Archbishop Hebda, Ramsey County attorney share panel on restorative justice

| October 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

Frank Meuers, right, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, greets Ramsey County Attorney John Choi after delivering remarks at a symposium on restorative justice at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis Oct. 25. At left is Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who also shook hands with Meuers after he spoke. In the foreground is Tom Johnson, an independent ombudsman who listens to and advocates for those in the archdiocese who have suffered from clergy sexual abuse. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

A justice system that too often is adversarial can be renewed with efforts to promote healing as well as justice, panelists and a keynote speaker said Oct. 25 at a law school symposium on restorative justice in Minneapolis.

The day’s last panel of presenters represented such an effort — Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Tim O’Malley of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Assistant County Attorney Stephanie Wiersma.

Final words for the panel discussion on the impact of restorative justice being part of the archdiocese’s settlement agreement with Ramsey County over criminal and civil charges of failing to protect children in a clergy sexual abuse case came from Frank Meuers, a victim-survivor of clergy sexual abuse and the southwest Minnesota chapter director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

For years, Church officials failed to adequately respond when victims of clergy sexual abuse told their stories in hopes appropriate action would be taken, Meuers said. But that is changing.

“It’s beginning to happen now,” he said, before shaking the hands of Choi, Archbishop Hebda and the other panelists.

The archdiocese’s efforts since the 2015 agreement to meet the needs of victim-survivors have been driven in part by advice from victim-survivors such as Meuers. They include healing circles, with people taking turns in parishes and other settings to talk about how the abuse crisis has affected them, their faith and feelings about the Church.

Some victim-survivors meet regularly with O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment for the archdiocese, and others in O’Malley’s office. Archbishop Hebda formally opened his door every Friday from February to April to talk with victim-survivors who want to meet with him. Such meetings began before February and they have continued since April, the archbishop said.

Moderating the panel was Tom Johnson, independent ombudsman for clergy sexual abuse for the archdiocese, chosen jointly by the archdiocese and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. Johnson noted the adversarial nature of the conflict between the archdiocese and the county attorney’s office as law enforcement investigated accusations of clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese.

“Looking back at five years ago, the parties here were at serious odds,” Johnson said, stressing that he was excited to see the two sides now working together to promote healing.

Titled “Restorative Justice, Law and Healing,” the daylong Law Journal Fall Symposium at the University of St. Thomas School of Law was sponsored by the Terence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy. It included panel discussions on “Restorative Justice in Theory and Practice for Legal Education and Beyond” and “Using Restorative Justice to Heal Participants and Overcome Injustice.”

Advice for the more than 300 law students, attorneys and others in the legal field who attended the symposium included thinking outside the box and going beyond attempts to win a case by keeping worthy goals in mind.

The symposium also included keynote speaker Jeanne Bishop, an assistant public defender in Chicago. Bishop told her own story of reconciling with the man who murdered her sister along with her sister’s husband and their unborn child, as well as the story of healing between the father of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the father of one of McVeigh’s victims.

Bishop has told those stories in books: her 2015 “Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer,” and her forthcoming, “Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation after the Oklahoma City Bombing,” scheduled for release in April 2020.

Her sister, Bishop said, pointed the way to forgiveness in her final action before dying: Using her own blood, she etched a heart and the letter “U” near her husband’s body. Bishop believes that final action, “Love you,” was her sister’s blessing on her husband and the world.

“She had the last word that night, and it was love,” Bishop said. “That’s why I hope we talk about love a lot more, in law schools and everywhere.”

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