Ellen Koneck delivering her plenary address

From October 5-7, 2023, individuals from around the country gathered for the National Catholic Conference on Restorative Justice, a conference co-hosted by the Catholic Mobilizing Network and the Initiative on Restorative Justice and Healing at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The conference theme, “Journeying Toward Restoration,” signified for those gathered a “renewed promise for restorative justice as an instrument for human flourishing both within and beyond the institutional Church.”

Conference planners were mindful of the impact and import of the location, as the Twin Cities have been ground zero for clerical abuse scandals, racial reckonings, and injustices to native peoples. Rather than side-step the difficulty of such conversations, these topics were embedded into the four focus areas for the weekend, which included criminal legal system transformation; clergy sexual abuse and healing; racial injustice and healing; and harms against Native peoples.

Executive Director Ellen B. Koneck, along with fellow Minnesota native Gabriella Wilke, Commonweal’s director of audience development and marketing, had the opportunity to attend many of the conference keynotes, panels, breakout sessions, and listening circles.

For her plenary, Koneck was tasked not with adding more content or ideas to the already full—and already, in many instances, quite heavy—presentations. Rather, she offered remarks at the conclusion of the second day designed to help participants process what they’d heard and articulate their sense of hope amid hardship. “We often hope despite our desperation for justice because injustice has often visited us first,” Koneck said. She continued,

I wonder if the idea of hope despite what we have seen, heard, witnessed, or experienced [in this work of restorative justice and at this conference] is helpful for others here. It’s a kind of apophatic hope; the type found in negation rather than positive assertions that seem to bypass the harsh things that make us most desperate for hope to be real, to be realized.

All recordings from the conference can be found here

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