MODULE 3: After the Peace Accord: Transitional Justice and Reconciliation


When wars end, some of the most difficult challenges of peacebuilding begin. The Church has played a role in formal Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, South Sudan, Guatemala, Burundi, and other places. These formal processes often involve painful moral dilemmas, pitting legitimate demands for justice and accountability against the practical demands for amnesties and calls for forgiveness. While governments often speak of reconciliation, defined narrowly as political accommodation, the Church promotes a much deeper and fuller understanding of political, communal, and personal reconciliation. Moreover, reconciliation is not just or mostly a matter of formal post-war processes; it is an integral component of preventing and mitigating violent conflicts.

Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate the sensibility of seeking forgiveness and reconciliation at the communal or political level, as opposed to the personal and pastoral level. 
  • Consider the question of political forgiveness and reconciliation and the problems of agency.  That is should leaders be asked to forgive and reconcile on behalf of the group, or the present generation be asked to forgive for sins committed in the past.  
  • Determine the essential practices or elements of forgiveness and reconciliation those processes and practices that are realistic and necessary for establishing a just peace after the violence ends.

Discussion Guide Questions 

  • Forgiveness and reconciliation are usually for individuals? Does it make sense to seek forgiveness and reconciliation at the communal or political level, as opposed to the personal and pastoral level?
  • Doesn’t political forgiveness and reconciliation raise problems of agency: asking leaders to forgive and reconcile on behalf of the group or asking the present generation to forgive for sins committed in the past?  
  • What are the essential practices or elements of forgiveness and reconciliation? Are these processes and practices realistic and necessary for establishing a just peace after the violence ends, or do they represent a mostly unattainable ideal?

Peacebuiding Terms Sheet 

Primary Resources

  • Robert Schreiter, “A Practical Theology of Healing, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation,” in Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis, Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, eds, (Orbis, 2010)
    Schreiter considers healing, forgiveness and reconciliation as “an ongoing practice of reflection and action that keeps theory and informed practice in constant conversation with each other.” After proposing five principles for a practical theology of reconciliation, he discusses the need for healing in its many dimensions, truth telling, and forgiveness.
    A Practical Theology Of Healing
  • Daniel Philpott, “Reconciliation: A Catholic Ethic for Peacebuilding in the Political Order,” in Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis, Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, eds, (Orbis, 2010)
    Drawing on biblical and theological concepts, this chapter develops a framework for a political ethic of reconciliation understood as a matter of justice. Philpott proposes six practices of this ethic: building socially just institutions, acknowledgement, reparations, punishment, apology, and forgiveness.
    Reconciliation A Catholic Ethic
  • "Colombia: Religious Actors Inspiring Reconciliation,” in the Religion and Conflict Case Study Series (Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, 2013)
    This case study explores the complex ways that religious forces have both legitimized and sought to resolve the decades-long conflict in Colombia between the government and various guerrilla and paramilitary organizations, with particular attention paid to the peace efforts of the Roman Catholic Church. The study deals with four questions: What are the historical origins of the conflict in Colombia? How do domestic religious factors influence the conflict as well as inspire efforts for conflict resolution? How important are international religious forces? What role do socioeconomic factors play? In addition to its core text, the case study also includes a timeline of key events, a guide to relevant religious organizations, and a list of further readings.
  • Peter-John Pearson, “Pursuing Truth, Reconciliation, and Human Dignity in South Africa: Lessons for Catholic Peacebuilding,” in Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis, Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, eds, (Orbis, 2010)
    In this chapter, Fr. Pearson, long-time head of the Southern African Bishops’ Parliamentary Liaison Office, considers lessons that Catholic peacebuilders can learn from South Africa’s official Truth and Reconciliation Process.  He also discusses the relationship between the TRC process and on-going challenges of peacebuilding in post-apartheid South Africa.
    Pursuing Truth
  • Emmanuel Katongole and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda (Zondervan, 2009)
    Rwanda is often held up as a model of evangelization in Africa. Yet in 1994, the most Christianized country in Africa became the site of its worst genocide.  With a mother who was a Hutu and a father who was a Tutsi, author Emmanuel Katongole is uniquely qualified to point out that the tragedy in Rwanda is also a mirror reflecting the deep brokenness of the church in the West. Rwanda brings us to a cry of lament where together we learn that we must interrupt these patterns of brokenness.  But Rwanda also brings us to a place of hope. Indeed, the only hope for our world after Rwanda’s genocide is a new kind of Christian identity for the global body of Christ—a people on pilgrimage together, a mixed group, bearing witness to a new identity made possible by the Gospel.  Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • "Uganda: The Challenge of Forgiveness," Fetzer Institute and Daniel Philpott
    This video chronicles religious leaders, elders, and parents in northern Uganda who are exercising remarkable leadership and courage in choosing to forgive as they seek to rebuild their communities after the conflict with the Lords Resistance Army. Produced by the Fetzer Institute and Daniel Philpott.
  • Margaret Pfeil discusses reconciliation in light of Dan Philpott’s book, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation (Oxford University Press, 2012)
    17:30 to 27:00 of 60:00 video.


Secondary Resources 

  • Daniel Philpott, “When Faith Meets History: The Influence of Religion on Transitional Justice,” in The Religious in Responses to Mass Atrocity, Thomas Brudholm and Thomas Cushman, eds. (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
    In this chapter, Philpott provides an overview of the role of religious concepts and religious actors in formal transitional justice processes around the world. Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • Megan Shore and Scott Kline, “The Ambiguous Role of Religion in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Peace & Change 31:3 (July 2006)
    This article examines the ambiguous role that religion, particularly Christianity, played in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and in South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy. Access your institution's library for this source.
  • The Rift Valley Amani Peace Project, Catholic Relief Services
    The Rift Valley Amani Project in Kenya aimed to strengthen youth-to-youth, women-to-women and elder-to-elder peace and reconciliation structures; enhance conflict transformation skills and knowledge; and support joint community peace initiatives.
  • The Ties That Bind: Building Social Cohesion in Divided Communities (Catholic Relief Services, 2017)
    This guide was born from a need to share learning from our experience in Central African Republic (CAR) from 2013–2015. During this turbulent period, CAR experienced unprecedented violence and brutality between the Seleka (Alliance) and the Anti-Balaka (Anti-Machete) militias. At the invitation of Muslim and Christian religious leaders, CRS trained more than 1,000 government, civil society, and private sector leaders in social cohesion principles and techniques and equipped them with tools they could use in their workplaces and communities. This guide innovatively combines the 4Ds of Appreciative Inquiry ("Discover, Dream, Design and Deliver") with CRS’ 3Bs peacebuilding methodology ("Binding, Bonding and Bridging"). The result is a powerful approach for use within a people-to-people peacebuilding framework. Donors, host countries, and implementing partners who want to strengthen vertical and horizontal social cohesion, especially in fragile states, will profit from this guide. Each module offers detailed guidance on objectives, timing, steps, tools and notes for the trainer. Available in English and French.
  • Nell Bolton and Erin Atwell, "How to Conduct a One-Day Workshop on Conflict Sensitivity in Emergency Programming" (Catholic Relief Services, 2015)
    This training module was developed to equip emergency response teams with basic capacities in conflict sensitivity.
  • Kerry Weber, “Shadowed by Tragedy: Rwanda strives to Rise Above a History of Horror,” America, April 7, 2014
    Kerry Weber, a Catholic Relief Services Egan Fellowship recipient, reflects on her October 2013 visit to Rwanda to observe the impact of the National Unity and Reconciliation’s efforts to achieve a national sense of “Rwandanness” and CRS programming to support community healing and reconciliation.