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Restorative justice element needed in sacrament of penance

Apr 02, 2014

from the article on

Purely verbal approach to repentance is not enough says President of Maynooth.

As Catholic churches all over the world stayed open last night and today to celebrate “a festival of forgiveness” through the ’24 hours for the Lord’ initiative, the President of St Patrick’s College Maynooth has said there is a real need for restorative justice in the sacrament of Confession.

Referring to the practice introduced by the Irish monks from the 7th century on, Mgr Hugh Connolly said that in those times there was a very strong sense that those going to confession should do something to undo some of the harm they had done.

“If we are sorry,” he said, “shouldn’t we try to express it in a way that actually undoes some of the harm and the hurt we caused?”

“We’ve long honoured that in our tradition through the notion of restitution. In other words – steal, pay back.”

But he suggested that seemed somewhat limited.

“I mean there are many ways in which you can steal – you can take someone’s happiness from them, you can take their livelihood from them. It is not technically theft but there is a real crying need for restorative justice.”

At the core of medieval manuals of penance, it is clear that a purely verbal approach to repentance was neither adequate or “morally sound”.

“Perhaps today we need to look at it again with fresh eyes and say – have we overly verbalised the ritual of repentance and perhaps not given enough attention to how human beings might undo some of the hurt that we inevitably cause others, he told

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