February 10, 2005

Catholic Church sees restorative justice as way to heal

Telegram & Gazette

By Kathleen A. Shaw Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER— Janine Geske, a law professor at Marquette University and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, last night offered the idea of restorative justice not only as one way to help victims of clergy sexual abuse but to bring about restoration to the offenders and to the entire community affected by these crimes.

Ms. Geske spoke about restorative justice last night at the College of the Holy Cross. The program was sponsored by the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture as part of its “Beyond Brokenness: Healing, Renewal and the Church” series.

Daniel Dick of Worcester, victim support coordinator for Voice of the Faithful in the Worcester Diocese, and at least one victim of clergy sexual abuse have been talking with the Worcester Diocese about bringing the program here.

Patricia O’Leary Engdahl, who heads the diocesan Office for Healing and Prevention, attended the program.

Ms. Geske, a Catholic lay woman, said she believes the Catholic Church in the United States has a long way to go in bringing about healing from the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Some in the hierarchy fail to understand the deep hurt that was done “and some just don’t get it,” she said.

Some people may know of the concept of restorative justice because people of the Navajo nation have used it for years to bring about healing in their communities. Similar programs, which can be used in all cases of violent crime, are being used in Australia, Europe and other countries, she said.

Ms. Geske described the harm done in violent crime, including clergy sexual abuse, as being like a triangle. The victims or survivors are at the top, having been harmed by the crime. The harm also extends to the offenders and to the community at large. She called it a “ripple effect.”

There are several ways to conduct restorative justice programs. She is working with a group of offenders at a prison in Wisconsin. They form a circle, as is done with the Navajo people, and two or three victims of violent crime or other people affected by violence, come in to describe their experiences.

The victims are not meeting with the people that actually harmed them or their loved ones. The offenders also tell their stories.

Another model is to set up meetings between victims and their offenders, but this works only when both parties are willing to participate and the offender is willing to take responsibility for his or her actions.

Healing can come when all those affected by a crime have had a chance to share their stories, she said, and get to know about the other’s experience and how they thought and reacted to the crime.

Victims have a need to tell what happened to them and how it affects them and their lives as well as those who are around them, she said. Many want to tell their stories to the bishops, she said.

The professor said the institutional Catholic Church has done very little to bring about restorative justice that ultimately will help the clergy offenders, victims and survivors and the community of Catholics at large.

There has been little acceptance of responsibility by the institutional church. The “ripple effect” also has affected those priests who were not involved in sexual abuse because they have had to live with the fallout, she said.

Ms. Geske received applause when she said that people in parishes also are not helping to bring about healing when they treat clergy sexual abuse victims as “pariahs” in their parishes.

“You hit the nail on the head,” said Mr. Dick, who has said he is finding that some lay people of the Worcester diocese are shunning victims and their families rather than reaching out to help them.

Posted by kshaw at February 10, 2005 04:14 AM