A story in Our Sunday Visitor about a priest, Father David Link, which we recently posted on, directed me to purchase the book about him, Camerado, I Give You My Hand: How a Powerful Lawyer-Turned-Priest Is Changing the Lives of Men Behind Bars, which is excellent in its portrayal of the compassion and dedication Father Link brings to his work in the prisons of Indiana.
And though his ideas about reforming the criminal justice system, included as an appendix, “A Crime Peace Plan”, are based on a naïve and trendy response to crime, seeing it as a medical issue where healing is the prime solution rather than justice, they spring from a deeply spiritual and well-intentioned heart.
The first objective of A Crime Peace Plan is: “Change the mission of the system from punishment to healing.” (p. 230), but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“2266. The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.”
Punishment is a primary purpose of the criminal justice system and correcting criminal behavior is a secondary purpose, so changing the mission of the criminal justice system from punishment to healing would appear to be contrary to the teaching of the Catechism.
The eighth objective is: “Convert jails and prisons to places that are concerned with the diagnosis of and treatment for the social illnesses that have brought each person to incarceration.” (Ibid.)
However, as the Catechism teaches us:
“1853. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.”128 But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.
“1868. Sin is a personal act.”
Linking sin to social structures–which the Marxists also do–tends to take away its personal responsibility aspect, an aspect absolutely crucial for proper penance and forgiveness.
However, even with these misunderstandings, which I pray will clear up after more time and experience, Father Link’s work deeply validates the importance of Catholic prison ministry, which needs to be such a larger part of the work of our Church.
The Church is our mother, and her work, through the words of our Holy Father, from the Vatican Information Service, calls to us:
“The Church is the same: she is a merciful mother who understands, who always tries to help, to give encouragement even when her children have made mistakes or continue to do so. She never closes the doors of her house to them: she does not judge, but rather offers God’s forgiveness, she offers her love to invite her children to return to the right path and even when they have fallen into the deepest abyss, the Church is not afraid to enter into their darkest night with them in order to give them hope; the Church is not afraid to enter into our night when our soul and conscience are surrounded by darkness, to give us hope! Because the Church is our mother!”