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What Is the Harm?

The question "What is the harm?" aligns with the CST principle of Life and Dignity of the Human Person.

Every person is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore has inalienable dignity — no matter the harm one has caused or suffered.

The first question that restorative justice asks is, “What was the harm?” In other words, whose dignity was violated and how?

Restorative justice upholds that the dignity and needs of each person must be at the center of a response to harm, no matter their role, because no person is disposable.

If there were oppressive systems or conditions that contributed to the harm, the common good demands addressing those injustices as well.

“When conflicts are not resolved but kept hidden or buried in the past, silence can lead to complicity in grave misdeeds and sins. Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest and patient negotiation.” (Pope Francis, "Fratelli Tutti," 244)

Identifying a Goal

Restorative justice and restorative practices offer many opportunities for healing in individual relationships, communities, and structures/systems. It may be tempting to take on all of these at once, but it is important to identify a starting point. 

Perhaps your group already has a particular goal in mind. If not, a core question that your group should seek to answer is: What is the core justice issue we wish to address?

The process to achieve this goal will be shaped by many factors, but you are encouraged to identify a starting place.


Reflection Questions

If your group has not already identified a specific goal/justice issue, consider:

  • What kinds of harms or injustices concern you?

  • Why might these injustices need a restorative justice approach?

  • How would a restorative justice approach bring those involved to right relationship?

Seeing the Whole Picture

As a human family, we are deeply interconnected — with one another, institutions, and systems.

Harm that happens in one area can impact and manifest in another. Change efforts that we take on in our institutions or ministries affect the individual lives of those involved and the wider systems and communities they operate within.

Simultaneously, awareness of and sensitivity to the other “layers” (i.e., systemic influences on an individual incident) are critical. 

Before setting out to take action, it is important to gain an in-depth understanding of the harm or injustice at hand and the various components that impact it.

Ask a number of questions and hear from a wide variety of perspectives so you have a robust understanding of the context. This is an opportunity to build relationships and a shared understanding of your particular environment.

It is also a chance to learn about what efforts may already be in place, and to consider how your ministry may collaborate with others in the community.


Reflection Questions

  • What data (national, local, etc.) is available related to the issue at hand?

  • What initiatives for restorative justice already exist in your state or community? 

  • What are issues of particular concern in your parish, ministry, or local community that this effort might contribute to?

  • Why is restorative justice suitable to address the issues raised by your group or ministry?