Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Restorative Justice, Part II
The second pair of speakers I heard at the Restorative Justice Conference was Linda Biehl and Ntobeko Peni from South Africa. In the wake of apartheid, South Africa instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a place where one could apply to receive amnesty for any act, omission, or offense with a political objective. Decisions were made on a case by case basis and amnesty was given when the objective of the crime was in fact political in nature and when the whole truth was given by the perpetrator. The victims also had a chance to tell their story to the Amnesty Committee. In addition to the Amnesty Committee, the Commission had a Human Rights Violations Committee that investigated human rights abuses and a Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee to restore victims' dignity and assist with rehabilitation and healing for survivors, their families, and the community as a whole. 22,000 victims told their stories. Over 7,000 perpetrators came seeking amnesty; around 850 received amnesty.

Ntobeko Peni, having spent about two years in prison for killing Amy Biehl (along with three others), applied for and received amnesty from the committee. Linda and Peter Biehl, Amy's parents, also attended and spoke at the hearings, saying that they did not oppose amnesty and that they had forgiven the men who killed their daughter. In a clip from Long Night's Journey into Day, a documentary about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Amy's father (who has since died) talked about the work Amy had done to end apartheid, how proud they were that she had been willing to risk her life for that work, and how they would do everything in their power to honor her work and her memory. They spoke of the ironic fact that Amy had told them on the phone of the countless African men who were killed and listed in the papers simply by the number killed as opposed to the killing of a white person which would be headline news, not knowing that her name would be the name in the headlines. The mother of one of the other men involved in Amy's killing sent the Biehls an apology via a video tape. In the tape she spoke of their sorrow gathering around the table for the holidays, facing the sorrow of Amy's absence at the table. The Biehls personally went to meet her and tell her they would not oppose her son's plea for amnesty. The Biehls subsequently founded the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust to work against violence in South Africa. Linda Biehl, Amy's mother, speaks of her work as that of a grandmother working with young men who are looking for parenting, for guidance; men who lost their own childhood on the streets of South Africa during a war.

Ntobeko spoke of growing up watching his comrades be shot and killed daily, but that the environment did not scare him but motivated him. He said he was ready to die for the cause, and eventually was ready to kill for it. He said it was realizing who Amy was that broke him as an individual, and he stopped being a militant. At the hearings, Amy's parents told him that they had already forgiven him, and now it was up to South Africa to forgive him. Their statement had a profound effect on him, as he realized that he had killed someone fighting for the same cause and as he realized that he could have done things differently. He spoke of the current situation in South Africa, where things have not improved a great deal and the youth are involved in substance abuse and criminal activity. He started working with the Amy Biehl Foundation, but still was not at peace with himself. It was only in working with Amy's parents that he eventually realized he still needed to forgive himself, and he said that he found the strength to do so in their forgiveness of him. He said he would not have been able to do it without them.

Linda spoke of the youth in South Africa today who have been taught the skills of violence, but no longer have the resistance into which to put that violent energy, so they are turning to crime. She realized through the experience the importance of mothering, and that it is out of her identity as a mother that she is able to mother those who did not have the kind of childhood her own daughter had. She said that when you can face pain, you can take it to another level. Reconciliation is energizing; it is being proactive.

The third pair of speakers at the Restorative Justice Conference was Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad. Robi and Ali's story can be seen in the documentary Encounter Point, which was recently released and was shown at the Milwaukee International Film Festival a few weeks ago. Robi's son had been killed by a Palestinian sniper while he was serving in the Israeli military and stationed in the West Bank. Robi pleaded with those listening not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that you cannot be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine without becoming bitter. She said, "It does not help if you are pro-this or pro-that; help us find reconciliation." There is no black or white, she told us, only a vast amount of gray. In a letter to the mother of the sniper that killed her son David, Robi told the mother that her son would not have killed David had he known him, had he heard David play a Mozart Concerto on the piano. She understands that as a young child the sniper saw his uncle killed and that he had lost two of his family members in the First Intifada. She said that we must work to understand the consequences of the Israeli occupation on the Israeli people and the suffering of the Palestinian people. Robi said that her son went to serve in the West Bank in the hopes that he could be one Israeli soldier who treated the Palestinian people with dignity, and so that those under his command would do the same. After she spoke in once, a Palestinian man came up to her and told her he had been through her son's checkpoint the day before he was shot. He said the soldier apologized for having to make them go through the checkpoint. He said it was the first time an Israeli soldier had ever treated him with such respect. Robi said that images are seen in the media, and judging is so easy, but do you know what is in the heart of the young man who is standing there?

Ali Abu Awwad, whose brother was killed by Israeli soldiers, feels that the biggest enemy to peace is the media. He believes that both sides want peace, but no one is giving them any hope. After his brother was killed, Ali said that he was broken into a million pieces, but he couldn't do anything. He couldn't kill anyone because it would not make it better. He met with a group called Bereaved Israeli Families, and for the first time, he saw the pain of the other side. He said that it is easy to be right, but it is very difficult to be honest. You have to decide to be human, and then allow the other side to be human. You have to understand each other's heaviness, and allow the other side to understand why you are angry. He joined the group of bereaved families, but said that it is not easier; it is harder, but he can live now. He compared it to lighting a small candle in the darkness. You do not light up the whole darkness, but it gives you enough light to take a step to get out of the darkness.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

(For those of you who read my bulletin column, I apologize that some of this entry will be repetitive, but I have expanded my comments beyond what I put in Sunday's bulletin!) This past Monday, I attended at the International Restorative Justice Conference on Healing after Political Violence. Restorative justice is a process that focuses not simply on the criminal or perpetrator of a violent act, but also includes the victim and the community. The approach views crime as a wound that needs to be healed, and thus focuses on healing instead of retaliation and revenge. As Janine Geske said in her introductory remarks, if we choose revenge and retaliation, the violence will never end. Mark Umbreit, a professor and Founding Director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, noted that peace requires a heart open to understanding the context of the other. He quoted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who states
If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
Peace and healing can only be found in getting to know and understand the other as a fellow human being. Dr. Umbreit also made the point that political means can achieve disarmament, but communities have to build peace.

The conference focused specifically on healing and reconciliation after occasions of political violence using three pairs of speakers. The first pair of speakers was Jo Berry, a woman whose father was killed in the 1984 bombing of the Brighton Hotel in England by the IRA, and Patrick Magee, a former IRA activist who served time in prison for bombing the Brighton Hotel. The second pair was Linda Biehl, whose daughter Amy was beaten and stabbed to death while living in South Africa as a Fulbright Scholar, and Ntobeko Peni, one of the men convicted in Amy’s murder. The third pair was Robi Damelin, whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper while serving in the Israeli army in the occupied territories, and Ali Abu Awwad, whose brother was killed by Israeli soldiers and who himself has been shot by Israeli soldiers and spent four years in prison (this was the one pair where neither individual was directly responsible for the act of violence against the other). Listening to these individuals speak was an experience of seeing God’s grace at work in the world. What they were doing, opening up their personal pain to a crowd of strangers, was certainly not easy for them, but each of them felt it was necessary. I learned so much from them and would like to share some of that with you. I realize it is not the same as listening to them in person, but what they had to say was too important not to pass along. I apologize if my notes do not do justice to the words they actually said!

Jo Berry commented that she would not call the experience of forgiveness a Christian experience, but a human experience, a spiritual experience. She said that her forgiveness of Patrick was not motivated by religion per se, but rather that many things motivated it. Pat added that he felt that the churches of Ireland have been a part of the problem rather than the solution, and that any good that came from them came from individuals rather than the institutions. I found that to be very sad. I think that we need to ask ourselves in what ways the Church is fostering healing and reconciliation in the world as opposed to division. There seems to be a lot of division between Catholics right now without much attempt (that I have seen) to understand the feelings, perspective, and context of the person with whom one disagrees. How are we/are we modeling healing and reconciliation within our own worshiping communities?

The overwhelming message of these individuals was the need to see others as human beings, not as the enemy. Patrick Magee stated that he realized he was guilty of something he had always attributed to the enemy – dehumanizing and demonizing those he was fighting against. Jo Berry said that if she had lived Pat’s life, she might have made the same decisions. Jo commented that a friend of hers, after seeing a documentary on her and Pat, remarked, “Pat doesn’t seem like a terrorist at all!” Jo said the problem is that we demonize the terrorist and fail to see him/her as a human being. Pat ironically commented that he is not a violent person, and yet he has caused a lot of violent actions. He began as a pacifist, but eventually was able to see no alternative to violence. He said that what he did goes against his inner grain. Jo commented on how it had affected Pat to choose violence and how seldom that aspect, the damage done to the perpetrator of the violent act, is addressed.

The other sentiment that all of these individuals commented on was that peace will never work if any party is excluded from the talks. Pat commented that no inclusive settlement can be built by excluding the margins. The party excluded will simply grow more angry, resentful, and bitter, and the violence will continue, if not get worse. Jo added that our greatest hope for peace is in listening to those who are not heard, to those who are choosing violence to get their needs met. Victims become the next victimizers.

To read more about Jo and Pat's story, as well as reflections Jo has written herself about the experience, see this article about documentary that the BBC has produced, Facing the Enemy: Everyman. Due to the length of this entry, I will stop here for now, and share some of the reflections from Linda Biehl, Ntobeko Peni, Robi Damelin, and Ali Abu Awaad next week.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Happy All Souls Day! I was initially going to write on the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, but given that it is almost Election Day, I decided to write on politics and the Catholic Church instead! Many questions have arisen lately about the Church's role in the political world. Often times people are very upset when the Church speaks out on or gets involved with political issues, whether it is criticism of the invasion of Iraq, refusing communion to politicians who vote in ways that support abortion, or urging people to vote against the referendum on the death penalty and for the amendment regarding marriage. I can understand people's concern, as I myself disagree with some of the stands on political issues the Church has taken, but I understand and agree with the reasons the Church gets involved in the first place. We live in a country that upholds the separation of Church and State. In fact, the Catholic Church also supports the separation of Church and State on a governmental level. As Christians, however, our religious beliefs should affect our political opinions. Likewise, the Church has an obligation to address its members and society as a whole on justice issues. What the Church cannot do is take a partisan position. In other words, the Church cannot endorse any specific candidate or political party. The Church is not even allowed to state that a certain candidate is the "pro-life" candidate nor can it pass out any literature that endorses one candidate over another. The Church can urge you to vote one way or another on referendums because they address issues not candidates or parties.

For more information on the Church's stance on various political issues and the guidelines given for parish involvement in political issues, check out the website for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the public policy and lobbying organization of the Wisconsin bishops. On the years of presidential elections (so last written in 2004), the United States Bishops also write a document titled, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility." When looking at the Church's stance on various political issues, it should quickly become clear that there is no party or candidate that upholds all of the positions of the Catholic Church. The Church maintains that all Catholics have an obligation and a responsibility to participate in the political process, and therefore should vote. They will not (or should not) tell you for whom you should vote. "Faithful Citizenship" speaks of the fact that a Catholic's political responsibility does not end with casting a ballot, but in fact truly begins the day after the election in terms of lobbying your local, state and federal officials on important public policy issues. One of the bedrock tenets of Catholic social teaching is that we must all have a concern for the common good and that the role of the government is to protect the common good. We live in solidarity with the entire human family, and therefore must be concerned not only about issues that affect our lives and those we care about, but also issues that impact the community and the entire global society.

All of the above raises the question of what one is to do when one finds oneself in the position of disagreeing with the Church's position on a specific issue. The first thing to do is to be responsibly informed about what the Church teaches and why it teaches what it does. As one of my professors used to put it, you need to discover the value behind the teaching. Even if you disagree with the position the Church takes, you may find you agree with the value the Church is trying to protect. The second thing to do is think about why you take the position you do. Examine where your own ideas come from and discuss the issue with others you respect, both those who agree and disagree with you. What values are behind your own position? Sometimes what is at stake is the conflict between two values, both of which are good in and of themselves. Ultimately, if you find you cannot accept the Church's position, you may dissent from the Church's stance, but in doing so are asked to keep an open mind about the teaching. The Second Vatican Council, the document Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) addresses the dignity of moral conscience. It states that

deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and of one's neighbor. Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. (GS 16)
The document recognizes the primacy of human conscience in decision-making, but it goes on to state that a conscience can go astray through ignorance or the blindness of sin. Following one's conscience is not simply a matter of doing whatever one wants. A conscience has to be informed and examined. The presumption of correctness is given to Church teaching. The Church does not take positions on issues lightly, but rather studies the matter at length, consulting with experts on the issue before forming their positions and teaching. However, when one finds oneself unable to agree with that teaching in the depths of one's (informed and examined) conscience, one has a right to follow one's convictions and can withhold personal assent from the teaching.