Restorative Justice and the Triduum
“Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began… He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death” -CCC 635
Justice as a Virtue
What comes to mind when you think of the word “justice?” For me, sounds from a Law and Order scene transition echo in my ears. A firm gavel hit blended with a slamming jailhouse door. Justice is served and the end credits roll. However, this is just one form of justice and offers just one limited perspective.
First and foremost, justice is a virtue. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), justice is a virtue in which a person has a “constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” This should blow the door off our sometimes very limited understanding of the word, and for good reason. When we only think about justice in terms of legal liability, we start to think this is the only way to mend the evil and wrongdoings of another. When we broaden our frame of reference, we become open to the idea that God can provide justice in a number of ways. For example, just because the path of civil or criminal law has closed, justice has not necessarily ended. The Bible teaches three main paths to justice: retributive, distributive, and restorative. I want to focus on just one today-restorative justice.
Restorative Justice in the Bible
As a whole, the bible tells a narrative of God’s ongoing work in restorative justice. In the book of Genesis, God creates a perfect world, humans disobey him, and ultimately they damage their relationship with God and each other. Throughout the Old Testament, God then works to bring about restoration within all of humanity (Baylor). This work is seen through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, God “liberates humanity from its subjection to the dominion of sin and death and renews human nature from the inside out (Baylor).”
Wedged right between arguably the two most important days of the Christian calendar is Holy Saturday, a day that sometimes is overlooked because here on earth we wait to celebrate Christ’s return. While we wait to see if the temple will be rebuilt in three days (John 2:19), Jesus has already descended into hell to bring the Word of God to those who have been deprived of the vision of God. But Jesus’ Holy Saturday activities didn’t end there. He was also there to free the just who had entered death before him.
All while people on earth were mourning Jesus’ death. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother, and the apostles shared shock and sorrow with no idea what to do next.
To fulfill the Lord’s promise of restorative justice, He resurrected on Easter Sunday. The fulfillment of this restoration allows all of God’s creation to be set free from pain, corruption, and frustration (Romans 8:18-25).
Restorative Justice in Practice
When it comes to clergy sexual abuse allegations, the justice you and I are most familiar with is not easily obtainable, if at all. Often, the statute of limitations has run out or an abusive clergy member is already deceased. The legal path to justice has ended, but justice isn’t solely a matter of laws and rules. That is where a path to restorative justice can be helpful for victims, offenders, and the community to work towards healing.
Restorative justice is an approach to justice in which the response to a crime is to bring the victim, the offender, and community members together for a dialogue called a healing circle. The idea of a healing circle comes from native American spirituality in which a talking stick is passed around to indicate the speaker and for others to simply respect the speaker by listening. This victim-centered healing process that takes into account the ripple effect of crimes, and it can be helpful in times when legal action has already been taken or cannot be pursued like in most cases of clergy sexual abuse. The dialogue that ensues is focused on who was harmed, what the harm was, and how the community can go about repairing the harm. Many people want to turn their heads away from harm, but for this approach to be effective, we must turn towards the harm and name it.
A few weeks ago Justice Janine Geske spoke at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis about her work in restorative justice, both in Milwaukee and in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Geske is a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and Marquette Law School Professor who has led conversations on restorative justice at the Vatican and throughout the world. Her motivation to get involved with this pathway to justice stemmed from her time as a Supreme Court Justice presiding over domestic violence cases. Many times criminal justice was either not awarded or not enough to promote a holistic approach to healing.
Geske was able to see past a limited perspective on justice and push for reform in the justice system. She has been instrumental in facilitating healing circles for quite some time. Many view her work in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis establishing a similar pathway to justice for its own victims as an incredible blessing. Going forward, I hope to see our Archdiocese continuing to promote healing through restorative justice events. I hope other dioceses around the country prayerfully consider this option as well.
Clergy sexual abuse victims face a unique difficulty. They are told that healing comes through Jesus Christ, but at the same time, they are harmed in the name of Jesus Christ. Justice Geske pointed out the need for restored trust in institutions that are here to serve people. She commented on the current distrust of the legal system saying, “If people have no faith in being heard in the courtroom, they lose faith in the system.” This is also true in the Catholic Church. There have been many accounts of victims being silenced, dismissed, or ignored. t should not be a surprise when victims say they have lost faith in the Church. However, there is hope in restoring that trust. Restorative justice is simply one way.
Our Own Triduum
Throughout life, we will all experience our own Triduum. We will enter into Good Friday and share in the experience of Jesus’ excruciating pain and destruction. We will enter into Holy Saturday and share in the experience of the previously departed in Sheol awaiting our redeemer. In addition, we share in the experience of the people on earth mourning the tragedy that occurred in ignorance of restoration or healing. And by God’s grace, we will enter into Easter Sunday and share in the restorative justice of Jesus who makes all things new (Revelation 21:3-5). We can find physical, emotional, and spiritual healing through Christ and his Church during the Triduum. But it may take days, months, years, or even a lifetime.
The Church seems to be stuck in Holy Saturday with the seemingly never-ending abuse and cover-up. Often, victims paint a very vivid picture of their own personal version of Sheol as a place where they dwell. The faithful on earth are in shock and full of sorrow for the evil that has been perpetuated by ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). There are people waiting to see if they succeeded in the destruction of Jesus and His kingdom. All of us are waiting, though.
We often feel that our only option is to lean into our faith during this time and be Jesus Christ to one another until our relationships with Him has been properly restored in each one of us. We should remember, however, that our faith compels us to go out and serve the vulnerable. For Catholics looking to move forward in anticipation of a new life, restorative justice may be one path to consider.
YArespond is a group of Catholic young adults based in the Twin Cities seeking informed and holistic ways to respond to the abuse crises in our Church. We focus on a fourfold response consisting of prayer, education, dialogue, and action. Currently, we are working on developing resources for parishes and ministries to host events and dialogues. Learn more: