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“Justice is properly sought solely out of love of justice itself, out of respect for the victims, as a means of preventing new crimes and protecting the common good, not as an alleged outlet for personal anger.” (Pope Francis, "Fratelli Tutti," 252)

What Is Restorative Justice?

There are many different definitions of restorative justice. CMN describes it this way: 

Restorative justice is an approach to achieving justice that resonates deeply with Gospel values and Catholic social teaching. Our tradition upholds the sanctity and interconnectedness of all human life.

Where human dignity and relationships are violated by injustice, restorative justice upholds human dignity, builds just relationships, seeks healing, promotes accountability, and enables transformation within individuals, communities, and social systems. 

A definition of restorative justice often used is from Howard Zehr, author of The Little Book of Restorative Justice: "Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible."

The U.S. criminal legal system prioritizes the role of the state in ensuring that those responsible for harm "get what they deserve" through punishment. In contrast, a restorative approach to justice prioritizes attending to the needs that result from harm, including all those impacted — the harmed party, the responsible party, and the community. 

A restorative approach to justice invites us — within our individual lives, families, parishes, ministries, and communities — to envision and innovate responses to harm that are guided by the principles of Catholic social teaching and that align with Jesus’ teaching of love for all individuals and communities.

In pursuit of this vision, we affirm and support diverse efforts toward life-giving and healing forms of justice, including current advocacy and social movements striving for:

  • Responses to harm that honor the dignity and rights of victims and survivors.

  • An end to the death penalty and systems of mass incarceration.

  • Racial justice and equity.

  • Redemptive, reintegrative, and preventative approaches to addressing crime and wrongdoing.

  • Community-based violence prevention, trauma healing, and resilience.

  • Increased partnership and collaboration between our criminal/legal systems and the communities they serve.

  • Healing from clergy and institutional abuse and harms.

Finally, restorative justice is an invitation toward the possibility of encounters between those impacted by harm and crime. In some circumstances, restorative justice practices can include those impacted by harm in voluntary processes designed to include affected parties, get questions answered, clarify understandings, and make decisions together about how best to repair harm and assist healing.


A New Story of Justice: Nonviolence and Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice: Why Do We Need It?