Sunday, July 14, 2013

Punishment And Rehabilitation

A priest who heads a rehabilitation home for the young discusses, in the diocesan bulletin, a serious problem which was highlighted recently when a video, widely circulated on the internet, showed high-school students, on a visit to a home for the aged, treating them abusively. The images went viral, generating a lot of comment, mostly critical of the students, and often quite angry. Their high-school also became the focus of a great deal of the criticism, and the school responded with a letter of apology, and expelled the students.

In the article the priest expresses three reasons why he was astonished by the incident.  First of all, by the thoughtless actions of the students, by the immediate comments made following the viewing of the video, and by the subsequent response of the school.

There is no question, of course, that what the students did was wrong; they should have been rebuked and punished. However, there was no reference to the responsibility of the society that had created the conditions contributing to the incident. There was no concern, the priest said, for the problems the children had in growing up, the difficulties they had in the home and school, and no criticism for the supervisors who were supposed to look after the students. The comments, he said, were only attacks on the students.

Though the school did send out an apology and the students were expelled, there was no attempt made to help them rejoin the human family.  The priest couldn't rid himself of the idea that the school was only interested in protecting its image by punishing the students. Disciplining  the students was the proper action, he said, but by neglecting to help them correct their behavior, the punishment could only be seen as punishment for the sake of punishment.

He refers to the time when Jesus said to those who dragged the woman caught in adultery before him, "Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). Jesus brought her to where she had sorrow for what was done, the priest explained. Though this incident appears to be quite different, the love and concern Jesus displayed for the woman was what the priest felt should have guided the response of everyone, when the abusive conduct of the students became known. 

Recently, there has been a great deal of concern for the problems of the young, with many TV programs talking about the crisis. The priest hopes that we will be able to learn how to move forward from this crisis of the young, resolving many of its most pressing issues by having the kind of heart Jesus has revealed to us.     

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