Lessons in mercy: Justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of atrocities
May 29, 2009
From Daniel Philpott's article in America: It is only natural that the Catholic Church would take an interest in reconciliation. At the source and summit of Christian life is the Eucharist, the sacramental re-enactment of the event through which sin, evil and death are defeated and friendship with God and justice are restored. Is not peacebuilding an imitation of just this transformation? And does not a global wave of societies struggling to restore justice make the present moment a propitious one for the church to offer a teaching on social reconciliation, just as it has offered teachings on war, economic development and democracy in past encyclicals?
From a Catholic perspective, punishment is a practice that restores shalom. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church affirms its purpose as “on the one hand, encouraging the reinsertion of the condemned person into society; on the other, fostering a justice that reconciles, a justice capable of restoring harmony in social relationships disrupted by the criminal act committed.” For the masterminds of war crimes, only long-term imprisonment can communicate the gravity of their offense. Other criminal combatants, however, might be integrated back into their communities through restorative public forums like those Bishop Belo advocated in East Timor. Incompatible with just punishment are amnesties, which abandon restoration altogether; only when demonstrably necessary for a peace agreement ought they to be adopted.
Read the whole article.
Jordon J. Ballor, commenting on this article, says: Indeed, there are some people whose consciences are so seared, whose moral sense so corrupted, that the harsh stigma and rebuke of public punishment is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition to promote the recognition of wrongdoing, acceptance of guilt, and movement toward repentance. Some people are only able to come to realize the gravity of their sins after years of reflection upon the wrong committed. A book by Catherine Claire Larson, As We Forgive, focusing on the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, touches movingly on this phenomenon through a number of stories of reconciliation. "Rwanda’s wounds," writes Larson, "are agonizingly deep. Today, they are being opened afresh as tens of thousands of killers are released from prison to return to the hills where they hunted down and killed former neighbors, friends, and classmates."