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Lessons in mercy: Justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of atrocities

May 9, 2009

From a Catholic perspective, punishment is a practice that restores
shalom. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the
affirms its purpose as “on the one hand, encouraging the
reinsertion of the condemned person into society; on the other,
fostering a justice that reconciles, a justice capable of restoring
harmony in social relationships disrupted by the criminal act
committed.” For the masterminds of war crimes, only long-term
imprisonment can communicate the gravity of their offense. Other
criminal combatants, however, might be integrated back into their
communities through restorative public forums like those Bishop Belo
advocated in East Timor. Incompatible with just punishment are
amnesties, which abandon restoration altogether; only when demonstrably
necessary for a peace agreement ought they to be adopted.

Read the whole

Jordon J. Ballor,
on this article, says: Indeed, there are some people
whose consciences are so seared, whose moral sense so corrupted, that
the harsh stigma and rebuke of public punishment is a necessary, if not
sufficient, condition to promote the recognition of wrongdoing,
acceptance of guilt, and movement toward repentance. Some people are
only able to come to realize the gravity of their sins after years of
reflection upon the wrong committed. A book by Catherine Claire Larson,
As We Forgive,
focusing on the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, touches movingly
on this phenomenon through a number of stories of reconciliation.
“Rwanda’s wounds,” writes Larson, “are agonizingly deep. Today, they
are being opened afresh as tens of thousands of killers are released
from prison to return to the hills where they hunted down and killed
former neighbors, friends, and classmates.”


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