‘Restorative justice’ for victims | TheUnion.com

‘Restorative justice’ for victims

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After reading in The Union last week about the sex crimes a Catholic priest had inflicted on Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer when McAteer was a small boy, Lisa Rea was even more determined.

The Smartville woman is president of the Justice & Reconciliation Project, a nonprofit program designed not only for healing between offenders and victims, but also “to hold the offender accountable.”

Rea wants the state of California to “take the victims’ rights movement to a new level” by initiating the philosophy of restorative justice. It calls for victims and their offenders to sit down and talk about the crime they share to reach forgiveness and understanding, and to make criminals realize exactly what they have put victims and their families through.

It may seem to some that a victim would like to do nothing more than take a baseball bat to a person who has forever harmed their life. But victims have questions of offenders that need answers leading toward some semblance of closure, Rea said.

“Like someone who has had a loved one murdered,” Rea said. They want to know what their last words were prior to death. They want to find out little details, if the offender is sorry and if he targeted their family – a myriad of things.

Rea said restorative justice is not for everyone. Offenders “have to ask for forgiveness, that’s critical.” Victims also have to be willing to give forgiveness, Rea said.

The recent spate of priest pedophilia crimes in the press makes it a perfect time for the Catholic Church to embrace restorative justice, Rea said.

Next Saturday, she’ll grasp the opportunity at a criminal justice conference at the Catholic Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Rea is slated to speak about restorative justice to some 3,000 at the event, which is entitled “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration.”

Although the church already has recognized restorative justice, Rea doesn’t think the institution is practicing it.

“It seems to me the church is concerned about the lawsuits” more than victims, Rea said. “A blanket apology” from the pope or bishops “is not enough. The offender (priest) has to be held accountable …. When I saw the church’s apologies, that’s great, but in talking to victims I work with, that’s not enough.”

Rea got involved with those victims in the late 1980s after hearing Chuck Colson of Watergate infamy, a former aide of President Nixon who served prison time. He turned his life around by becoming a Christian and starting the Prison Fellowship.

Rea spent five years in Texas with the fellowship’s Sycamore Tree program, which uses the restorative justice system. Now, she hopes what she has learned can help Californians. She is actively lobbying the state penal system and other institutions to embrace restorative justice, and sees the Catholic pedophilia scandal as a perfect jumping-off point.

“It looks like the church is worried about the impact on its pocketbook,” Rea said. “That shouldn’t be the priority.” The scandal, she said, “has affected the faith of many Catholics. The victims need to reconcile as much as possible with the offenders.”

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