WASHINGTON (October 24, 2000) -- The U.S. bishops will discuss a statement on crime and criminal justice during their Nov. 13-16 meeting in Washington. The proposed statement urges Catholics and others of good will to address these issues in light of the need for reform of the criminal justice system and calls for responsibility, rehabilitation and restoration as guiding principles. The bishops will also renew their call for an end to the death penalty with new urgency.
In proposing the statement, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Domestic Policy, noted the document has "a distinctively Catholic approach to this set of issues, expressing the Church's teaching on both justice and mercy, responsibility and restoration, punishment and forgiveness."
"We have consulted widely, especially among Catholics involved with criminal justice: chaplains, judges, victims and their advocates, wardens, ex-offenders, etc," he said. "Despite their different perspectives, they all agree that the current system is in need of a fresh approach: one that offers real rehabilitation for offenders, takes serious the concerns of victims and restores communities affected by crime."
The document notes the needs of both prisoners and crime victims.
"We encourage and support those called by our community to minister to prisoners and victims and all other people who work directly in the criminal justice system," the proposed statement says. "We suggest that they use these reflections to assess how the system can become less retributive and more rehabilitative. We pray that these words offer some comfort to victims and communities threatened by crime, and challenge all Catholics to become involved in restoring communities to wholeness."
"At its core, Catholic teaching on crime and punishment is a paradox: We will not tolerate the crime and violence that threatens the lives and dignity of our sisters and brothers, and we will not give up on those who have lost their way," the statement says. It adds that "the current trend of more prisons and more executions, with too little education and drug treatment, does not truly reflect Christian values and will not really leave our communities safer. We are convinced that our tradition and our faith offer better approaches that can hold offenders accountable and challenge them to change their lives; reach out to victims and reject vengeance; restore a sense of community and resist the violence that has engulfed so much of our culture."
The statement lists several policy foundations and directions to shape public policy. They include:
- Protecting society from those who threaten life, inflict harm, take property, and destroy the bonds of community.
- Rejecting simplistic solutions such as "three strikes and you're out" and rigid mandatory sentencing.
- Promoting serious efforts toward crime prevention and poverty reduction.
- Challenging the culture of violence and encouraging a culture of life.
- Offering victims the opportunity to participate more fully in the criminal justice process.
- Encouraging innovative programs of restorative justice which provide the opportunity for mediation between victims and offenders and offer restitution for crimes committed.
- Insisting that punishment have a constructive and rehabilitative purpose.
- Making a serious commitment to confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.
- Placing crime in a community context and building on promising alternatives that empower neighborhoods and towns to restore a sense of security.
"In the face of so much violence and crime, our faith calls the Church to responsibility, healing, and wholeness. A wide variety of Catholic communities have responded with impressive programs of service and advocacy," the statement says. "Yet more is needed."
It calls on the Church to do the following:
- Teach right from wrong, respect for life and the law, forgiveness and mercy.
- Stand with victims and their families.
- Reach out to offenders and their families, advocate for more treatment, and provide for the pastoral needs of all involved.
- Build community.
- Advocate policies that help reduce violence, protect the innocent, involve the victims, and offer real alternatives to crime for our most vulnerable citizens.
- Organize diocesan consultations.