Restorative justice: an opportunity for prayer for Father General and his Council

Father General meets very regularly with the members of his Council, at least two or three times a week. Together they deal with what might be called “current business.” But Father Sosa asked his counselors to spend almost three days in an atmosphere of prayer, reflecting on ways in which the Society of Jesus can understand and put restorative justice into practice. It was a kind of mini-retreat that was led by a specialist on the subject, Fr Guido Bertagna. This Jesuit is involved with the “Gruppo giustizia riparativa” in Turin, a place where this approach has been particularly developed to reopen dialogue or paths of healing for wounded people. We met him.

Guido Bertagna, why did you come to the General Curia at the end of June?

I came to the General Curia at the invitation of Father General and his Assistants. It was a meeting that was carefully planned and prepared over several months of remote work. It was partly conceived as a retreat, with important moments of sharing, and partly thought of as reflection and formation in restorative justice, including listening to some personal experiences.

How can you present to us in a few words what “restorative justice” is? How does it differ from other forms or ways of seeing or seeking justice?

Restorative justice (RJ) is defined by the UN as “any process in which the victim and offender and, where appropriate, any other individual or member of the community affected by an offence, together actively participate in resolving issues arising from the offence, usually with the help of a facilitator.” Compared to more traditional forms of justice, RJ is not about passive punishment of those found guilty. On the contrary, it proposes and works to make possible an active and very demanding revisiting of the places where the crime took place, of the pain and of the guilt, to move, if possible, towards a meeting between the ‘enemy’ parties.

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While the traditional retributive justice system focuses on the crime and the offender, restorative justice works on the world of relationships that has been wounded by the evil committed, involving the victim, the offender and the community in this itinerary, if they freely offer their availability. It has been defined as justice that heals (instead of that punishes) or justice of the encounter. A justice whose guiding questions are no longer “who is the guilty party?” “with what sanctions must he/she be punished?” but rather “what happened to you, to us?” “what can be done to repair the evil and damage committed?”

All studies confirm that RJ has a strong impact on the people who experience it and, particularly in the field of criminal justice, profound changes can be seen in offenders as evidenced by a marked decrease in recidivism rates. RJ, therefore, can make an important contribution to the quality of life in our cities and neighbourhoods.

Is the restorative justice approach a “Christian” approach? Why do you think it is particularly valid in the present context of the Society of Jesus and the Church?

RJ currently goes back to the criminologist Howard Zehr and the first experiences of this method in the Eastern Mennonite University. There is a recognizable Christian trace in the proposal and thought of Zehr but RJ was born outside of ecclesial circles.

I believe that its characteristics can be particularly valuable and fruitful today for the Church and for the Society precisely because, to quote an important work of Zehr, they oblige us to “change lenses” and see relationships and the possibility of healing wounds differently. I am thinking of the many internal tensions within our communities, of our apostolic environments disturbed or blocked by disagreements or crossed vetoes. I am also thinking of situations such as abuses in which there have been serious violations of the integrity and dignity of the person with serious repercussions on a whole world of relationships, personal, social and even institutional.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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