WASHINGTON (November 15, 2000) -- Today, at their annual meeting, the U.S. Catholic bishops unanimously adopted a statement on crime and criminal justice. The bishops urge Catholics and others of good will to reach out to crime victims and offenders and to work for a reform of a criminal justice system where: "victims are often ignored, offenders are often not rehabilitated, and many communities have lost their sense of security."
The bishops proclaim that a Catholic approach to crime and criminal justice is paradoxical: "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."
In support of the statement, Bishop John Leibrecht, Chairman of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) announced that CCHD has set aside $1 million to help communities confront violence, comfort victims, and reintegrate offenders into society.
In his remarks, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Chairman of the Bishops Committee on Domestic Policy which drafted the document recalled the testimony of a priest at an inner-city parish. He "talked of burying teenagers who were victims of gun violence, and visiting young people from his parish accused of those same crimes. He spoke of trying to minister to elderly women trapped in their homes by fear, and comforting families with loved ones locked away in prison. The priest said, 'We spend more on bars for our windows than flowers for our altar."
"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 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."
The statement goes on, "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."
Besides offering several public policy directions, the statement provides suggestions encouraging action by individuals, parishes, dioceses, and state Catholic conferences to instill Catholic principles and values in the criminal justice system. Key among these suggestions is an appeal to all those at the crossroads of crime and community, violence and justice, fear and hope—prosecutors, police officers, probation and parole officers, victim advocates, jail and prison ministers—to bring these principles and values to bear in their work.
The proposed statement includes eloquent reflections from crime victims and offenders, prison ministers and wardens, judges and prosecutors, outlining how Christian values should shape a reformed criminal justice system.
Full text of Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.