quinta-feira, 3 de novembro de 2011

The Heart of Justice
By Ronald W. Nikkel

There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as... a gnat.
But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–
immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play.
But our merriment must be of that kind …which exists between people who have,
from the outset, taken each other seriously–
no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be real and costly love,
with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner–
no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.[i]

“Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia” stated the official Plaque at the entrance to Costa Rica’s penitentiary administration headquarters – “The Ministry of Justice and Grace.” “Well, I wonder how that plays itself out.” I mused aloud to my colleague as we entered the building to meet with the Minister several years ago. During that meeting and our subsequent visit to La Reforma maximum security prison it quickly became evident that grace was hardly part of the criminal justice equation. Whatever may have been intended when the Ministry was first established lingers on as a mere vestige of bygone idealism. Whether overtaken by the realities of managing a growing prison population, or pressured by negative public attitudes toward offenders, or skewed by political demands on justice, today the Ministry of Justice and Grace has lost its heart and is largely about the incarceration and management of criminal offenders.

This is not an indictment on the criminal justice system of Costa Rica, as much as it is a universal indictment on how justice is seen and done in countries throughout the world. For justice does lose its heart when it becomes only about the forensic determination of guilt or innocence and the application of penal sanctions for the purpose of punishing offenders and protecting society.

Justice without a heart is ultimately as judgmental, cold, and retributive as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” During a debate on capital punishment in a 1914 session of the Canadian House of Commons, George Perry Graham, a Member of Parliament, observed somewhat ironically, “We can argue all we like, but if capital punishment is being inflicted on some man, we are inclined to say: ‘It serves him right.’ That is not the spirit, I believe, in which legislation is enacted. If in this present age we were to go back to the old time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few Honourable Gentlemen in this House who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless.”

Surely, justice does not consist only in the cold logic of forensic facts, faults, and forfeiture, which is the normal structure or skeleton of justice. Rather the heart of justice is that which animates justice to be life-affirming, life-preserving, and life-giving. The heart of justice is grace by which people are attracted and compelled toward responsibility, respect, reconciliation, and restoration. While the structure of justice necessarily entails judgment, it is grace that recognizes the unique sanctity of the human person. The heart of justice therefore is justice with a heart – a heart of grace that affirms human dignity and seeks the wellbeing of offenders and their victims. Justice that exists only to judge and to punish is justice without humanity.

Thomas Aquinas observed that “mercy does not destroy justice, but is a certain kind of fulfilment of justice. ...Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; (and) justice without mercy is cruelty.”[ii] In making his summation near the end of a recent criminal trial a defending attorney put it this way – “It is often said that justice is not an exact science…A scientific, mathematical, or literal application of the law will sometimes lead to the antithesis of what the great majority of us know in our hearts would be just. Sometimes being merciful is the only way to achieve justice.”[iii] While justice demands fairness and that we never give a person less than their due, grace permits us to give a person more than justice could ever require.

The prophet Micah’s summation of human duty is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”[iv] Justice and mercy belong together; separated to themselves they become distorted caricatures. Justice without grace becomes impersonal, dispassionate, and destructive. Grace without justice undermines human dignity, responsibility, and development. Justice is the skeleton and grace is its heart. There is no justice without the animation of grace that touches human beings with dignity, hope, and the possibilities of transformation, reconciliation, and restoration.

Evil isn’t simply a philosophers’ puzzle but a reality which stalks our streets and damages people’s lives, homes and property. The quest for a solution is not a quest for an intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of why evil is there in the first place. Rather, the quest for a solution to the problem of evil is a search for ways in which the healing, restorative justice of the Creator God himself …can be brought to bear … within the present world of space, time, matter and messy realities in human lives and societies.[v]

Ronald W. Nikkel, PFI President & CEO
Ron has served as PFI's president since 1982. Widely recognized as an expert on criminal justice issues, Ron has visited more than 1,000 prisons in every region of the world and met with church and political leaders, as well as criminal justice officials.

Ron's new devotional book Radical Love in a Broken World, featuring daily meditations, is now available on Amazon.com as is his previous book Your Journey with Jesus.

To Learn more about Prison Fellowship International, visit www.pfi.org

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Mensagem de boas-vindas

"...Quando um voluntário é essencialmente um visitador prisional, saiba ele que o seu papel, por muito pouco que a um olhar desprevenido possa parecer, é susceptível de produzir um efeito apaziguador de grande alcance..."

"... When one is essentially a volunteer prison visitor, he knows that his role, however little that may seem a look unprepared, is likely to produce a far-reaching effect pacificatory ..."

Dr. José de Sousa Mendes
Presidente da FIAR