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Judge Janine P. Geske: Circles of Healing View Comments
By John Feister

JUDGE JANINE P. GESKE has a groundbreaking approach for resolving damage done to the
Church by sexually abusive clergy. The former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice wants to bring to
the Church a practice that has been used in criminal justice for decades: restorative justice. She’s leading an effort at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, to help bring healing to a damaged
Church—not only to victims of predatory priests and misguided bishops, but also to entire parishes.

This past April, she and others convened a national gathering of approximately 150 Church leaders, sexual-abuse advocates and survivors to demonstrate her approach.

Judge Geske is now Distinguished Professor of Law at Marquette, where in 2005 she founded the Restorative Justice Initiative. St. Anthony Messenger visited her office, overlooking the Marquette campus, where she explained the approach.

Restorative justice, a broad movement in criminal law, takes the focus of law enforcement away from simply punishing, housing or even rehabilitating criminals. It seeks, rather, to provide an opportunity, after trial, conviction and incarceration of the criminal, for victims to meet criminals face-to-face and seek some kind of understanding: Why did this happen to me? What was going on in this criminal’s
head? How can I move on in my life with a renewed sense of wholeness?

The truth and reconciliation commission established in the wake of apartheid in South Africa in 1995 is a good example of a restorative-justice program.

“The whole approach here is: Who was harmed and what is the ripple effect of that harm?” explains Judge Geske. “What is the nature of that harm? Psychological, emotional, relational, economic? How do you go about repairing the harm?” The effort is to promote understanding and healing,
to whatever degree possible, to both victims and criminals. It can be applied in any situation, including the Church.

Geske describes how she got “hooked on this approach.” As a criminal court judge, before her five years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she had been teaching in a prison, working with victims’ groups and community groups as a way to inform her work in the court system.

She was invited by two teachers to come to a three-day restorative-justice program in a maximum-security prison with “high-end offenders” (her term). “I actually fell in love with it!” she exclaims, and set about trying to find ways to get involved. She began running occasional programs of her own, and, to this day, leads a similar program in two maximum-security prisons.

During one of these weekend events, she might have 12 community members, she says. “They might be priests, police, judges and three survivors of violent crime meeting with murderers, rapists, armed robbers and sometimes drug dealers with long, sometimes life sentences.” (Occasionally, they are people she herself had sentenced while serving as a judge.)

Over the course of the weekend participants tell their stories—victim, criminal, community leader. “I have seen the victims’ stories absolutely transform everyone in the whole room, every time, over the three-day process.” While working in the local courts over the years, she found those weekends
were her spiritual and community volunteer work. “I always talk about finding God in this process more than anywhere else I go,” she says. It’s the reconciling heart of our faith that she encounters.

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John Feister is editor-in-chief of this publication. He has master’s degrees in humanities and theology from Xavier University, Cincinnati. His latest book is the award-winning Thea’s Song: The Life of Thea Bowman (Orbis Books).

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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