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Bending the Arc

"the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - MLK 

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Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author's and should not be ascribed to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes or its members. On August 5, 2021, we archived old blog posts. You can find the archive by clicking here.

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Archive for the "Death Penalty/Restorative Justice" Category

Catholic Social Teaching & Restorative Justice

May 18, 2023
By Tracy Abler, Justice Coordinator
What is Restorative Justice?

Catholic Social Teaching has 7 major themes: Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Preferential Option for and with People Who are Poor; Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation. 

All of these principles are evident in restorative justice, an approach to achieving justice that involves, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense or harm to collectively identify and address harm, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.

The traditional approach within criminal justice systems takes a retributive approach to justice, assigning guilt and punishment. A restorative approach in response to any injustice takes into consideration the Catholic social tradition principles. Learn more here:

(article adapted from Catholic Mobilizing Network)


Train to be a Restorative Circlekeeper

April 20, 2023
By Tracy Abler, Justice Coordinator

Circles (sometimes called circle process or peacemaking circles) are a core restorative practice that create opportunities for participants to share openly and listen intentionally with one another. Rooted in indigenous tradition, circles can be used in instances of conflict and harm, as well as for storytelling, shared reflection, and community building. Increasingly, Catholic parishes and ministries use restorative circles to live in right relationship with one another and foster encounter among those impacted by crime.

Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) will host its annual circle keeper training in Chicago, IL with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) this July 12-15, 2023. This four-day, in-person training is ideal for Catholic leaders who wish to facilitate restorative circles in their parishes, ministries, and communities. It is most suitable for those who have some existing familiarity with restorative justice, but have not yet been formally trained in circle keeping.
Click here for details and application.
Please note that space is limited. The priority deadline for applications is Thursday, June 1,

Here is a story from the first training with PBMR, in 2019.

In July 2022, CSA JPIC coordinator and Associate, Tracy Abler, attended this training. She continues to belong to the CMN’s Restorative Justice Ministry Community of Practice and assists in their “Introduction to Restorative Justice” hour virtual workshops that provide participants with basic concepts and practices of restorative justice. These 3-hour workshops are ideal for individuals who are new to restorative justice. Upcoming sessions are April 26, June 14, and August 24. Click here for details.

Tracy believes restorative/peacemaking circles are key to transforming justice and healing our world. Below is the picture of her training circle’s centerpiece from last July. It is filled with meaningful objects that visually represented her group's shared values.

tablecloth of objects


Sister Janet and Death Row

April 06, 2023
By Ruth Battaglia, CSA

While serving in a L’Arche community in Mobile, Alabama, Sister Janet Ahler CSA was invited by two staff members to visit Holman prison in Atmore, the holding prison for men awaiting execution. In the CSA spirit of “pastoral concern for those whose faith life or human dignity is threatened” (CSA Constitutions # 4), she was soon a regular visitor with James Bill Hubbard. James consistently held that he was innocent of the murder with which he was charged and condemned claiming that the murder weapon was handed to him after the shooting occurred,Portrait of Sister Janet leaving his fingerprints on the gun. He never reported this, he said, because the actual shooter promised to kill him if he did. Sister Janet has written up James’ story which is in the CSA archives. 

At the time of James’ sentencing, if a person had an IQ of 70 or less in Alabama, he was not sentenced to death. James had an IQ of 71. James was simple and straightforward. “You are like a mother to me,” Sister recalls James saying to her during one of her visits.

The day prior to his execution, Sister Janet joined members of Kairos in visiting and praying with James. Kairos is a lay-led, interdenominational Christian ministry in which men and women volunteers bring Christ's love and forgiveness to prisoners and their families. Also present was James’ daughter who was ashamed of her father, but who on this last day came to visit him.  Sister Janet had been asked to be a witness of the execution, but James’ daughter witnessed instead. It was a memory that Sister Janet said she did not need.

Sister Janet accompanied another man on his last day, meeting with the family and with members of Kairos. She remembers offering comfort to his family by relating the good this condemned man had done in prison, shielding new people to the prison from being taken advantage of by others and aiding them in preparation for court procedures. 

Since this interview, Sister Janet has succumbed to cancer. Up to that time, she had been  corresponding with a man on death row in Ohio. She had always promised to pray for him, but said in her last letter to him, “It is your turn to pray for me.” For years, Sister Janet took turns with sisters and associates writing to the people whose execution dates were drawing near, promising the prayers of the CSA community for them. At Christmas time, she would invite sisters in the motherhouse community to join her in sending cards to the people on death row in Alabama. 

The death penalty is authorized by 27 states and the federal government and prohibited in 23 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In three states, California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, governors have imposed formal moratoriums on executions. The majority of executions take place in Texas and Oklahoma.

The Sisters of St. Agnes have taken a public stance in opposition to the death penalty in line with the teaching of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church.


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