-A New Life with the Expiation and Forgiveness of Crimes-
Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)     
The Religious Community Network "Stop Death Penalty" established in June 2003 has held 5 seminars on death penalty. The 6th one was organized at Higashi Honganji temple of Jodo Shinshu in Nerima ward (Tokyo). This was the first time that such a seminar had been held in a Buddhist temple. The audience was small (35 persons) but the speakers caught the interest of the participants who followed the lectures earnestly.

The theme this time was "A New Life with the Expiation and Forgiveness of Crimes." Can we really affirm that those that have been condemned to death are not able to live new lives? Is it only by executing the criminals that the resent of the victims can be expiated? There is a tendency to consider an opposition of views between the criminals and the victims of crime with regard to death penalty and the aim of the seminar was to search for ways to revise society at its roots, so that both sides, criminals and victims, could be together healed, by listening to their pleas regarding their situations, as well as those that are working with them.
Juvenile Delinquency and New Lives
The first speaker was Jesuit Brother Manuel Hernandez. Voluntary chaplain for 45 years, Br. Hernandez dedicates himself mainly to interviewing youngsters in Reformatories and thus trying to get them out of crime into new lives. According to him, there are no bad people in this world; there is always some reason for crimes. Br. Hernandez confronts juvenile delinquents from inside their hearts. Most of those youngsters have been raised up with much suffering and without love at home and at the schools. They are the most serious victims of family and social distortions. But, in spite of this, the government is trying to revise the law so that crimes could be controlled by a system of severe punishment. Br. Hernandez says, "Adults should be the ones to enter the Juvenile Classification Office, not young people". Adults should not punish young people, but must confront them straight and reform their own families and society at large, they should make efforts to support youngsters to get into new lives.

Fights to Leave Cult Sects
Another speaker was Ms Nagaoka Eiko, an active member of the Oum Shinrikyo families association since 1989. The members had come together to make people leave Oum Shinrikyo whenever some in their families, usually their children, joined the sect. But after the Subway Sarin Incident in 1995, Oum members committed a number of crimes and, as a result, those families whose members had been taken by the sect of Oum and had become themselves "victims" were now transformed into "criminals", due to the crimes committed by members of the Oum sect. The Nagaoka families being in a delicate situation now continue their activities to bring back their family members. In spite of having used all means in their hands to appeal the public administration about the dangers of the Oum sect, no action had been taken and a series of crimes had been committed. After that all public opinion demanded the destruction of Oum and thus hit those families that had been fighting. But no matter their feeling of powerlessness, they continue fighting silently to get back from Oum their family members and to make clear the realities of brain washing imposed by the sect.
The Real meaning of Giving Support to the Victims
Mr. Katayama Tadaari lost his 8-year old in a car accident in 1997. This was an opportunity for him to become positively involved in issues concerning legal requirements, public disclosure of information, the support of victims of accidents and other incidents, etc. Since among the victims there are also people suffering from domestic violence and maltreatment, Mr. Katayama, willing to support them, joined the movement to support all victims. It is somehow natural for the families of the victims of crimes to desire executions as a result of their feelings of retribution. Nevertheless if they do not really desire crimes to occur they would have to think ahead, in other words, to think of the rehabilitation of criminals. Mr. Katayama affirms that there is a need to think thoroughly of the legal system including death penalty. He lectures to employees and young inmates of reformatories and works actively for the rehabilitation of those who committed crimes. He detects two new possibilities. One is the civil jury system. Ordinary citizens participate in the administration of justice and by expressing their opinions in the assessment of the cases get an opportunity to reflect on the legal proceedings and the rehabilitation of the criminals as if it were their own problem. A different one is the issue of restorative justice. In contrast to the view of legal restoration that aims at punishment, there is a problem solving view bringing together into dialogue victims and criminals. In this case there is a need for local and social support so that the rehabilitation of criminals is not left to the legal responsibility of the administration but to society. When civil society becomes involved because it considers crime as its own problem new big possibilities arise for restorative justice.

The last speaker was philosopher Takahashi Tetsuya. Mr. Takahashi that has actively spoken on issues concerning historical awareness and war responsibility, as well as on Yasukuni Shrine and the Holocaust of the Jews, took Dostoevski's book "The Brothers Karamazov" to comment deeply on human evil and forgiveness. His first insight was retribution and forgiveness of the persons concerned. The more one thinks that forgiveness is impossible and the heaviest a crime is, the strongest a temptation for capital punishment becomes. On the opposite, the more forgiveness is considered impossible to obtain the more it is desired. The more serious confrontation becomes the more forgiveness is a need. Forgiveness as well as revenge materializes only between victims and criminals in such a way that, no matter whether they were relatives of the victims they could not forgive or take revenge of the criminals instead of the victims themselves. This is one reason why, according to Mr. Takahashi, the feelings of retribution by the relatives of the victims that provide a basis for capital death are disclaimed. A different insight was that "no matter what people may say forgiveness is real. Forgiveness must be given unconditionally," he added. In other words, we do not forgive because the criminal repented and apologized, but we forgive the criminal himself. Could not be unconditional forgiveness a possible way for the criminal to repent and apologize? This is a big antithesis. Only God could do this. Normally, we can only refrain from personal revenge once legal punishment has been given. But, it is very important to reflect on the religious implications of forgiveness when we aim at the renewal and healing of persons and society in general.
Personal and Societal Renewal
Reflecting on the opinions given by the 4 speakers I came to question basically the meaning of death punishment. Public opinion backs death punishment mainly to maintain social safety and to satisfy the feeling of retribution of the victims. But, is to maintain public safety, as Br. Hernandez said, to cut and throw away as in a medical operation those who committed a crime that are the weakest sector in society? There is always a reason for everything. To cut from society and throw away criminals is not to avoid seeing the real causes that provoke crimes? Is not this due to the fact of our weaknesses and ugliness?
Whenever we talk about the feelings of the victims do we really confront them? Do we accept them straight as their hearts shake in confusion? Or do we maybe think, "Do not trouble us anymore; the criminal has been punished, so feel satisfied"? Is it not true that maybe we, outsiders, demand death penalty to obtain our own peace of heart?
Have we ever thought of a society without death penalty? Or concretely, of a society where criminals, one after the other, become rehabilitated? Did we ever dialogue with the relatives of the victims? To say that we do not know how to establish dialogue with them is not an excuse anymore. We already heard the speakers talk about it. We can experience, as Mr. Takahashi said, that the work they are doing is "the big antithesis." Faith and morals are not things to be related from behind a desk, but must be concretely implemented and put to a test.
The Religious Community Network "Stop Death Penalty" has entered a new stage. It has to work for the cooperation of other citizen's groups, besides the National Bar Association of lawyers and the Diet members Federation, in view of the Bill to stop all executions that is on the agenda of the Diet next year. This is the time to bring to a full stop death penalty, a "chain of death."
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