‘Accountability, rehabilitation, healing and reconciliation’

‘Accountability, rehabilitation, healing and reconciliation’

By LINDA BEHRENS | Contributor

In February 2023, in preparation for the Lenten season, the Illinois Catholic bishops released the document, “A Catholic Vision for Restorative Justice in Illinois.”

The document outlines a vision grounded in principles of Catholic Social Teaching for a justice system not motivated by punishment, but rather by the restorative goals of accountability, rehabilitation, healing and reconciliation. 

The bishops drew on their initial guidance from USCCB’s 2000 comprehensive statement, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” which urges the reduction on reliance on the punitive carceral system and, instead, addresses wrongdoing with restorative measures.

As this USCCB statement is now more than 20 years old, the Illinois bishops wanted to expand on what is included in the statement based on current context and reality.

They also wanted to include wisdom from local ministries with men, women, families and communities affected by incarceration.

This new document is inspired by the experiences of the Illinois Catholic Prison and Jail Ministry Network, a statewide network of priests, deacons, religious and lay people among all six of the dioceses in the state who minister to those incarcerated as well as victims of crime, families and communities.

In this document, they explore how to renew the criminal justice system, so it is focused not only on punishment, but truly recognizes and respects the human dignity of all by being more rehabilitative, restorative and healing, and providing more opportunities for reentry.

The document says transforming the criminal justice system to be more restorative advances the common good by helping to create safer communities and to heal all those affected by wrongdoing so they may have more hopeful futures.

As highlighted in the report, “Restorative justice offers all who are impacted by a crime, including those directly harmed, those who have caused harm, families and communities, an opportunity to participate in healing processes of accountability.”

The document continues, “In addition, we must widen our scope to recognize the intersection of racism and the criminal justice system and that creating the conditions for justice begins with individuals, families and communities being able to thrive.”

The report details the Catholic foundations for restorative justice, which includes human dignity; options for the poor and vulnerable; rights and responsibilities; family, community and participation; solidarity; and subsidiarity.

It also outlines barriers that have been encountered.

The Church is called to protect and promote the human dignity of those incarcerated and recently released in several ways, including providing pastoral care for incarcerated individuals, providing reentry support for individuals released from incarceration, and fostering parish communities who welcome and serve the needs of formerly incarcerated individuals and families directly impacted by incarceration.

In the Diocese of Belleville, there are eight correctional centers (prisons), one youth correctional center, a life skills reentry center and the Marion Federal Prison.

Under Canon 516 of the Code of Canon Law, the local parish within whose jurisdiction a correction facility is located, with solid support from the diocese, has the primary responsibility to provide pastoral care to those communities of Catholics within that facility.

These individuals are considered members of their local parish, and the local parish and diocese must reach out to them.

One of the primary ways is through the Illinois Prison and Jail Ministry Network, which includes clergy, religious and lay volunteers from parishes committed to minister to those in prisons and jails across the state, as well as to assist those who reenter the communities.

Pastoral Care

Illinois dioceses provide pastoral care for incarcerated persons through in-person chaplaincy and faith development programs at federal and state prisons (and associated state work camps), state adult transition centers, state youth centers, county jails, and county juvenile detention centers across the state.

Examples from the Diocese of Belleville include bible and catechetical studies; chaplaincy (including Mass, Communion services and confessions) by priests, deacons, religious and lay people; Christmas  Masses with the bishop; and a pen pal ministry.

The Diocese of Belleville also provides reentry support for individuals released from incarceration through Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois, East St. Louis, which offers on-going accompaniment, trauma-life skills, job skills, literacy and referral to a network for substance abuse, mental health, housing and employment.

Included in the 2023 Illinois bishops’ document is a quote from the “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration” report from the USCCB that summarizes the challenge of curbing crime and reshaping the criminal justice system as it “is not just a matter of public policy but is also a test of Catholic commitment. In the face of so much violence and crime, our faith calls the Church to responsibility and action.”

Father Steven Beatty, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Belleville, is the diocesan coordinator for prison and jail ministry.

To read the full report, click here.