Over the past days there has been much talk about the suggested early release of Michelle Martin, the ex-wife of Belgian child molester and murderer Marc Dutroux. Convicted in 2004 of complicity in the abuse and death of two of Dutroux’ victims, she was sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment. Now, after having served 8 of those years, and having served 8 more years before her conviction, she is up for early release. Although this yet needs to be granted by a judge, a community of Poor Clares in Namur has indicated that Martin can take up residence with them following a future release.

Abbess Sister Christine spoke about their decision on 31 July.  She said, “[…] we thought that, in our society, no one would win if we would respond to violence with violence.  We are convinced that permanently locking up of criminals in their criminal past and leaving them to despair would mean a step backwards for our society.”

After much deliberation the Poor Clares of Malonne indicated two conditions. First, that the current administration of justice is fully respected, and, second, that Martin shows true progress and is able to fully commit herself safely and with the slightest chance possible for recidivism.

Following all this, there have been protests at the monastery, and altogether too many tasteless accusations that linked Martin’s crimes to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church (and, in extension, Catholics in general are made suspect). The Poor Clares’ decision to display such enormous hospitality, although it befits their vocation, is presented as if they condone the crimes and, in fact, made the decision to release Martin themselves. The latter is up to a judge to decide, and the former is, frankly insulting.

The sisters of Malonne have nothing to say about the administration of justice. Go protest at the courts of law if you are against the early release of Michelle Martin. There is nothing the Poor Clares can do about it. What they can do is provide a safe house for a person who, according to the law, paid for her crimes. A house safe for her and which makes her safe for society.

Mother Abbess emphasised that Michelle Martin will not become a sister or join the religious community in any way. She will be provided with food and lodging and required to contribute to her own life. She is kept away from the site of her crimes (the Belgian provinces of Limburg and Liège have been declared off-limits to her).

Is this a matter of justice? Not in the sense that Michelle Martin has avoided punishment for her crimes. She has served the time the law requires of her. Whether or not we believe that that time has been too short is of no matter when looking at the case from a purely legal point of view.

The Poor Clares in Malonne, in going through the effort of housing Martin, go beyond the precepts of the (secular) law, providing for these thoughts that, somehow, she hasn’t paid enough for her crimes. Michelle Martin is kept away from where she could, in theory, do harm or cause scandal.

This is not condoning misdeeds, but providing for the best solution for both Martin and society. To somehow twist this into an accusation against the sisters and Catholics in general is something I consider gravely insulting.

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