Archbishop Cordileone: Dancing With Restorative Justice

“The Archbishop is on fire to defend the faith!” So began Maggie Gallagher’s June 3rd broadcast email touting Archbishop Cordileone’s “stinging rebuke” to Marin County’s DA for having dropped felony charges against vandals on the grounds of Mission San Rafael.

As executive director of the Benedict XVI Institute in San Francisco, Ms. Gallagher publicizes the activities of the institute. She also promotes the public persona of the archbishop, advisor-in-chief on the institute’s board. Acting as publicist, her first objective is a spring board for the second. It is a public relations mix that disfigures the distance between image and substance.

Let me explain.

In October 2020, members of Coast Miwok of Marin gathered to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Tribal militants defaced and toppled a statue of Junipero Serra that stood in front of Mission San Rafael. Better schooled in grievance than in history, organizers claimed that Serra had destroyed Native American culture.

The defilement had all the earmarks of that tricky category: hate crime. Introduced in 1968, hate crime statutes expanded through the 1980s and ’90s to include damage to religious property. The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 requires punishment for: “Whoever intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property because of the race, color, or ethnic characteristics of any individual associated with that religious property, or attempts to do so . . . .”

In 2020, the Miwok lawbreakers were charged with felony vandalism, minus any allegation of hate crime.  At the time, Archbishop Cordileone applauded the decision. It is unclear what precise sequence of events took place over two and a half years. But on May 26, 2023, Lori Frugoli, Marin County’s DA, reduced the charges to a misdemeanor.

Enter Restorative Justice Theory.

Restorative justice was conceived as an alternative to traditional retributive justice. Originating in the New Age jurisprudence of the 1970s, restorative justice has been taken up by many jurisdictions. Frugoli’s office employs a certified restorative justice negotiator. When feasible, this permits miscreants to meet with prosecutors and “community facilitators” to broker ways to make amends and restore community relations. [As a thought experiment, imagine dialoguing with disciples of Nikole Hannah-Brown, architect of the 1619 Project, who intoned: “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence.”]

Following restorative justice protocols, Frugoli offered the Miwok vandals what is called diversion. This is a deal between prosecutors and defendants which offers wrongdoers a route to dismissal of their case. If defendants satisfy the diversion conditions, all charges will be dropped in a year.

Frugoli’s conditions include a demand that the defendants “participate in a community forum to be held in the coming months with a credible historian who will give stakeholders a chance to have a meaningful dialogue about the issue.”

Dialogue is a restorative justice catchphrase. Another is stakeholder, a formulaic term that overrides old-school categories such as perpetrator and victim. In the lingo of restorative justice, an actionable offense can dwindle from a crime to an issue. Vandalism might rise to a point of departure for mutual healing.

Such fancied metamorphosis is exquisitely appropriate to Gavin Newsom’s California. How could the Archbishop of San Francisco not foresee the consequence of declining to stand his ground?

Be Careful What You Ask For

Archbishop Cordileone asserted indignation over the reduced charge on EWTN’s The World Over. If you watched the June 6th episode, you can be forgiven for believing that the archdiocese—and Cordileone personally—were inevitable victims of the legal system and free-floating anti-Catholicism. All passionate intensity, the archbishop made a stirring case against the DA’s judgment. His heated depiction of the behavior of the DA’s process suggested bias and misconduct: ““The Archdiocese was shut out of the conversation, and the mediator was treating the perpetrators as if they were the victims.”

But as the segment progressed, the archbishop’s j’accuse dissolved in the acid bath of a startling disclosure. He himself had anticipated—and welcomed—the restorative justice approach. Reversing his initial desire for accountability in a court of law, he undercut the legitimacy of his own complaint against the DA. Apparently oblivious to the full significance of his admission, he confided to Raymond Arroyo:

I was waiting for them to suggest restorative justice. I was the one who suggested we do it before the trial. It is normally done after the trial to reconcile the criminal and the victim. I didn’t want there to be a trial. There’s a conviction and then restorative justice tries to build reconciliation between the criminal and the criminal’s victim. Reconciliation and restoration is better than trial and conviction.

He added: “I was going the extra mile trying to be conciliatory.”

I didn’t want there to be a trial. The comment is an inexplicable volte-face from his earlier statement welcoming prosecution. In 2020 he exulted that the vandals “will be held accountable for their actions in a court of law.” He said he hoped the charges “contribute to putting an end to attacks on all houses of worship.”

Why, then, the later retreat from prosecution? What prompted his more recent distaste for conviction? If the archbishop believed his own words (“I knew there was no way it would be charged as a hate crime simply because we are Catholic.”) what was the point of being conciliatory? What did he expect to gain—other than the mantle of victim—from granting hostile activists the means to dodge a felony conviction? Does he not catch the tinge of appeasement in manipulated “reconciliation”?

Cordileone is no naif. He knew that restorative justice theory was created as an end run around traditional penalties. He knew that it deflects attention from the deed, which is indisputable, to motivation which is subject to interpretive strategies. Lawyerly ingenuity can conjure a kaleidoscope of explanatory and mitigating circumstances. Native American miscreants, acting under cover of anti-Western grievances currently in vogue, had the advantage of being a protected class. The archbishop knew that too. Nevertheless, he embraced a maneuver that was ideological from the get-go.

Cordileone played the anti-Catholic card on EWTN for more than it was worth in this instance. He was vehement in asserting that Catholics “don’t count.” If they don’t, His Excellency provided reason for it here by needlessly surrendering turf. He himself initiated the atypical, even grandiose, step of waiving a trial and professing distaste for conviction.

In sum, the archbishop contributed to the outcome he was railing against.