At first glance, this question seems to be a no-brainer: Out of the Diocese of Orange’s 57 parishes and five Catholic Centers, which locale serves the greatest number of the county’s 1.3 million Catholics? That would be Christ Cathedral, right?

Wrong. “The largest collective Catholic population in O.C. is in our local adult jail system and juvenile facilities,” says Fred LaPuzza, director of the Office of Restorative Justice/Detention Ministry (RJ/DM). Incredibly, more Catholics are locked up in Orange County than the number of those who pray and serve at any other single locale in the Diocese.

Something’s obviously wrong with this picture. Caring for everyone in need – including those who are incarcerated – is a foundational value of the Church. Catholic social teaching emphasizes that anyone who is struggling should be restored to a better life – hence the term “restorative justice.”

“Restorative justice is a response to crime and violence that shifts the focus from punishment to responsibility, rehabilitation and restoration,” according to the California Catholic Conference of Bishops. “It holds offenders accountable even as it opens paths to healing, especially with victims. And it addresses the needs of everyone impacted by crime: victims, offenders, families, communities and those working in the criminal justice system.”

LaPuzza cites a number of references to restorative justice in the Scriptures: “Jesus says, ‘For I was in prison and you visited me’ (Matt. 25:36). And Hebrews 13:3 says, ‘We must remember those imprisoned as though we were imprisoned with them.’ Theme 1 of Catholic Social Teaching instructs us that human life is sacred and to care for all. This includes those in or out of jail. And Theme 6, Solidarity, reminds us that ‘We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.’ Even in places like jail.”

Restorative Justice/Detention Ministry exists for this very purpose.

“Our office is involved in a multitude of things,” says LaPuzza, “from providing religious services inside the facilities, to reforming our state’s corrections system through legislative action, to providing resources for families of the incarcerated and referrals for community re-entry services.”

Restorative Justice/Detention Ministry provides 140 scheduled religious services each week in three languages, along with other pastoral-care activities such as one-on-one visits and confessions. The ministry also helps to bring awareness about their work to local parishes and the community as a whole, and advocates for laws that are in line with Catholic Social Teaching and the Gospel.

Full story at Orange County Catholic.