Every now and then, when we question the future of our country and our church, someone comes along to restore hope in both. A recent example is Matilyn Sarosi, 16, a junior at Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Patricia Montemurri of the Detroit Free Press tells the story of Sarosi, who spent a few snow days at home in January writing an 18-page paper. It wasn’t a class assignment. It was for a cause that she supported, and, rather than turn it in to a teacher for credit, she submitted it to the Michigan State Supreme Court.
Sarosi’s paper was a friend of the court brief, known in legal terms as an amicus curiae. The subject of her brief was about a court decision that challenged whether inmates, sentenced to life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, should get a chance at parole.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles under 18 violate the 8th Amendment. A Michigan appeals court ruled in 2012 that this decision should not apply retroactively.
Lawyers for three inmates, who were convicted of murder at ages 14 and 16, want the Michigan court to allow the retroactive parole. Sarosi’s brief supports their appeal.
“It is illogical to give the harshest sentence, a sentence that does not allow redemption, to the ones who may have the greatest capacity for redemption itself,” wrote Sarosi. “We believe all persons have the potential capacity to be sorry for their sins, work to repair their wrongs, restore their worth as a member of society, to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.”
Sarosi drew from Catholic social teaching and the example of Pope Francis to support her argument.
Montemurri of the Detroit Free Press said Sarosi does not minimize the impact of crimes committed by more than 350 Michigan inmates while juveniles. “But she said she recalls the stupid choices that she and her peers have made,” wrote Montemurri. “Sarosi contends that no youngster should be deprived of hope.”
Sarosi has since discussed the topic with theology classes at her school. When she submitted her amicus brief, it was signed by 452 of her classmates.
“We have to believe that deep down, we are capable of redemption,” says Sarosi.
Spoken like a 16-year-old?
Fr. Richard Lobert, the high school’s chaplain, is proud of Sarosi and the work she has put in to learning about social justice. “She’s ripped a page out of Catholic social teaching,” he said. “That’s pretty exciting when you have a real, live student who is trying to implement what the bishops and the Holy Father … have called for.”
The Michigan State Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in the case on March 6. From this vantage point, a winning decision has already been rendered: There is hope for our country and our church. Matilyn Sarosi embodies that hope.