciliation of the family of the victim with the murder was the desired outcome, the state took little role the process.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishop recommends this type of justice.

Restorative justice focuses first on the victim and the community harmed by the crime, rather than on the dominant state-against-the-perpetrator model. This shift in focus affirms the hurt and loss of the victim, as well as the harm and fear of the community, and insists that offenders come to grips with the consequences of their actions. These approaches are not “soft on crime” because they specifically call the offender to face victims and the communities. This experience offers victims a much greater sense of peace and accountability. Offenders who are willing to face the human consequences of their actions are more ready to accept responsibility, make reparations, and rebuild their lives.

However, it did not work in the Middle Ages to deter homicide, although it may have prevented feuds from starting; only a determined palliation by the state of capital punishment seems to have  made a big dent in the homicide rate.

Paul recognizes the role of the state in enforcing justice, even through capital punishment through the sword. Catholics seem to have a prejudice against the state fulfilling this function. Mercy and forgiveness are proper to the Christian, but can a state really be Christian?

Tags: crime

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 7, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Leon, here’s a piece I wrote several years ago for Front Page Magazine about Catholic opposition to capital punishment for murder:


    God demands that murderers be executed. He made this clear in Genesis 9: 5-6 and throughout the Mosaic Law because God hates the shedding of innocent blood. While restorative justice is a fundamental prinicple of the OT, it cannot apply to murder because murder is the ultimate desecration of the divine image in humanity. How can such a desecration be restored? There’s no legal pallative for the grief resulting from murder.

  • 2 caroline // Jan 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Restorative justice is doable today only if the perp of whatever the crime has the means with which to make amends. Granted there are no means to make amends for the murder of a child or a healthy young male or even female, but for an old lady like me a decent payment to my family for my murder might help them meet tuition costs for the children. But decent, not hefty, is all they could expect because I am old.
    Still some monetary payment for other murders and other crimes is not a bad idea. Trouble is that very few of the perps today could pay. I wonder how the Church envisions them restoring anything. Actually restorative justice without the fancy vocabulary is the old Teutonic carefully calculated wergeld. If the perp couldn’t personally pay it, his family had to.

  • 3 Mary Ann // Jan 7, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    “Restorative justice” should be in addition to, not instead of, retributive justice. Christian, esp. Catholic, lay attitudes to crime and forgiveness have become positively silly. No one has a right to forgive someone for a crime committed against another person. Moreover, forgiveness does not preclude punishment, and does not require reconciliation.

  • 4 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Caroline, in the Mosaic Law, God commanded that the relatives of a murder victim not receive a cash payment as compensation for murder, precisely because, as you say, it’s impossible to make amends for murder — even of “old ladies.”

  • 5 Mary // Jan 13, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Mary Ann,
    Remember when forgiveness was precluded by repentance?
    I think that is the missing element which was lost via vocabulary and then in the understanding of many Christians , especially the Catholic
    laity .When the Sacrament’s title was changed from ‘Penance’ to ‘Reconciliation’ the conceptual validity of the Sacrament that is rooted in Scripture, became “silly” to the minds of many.

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