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Restorative Justice: Transforming Ourselves and Our Communities

Restorative Justice: Transforming Ourselves and Our Communities

By: Julia Morris

Restorative Justice word cloud in bright red lettersOn May 25, former Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of unarmed suspect George Floyd for a full 8 minutes 46 seconds ultimately leading to Floyd’s murder. Since then, the focus on racism and police brutality has caught international attention. Across the globe, protests and vigils continue to be held to mourn the deaths of innocent individuals such as: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain. 

As we move forward as a nation, this question is critical: What can be done to address this history of injustice? In response, the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph released a statement promising to, "turn our words into precise actions addressing the institutional racism that lives within our institutions and within ourselves." To further this mission the CSSJ community is hosting a four-part series on restorative justice, its relationship to the Charism, and how to practice restorative justice in our ministries and lives. 

Speakers at the first workshop on September 24 included Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Executive Director Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy and Director of Restorative Justice Caitlin Morneau, and Sr. Rose McLarney, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet-St. Louis. Vaillancourt opened up the discussion by calling us as Catholics, to recognize our own past with racism and injustice saying, "working within the systems of the church which is historically white, historically male, we have some work to do personally and organizationally to confront in order to work towards racial justice."

Catlin Morneau explained that as a Catholic from birth she felt that the theological underpinnings of Restorative Justice closely aligned with her faith. Morneau describes restorative justice as, “a way of understanding crime and harm in the terms of people and the relationships impacted, rather than the law or rule broken.” The restorative justice model focuses on those who were harmed rather than punishing those who caused harm and centers around open safe spaces that facilitate victim-offender dialogue. This is done so through asking, “what was the harm? Who was impacted and how? What needs to be done to make it right?” According to Morneau, this allows for a more complete approach to justice because it forces us to question the systems, circumstances, and underlying causes to the greatest extent possible. 

Sr. Rose McLarney shared Morneau’s feeling of connection to restorative justice as a Catholic, however as a sister, she linked it back to her congregation's Charisms. She specifically sees the common foundation of restorative justice and CSSJ community is non-hierarchical relationship building – rather than destruction – as a path to justice. In her years of experience, Sr. Rose has found that in restorative justice "all are not only wanted, but essential," to resolve a conflict seeing that, "all people are transformed through this process, not just the perpetrator."

The second installment of this series will be on Saturday, October 10 from 2-3:30 pm ET and feature Dr. Shannen Dee Williams from Villanova University and Sr. Melinda Pellerin. This discussion will center around racism within Catholic institutions, historical truth telling, and practical reparations necessary to move forward. Attendees will leave with a concrete and historically informed plan of action. More information on the workshop and speakers can be found here.

Additionally, we would like to thank those who have generously supported the programming and our sponsors for the event. All money raised goes to technology upgrades, paying our wonderful speakers, and for continuing programming. Our sponsors for this series: Avila University, Association of Colleges of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Catholic Mobilizing Network, Mount St. Mary's University, St. Catherine University, Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet-Los Angeles, and the St. Joseph Worker Program. We are still accepting sponsors for the event and you can find out more information here

[Julia Morris is the U.S. Federation’s 2020-2021 St. Joseph Worker, where she focuses on Justice and Outreach]