Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice

In 2000 the United States Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement on restorative justice entitled Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. Articulated in the statement is the Church’s understanding that in responding to crime, we must take a restorative approach that honors the human dignity of the victim, offender, and community impacted. Restorative justice is a way of understanding crime, and harm in all of its forms, as a violation of people and relationships, rather than solely a violation of law. A portion of the statement reads: 

“As Catholic bishops, our response to crime in the United States is a moral test for our nation and a challenge for our Church. Although the FBI reports that the crime rate is falling, crime and fear of crime still touch many lives and polarize many communities. Putting more people in prison and, sadly, more people to death has not given Americans the security we seek. It is time for a new national dialogue on crime and corrections, justice and mercy, responsibility and treatment. As Catholics, we need to ask the following: How can we restore our respect for law and life? How can we protect and rebuild communities, confront crime without vengeance, and defend life without taking life? These questions challenge us as pastors and as teachers of the Gospel.

Our tasks are to restore a sense of civility and responsibility to everyday life, and promote crime prevention and genuine rehabilitation. The common good is undermined by criminal behavior that threatens the lives and dignity of others and by policies that seem to give up on those who have broken the law (offering too little treatment and too few alternatives to either years in prison or the execution of those who have been convicted of terrible crimes).

New approaches must move beyond the slogans of the moment (such as “three strikes and you’re out”) and the excuses of the past (such as “criminals are simply trapped by their background”). Crime, corrections, and the search for real community require far more than the policy clich├ęs of conservatives and liberals.

A Catholic approach begins with the recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender. As bishops, we believe 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 alternatives 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.”

To read the full statement, please click here.