It’s our duty to do everything possible to offer to those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society, St. John Paul II said in 2000.
The U.S. bishops, in their statement on “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Punishment,” explain that the challenge of curbing crime and reshaping the criminal justice system is not just a matter of public policy, it’s also a test of Catholic commitment.
We are called to teach right from wrong, respect for life and the law, forgiveness and mercy. We’re called to stand with victims and their families. We must build community, advocate for policies that help reduce violence, protect the innocent, involve victims and offer real alternatives to crime.
And the bishops remind us to reach out to offenders and their families, advocate for more treatment and provide for the pastoral needs of all involved in the criminal justice system.
Perhaps the most striking point in the bishops’ statement is that “We know that faith has a transforming effect on all our lives. Therefore, rehabilitation and restoration must include the spiritual dimension of healing and hope. The Church must stand ready to help offenders discover the good news of the Gospel and how it can transform their lives. … We are grateful to those who bring the Gospel alive in their ministry to those touched by crime and to those in prison.”
In an article in the Review this week, a posthumous award was given to native St. Louisan Father Christian Reuter, who went above and beyond what the bishops ask. His ministry was in Belleville, Ill., but in the St. Louis Archdiocese we have the Criminal Justice Ministry (www.cjmstlouis.org), a recipient of funds from the Annual Catholic Appeal, and other efforts by parishes, including some that support recently released inmates. The Missouri Catholic Conference (www.mocatholic.org) backs needed criminal justice reforms. These and similar efforts need our help.