New criminal justice program teaches students to combine justice with natural law

Shanice Kirabo
Staff Writer

The new bachelor of science program in criminal justice at Franciscan University of Steubenville prepares students to take on the world’s problems with moral fortitude, said a professor of criminal justice.

Charles Nemeth, professor of criminal justice at Franciscan, said the new program will prepare students to inspire change in people’s lives, making a difference in whatever field in which the graduates work.

While the criminal justice program was officially started in the fall of 2020 by Nemeth, the project was spearheaded by Anne Hendershott, Franciscan professor of sociology. Hendershott was pleased to have Nemeth implement a program that she had been building behind the scenes for the past eight years.

“The program is designed to bring a Catholic perspective to policing — a natural law and justice perspective,” Hendershott said. “The goal is to train professionals of integrity that are mindful of natural principal.”

Nemeth’s 40 years of experience with justice and law took him to many positions at universities around the country, both Christian and state schools.

Nemeth focused on teaching law and justice while at these institutions, one of them being City University of New York — which is the largest urban university system in the United States. Before coming to Franciscan, he worked at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

In his time at these public universities, Nemeth said he gravitated more toward his Catholic upbringing. He said he didn’t like how the good universities lacked a spiritually biblical proponent in their education, especially since he saw criminal justice as an opportunity to put one’s faith into action.

With his affinity for Thomas Aquinas’ concept of natural law, Nemeth said he hoped to establish a course that recognized the magnificence of this law, a course that taught criminal justice students the morally right action to take in “harsh” situations.

At Franciscan, Nemeth said he has the leeway to allow his students to study operations in light of natural law and foundational Catholic tradition. With the program officially kicking off this year, Nemeth hopes his students will have big takeaways from the courses.

He said he wants them to deeply contemplate “how they can implement their knowledge in their field in the best possible way” and “how they can perform their duty in a way that does not compromise their faith.”

Nemeth said he wants to cultivate intellectual professionalism in his students. He wants them to be professionals that also tap into their humanity and ethics — professionals that do not lose themselves in the world.

“It is not enough to be a professional,” Nemeth said. “It’s even more important to be a person that follows a moral compass.”

Nemeth also asks his students to address the anti-police sentiment in the United States. He wants to address how they can fix the pictures that the “bad apples” in the justice department have painted and how they can overcome moral “deadness” — and especially a moral “deadness” that is carried out in the name of a distorted sense of “justice.”

Nemeth said he urges his students to see all persons as made in the image of God. He designed the course to help graduates properly deal with such sentiments.

“It is only with the salvation of God that we can hope to make a change,” Nemeth said. Without God, he said, the corruption within the law, justice and court systems will never be resolved.

Nemeth said with a chuckle that he is a cynic. But despite that, he said he has not felt “this hopeful” in a while — hopeful that his students at Franciscan will make a change and be willing to implement their faith in the fringes of society.

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