The American justice system is based on retributive justice which has punishment as its primary aim. The punishment given for the offense is seen as sufficient compensation to the victim and to society. This type of justice system has always had its limits. The victims who suffer loss often do not get enough compensation for what was lost (how do you replace a life of a loved one). The accused, though suffering punishment, is not encouraged to change as much as to endure the sentence given for the crime they have committed.
In South Africa, after the practice of apartheid was finally outlawed, the government began to seek a way incorporate indigenous African legal practices into its justice system. These practices are more participatory and reconciliatory. It is an approach to justice that aims to involve the parties to a dispute and others affected by the harm (victims, offenders, families) and a legal instrument that can be applied together with other policy and strategic instruments.The intent is to restore a feeling of safety and security, promote harmony, and restore dignity and respect to all those affected. The feeling that justice has been done according to a set of norms that a specific society values is very important in most contexts.
I reflect on this as I contemplate our way forward as a whole community. Our American system of justice will not find it satisfactory if some are not punished for the harm they caused. Yet, punishment in the case of good people trying to do good only will result in the choosing of sides, which would rip apart our community further than it already has done. Saint Paul, writing to the fractured community of Corinth encourages them to be ambitious for the higher gifts. He tells them that he is going to show them a way that is better than any of the gifts. He speaks of great and miraculous ways of living but says if they are without love they are nothing. He writes: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful of conceited. It is never rude or selfish. It does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
There are days ahead when we will practice a sense of restorative justice in which we will listen to each other and seek together a way in which we can all work together to accomplish our parish mission; to be the heart, hands, and feet of Jesus. As we approach those days, please keep our community in your prayers.