As the Bishops return from Baltimore


This article was written by Fr. Dan Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in NE Minneapolis and the Wenger Family Faculty Fellow at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. This post was originally published on February 3rd, 2019. MSPCatholic is republishing with permission.

Five years ago I began my work as Delegate for Safe Environment in an Archdiocese rocked by scandal and crisis. Soon after I began, it became apparent that a qualified layperson was better suited to the work of restoring trust. Today, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is one of the safest dioceses in the United States. This journey to greater light and health has not been easy. Along the way, our Archdiocese was criminally charged for the failure to protect children, filed for bankruptcy, and witnessed the investigation and resignation of an archbishop and an auxiliary bishop.

In a 2014 memo to an auxiliary bishop, I wrote that “our bishops must be held accountable for their decisions, their behavior, and their performance. Our Catholic faithful deserve better and will demand better in the coming years.” This time is now at hand. For many, including me, the last five years have felt like a prolonged Good Friday. No doubt, this pain and anguish have been more acutely felt by victim-survivors of clergy abuse. The Church in the United States is suffering and looking for rays of light and hope.
 Recently, the prospect of hope and indeed a glimpse of Easter has been on the horizon in the form of restorative justice and healing.

Earlier this week I was provided an important lesson regarding the breadth and potential of restorative justice and restorative practices to bring about good. I concluded a law school course on Catholic social teaching by presenting restorative justice as a means to confront racism and racial injustice. Used here, restorative justice invites people into dialogue with victims of racial injustice as a way of better understanding the harm caused. After my class, the parish I pastor in Minneapolis hosted Mass for the victims of clergy abuse followed by a forum for restorative justice and healing. It was a powerful evening where people told their stories about how the clergy abuse crisis has impacted them and how we might move forward along a path of restoration and healing.

As the Catholic bishops conclude their meeting in Baltimore and as the Catholic Church in the United States continues to reel in the wake of a debilitating crisis, restorative justice, rooted in the restorative work of God and the risen Christ, offers a constructive path forward for the good of the Church. The opportunity for bishops to listen to the powerful testimony of victim-survivors earlier this week is essentially a restorative practice. I first learned of restorative justice two years ago when I met Janine Geske — a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice. Justice Geske has traveled the globe, including Ireland and the Gregorian University in Rome, conducting restorative justice training sessions and bringing healing and restoration to a wounded Church. Janine has generously offered her gifts and experience to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by leading restorative justice forums and healing circles. Her work has borne much fruit.

Admittedly, when I first heard of healing circles I was skeptical. As a trained lawyer, healing circles struck me as fuzzy, ethereal, and a bit new age. Lawyers are concrete thinkers and problem solvers. However, I quickly learned that restorative justice and healing circles do indeed work. Having experienced my third healing circle in the past six months, I can attest to their powerful truth. Restorative justice and healing circles are rooted in the practice of indigenous peoples who sought to solve problems by bringing people together in constructive dialogue. Today, restorative justice and restorative practices are successfully promoted and taught throughout the world. Restorative justice seeks to address harm and promote accountability by bringing folks together in dialogue who have been affected by crime or misconduct.

As the bishops of the United States depart from Baltimore and prepare for the important upcoming meeting in Rome, I would note three prophetic voices from this week: Archbishops Pierre and Etienne, and Christina Lamas. Their voices were in furtherance of reform and mission. I teach my law students that

Catholic teaching is teleological — it is goal oriented. The primary mission of the Church is to continue the saving work of Jesus Christ and to help build a more just and humane social order. Sadly, the mission of the Church to credibly proclaim the Gospel of Christ remains inhibited by the self-inflicted wounds caused by Church leaders.

The path back to credibility and fruitful mission is in embracing spiritual fatherhood on the part of bishops and priests. Both Archbishop Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio, and Christina Lamas noted the importance of spiritual fatherhood as a means to serve the People of God and the mission of the Church. Their counsel and exhortation were mission-centered and goal oriented. Lamas boldly articulated seven ways that bishops could more faithfully serve the laity, including committing to transparency, accountability and no more secrets. Archbishop Pierre noted the importance of encounter and listening as a manifestation of humble service. Archbishop Etienne of Anchorage called for a study of the root causes of the present crisis and criticized a clear corruption and blind spot that puts the reputation of the Church and the opinion of lawyers above the welfare of victim-survivors. These prophetic voices should be heeded for the good of the Church.

In a November 4th letter to Catholics of Newark, Cardinal Tobin said the following: “only intentional acts of restorative justice can help us reform and renew our deeply wounded Church.” What do intentional acts of restorative justice look like? I have been heartened by the commitment to restorative justice and spiritual fatherhood by Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens in our Archdiocese. These bishops have not succumbed to the insularity borne of a clericalist culture which afflicts some bishops and those who work with them. Rather, they have chosen to walk humbly with those whom they serve. This is what restorative justice looks like: humility, encounter, and listening.

In furtherance of intentional acts of restorative justice and the healing of a Church in crisis, I would suggest the following for the bishops of the United States as they await the February meeting in Rome: commission now, a thorough and robust study of the root causes of the present crisis; hold multiple listening sessions in their respective dioceses with laity and clergy; make public the names of all credibly accused clergy; meet with victim-survivors of clergy abuse; and make time for restorative justice and healing circles at their January retreat in Chicago. Restorative justice provides a path forward for the reform, healing, and good of the Catholic Church.

Rev. Daniel Griffith was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2002. He serves as Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis and as the Wenger Family Faculty Fellow at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.