Restorative Justice Project

The Catholic Lawyers Guild’s Restorative Justice Project had its inception in a suggestion from Cardinal Blase J. Cupich. Not long after he arrived in Chicago, in February of 2015 Cardinal Cupich came to the Guild’s annual Day of Recollection to celebrate Mass and join in discussion with members of the Guild. In the course of that conversation, he urged the Guild to provide assistance to the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. Founded by members of the Precious Blood religious community, this Ministry sought to serve “as agents of reconciliation and healing with those in our community and our Church who have been impacted by violence and conflict.” Under the leadership of Father David Kelly, the Ministry utilized “Peace Circles” to bring together victims and those accused of crime to engage in dialogue. This process was part of a growing national movement known as the Restorative Justice Project.

In the summer of 2015, Matthew Simon, then President of the Guild, the Guild’s two vice-presidents, Judge Tom Donnelly and Dan Murray, and several other members of the Guild visited the Precious Blood Center. They were overwhelmed by the wonderful work that the Center was doing in providing healing to a community plagued by too much violence. Thereupon, the Executive Committee of the Guild decided to form a new committee of the Guild, the Restorative Justice Committee, on which Matthew Simon, Tom Donnelly and Dan Murray agreed to serve, to emphasize the importance this committee’s work would occupy for the Guild.

The Restorative Justice Committee quickly considered how it could best play a supportive role on behalf of the Center. Early on, the Committee learned that a major obstacle to honest and effective dialogue within the Peace Circles was the not unexpected fear of defense counsel that their clients, in the course of dialogue within the Peace Circle, would make admissions that could be used against them in court proceedings. So the Committee took upon itself the task of drafting a rule providing an evidentiary privilege for communications made in the course of these Peace Circles. A subcommittee was formed, including a religiously diverse group of judges and lawyers, under the leadership of Judge Stuart Katz, to prepare the text of a proposed rule. That draft rule was then submitted to the Supreme Court of Illinois. It has since received a favorable report from the Court’s Juvenile Justice Committee and is now pending review by the Court’s Rules Committee. It is already attracting nationwide attention as an important contribution to the cause of Restorative Justice.

Subsequently, the Guild’s Restorative Justice Committee has turned its attention to establishing Restorative Justice programs on a pilot basis in several inner-city Catholic schools near the Precious Blood Center in the Back of the Yards. With the assistance of Father Dave Kelly of the Precious Blood Ministry and a Chicago Bar Association Committee chaired by retired Judges Tom Hogan and Sheila Murphy, these programs are now up and running in two nearby schools, St. Leo High School and St. Sabina Elementary School, and is soon to start in a third neighborhood Catholic school. Preliminary results are highly encouraging.

The Guild’s Restorative Justice Committee has become a signature initiative of the Guild as part of the broader work of the Church to counter conflict and violence in our community with dialogue and love.