Reconciliation Without Accountability is an Empty Effort

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the virtual annual meeting of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center located in Cincinnati. Along with several other local women’s religious communities, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were founding members of the organization 35 years ago, a commitment we continue to this day. Their keynote for this annual gathering was Dr. Fania Davis, a long-time social justice activist, Civil Rights trial attorney, restorative justice practitioner, writer, and scholar with a PhD in Indigenous Knowledge. She spoke on “Now What? Accountability and Reconciliation Beyond the Election.”

Reconciliation is a difficult thing. It is incomplete without accountability. Used together, they define Restorative Justice. According to, the term is defined as “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.”

The mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur is “Making Known God’s Goodness.” How does one do that in the current political and social climate? How can we bring together people who discriminate and people who are discriminated against? How do we help repair broken communication?

Dr. Davis suggests the following:

  1. Envision a justice that replaces individualism.
  2. Intentional focus on building capacity in white antiracism through joining antiracism groups.
  3. Peacemaking circles – small groups that are inclusive and accountability based

    - Small, integrated groups
    - Safe spaces that allow people to acknowledge their biases and address them

  4. Supporting/joining/building on antiracist movements

  5. Recognizing the harm and taking action to repair harm.

  6. Truth and reconciliation processes, such as those used in the global south, that are safe spaces focused not on individuals, but on systems.

In short, as Dr. Davis stated, we need the three Rs. We need to RECOGNIZE harm: the long-buried history of what we as a society have and are doing to each other and the planet. We need to take RESPONSIBILITY for that harm. Yes, we did this. And, we need to take REPARATIVE action. This can include reparations, but also things such as taking down statues of those who did grave harm to others; transforming curricula to truly reflect reality; assuring non-recurrence by abolishing systems that brutalize people; and investing in the future of the planet with structures and systems that are in right relationship with our earth.

We need justice and healing if we are to move into a future where we can make known God’s goodness.

Stay engaged and committed!

Teresa Phillips
Director of Office of Justice Peace and Care for Creation