[The following are some notes from the talk last Saturday by Dale and Susan Recinella about the Death Penalty.]
Last Saturday, at St. Joan of Arc parish church in Boca Raton, Dale and Susan Recinella gave a 3+ hour presentation on their ministry to death row inmates, the families of these inmates, and the families of the victims of murder. The bishops of Florida promoted the presentation and our own bishop, Bishop Barbarito, was there to introduce the Recinellas and recite an opening prayer.
Though there was a good representation from our Pax Christi group, I wish the overall crowd had been larger. We are the choir, after all.
I found the presentation very powerful and emotional, and was riveted to my chair the entire time.
The Recinellas are both very grounded in traditional Catholicism. The presentation began with a video from the American Catholic bishops, condemning the death penalty. There is no debate going on in the Catholic Church about capital punishment – the bishops have spoken. A statement was issued first in the 1980’s and reaffirmed in more recent years.
Through their stories, the Recinellas took us through a personal experience of what the death penalty is.
Dale, a former business attorney, is a lay minister to the almost 400 death row inmates who are housed at the state Prison in Raiford Florida. In order to minister to these men, the state requires that he not practice law. This is perhaps a blessing, Dale says, because every prisoner would want his legal help. Even though he does not practice, he keeps his license current.
Dale is also a serious Catholic. He knows and practices his faith. His legal and spiritual background gives a lot of credence to his understanding and explanation of what the death penalty is all about.
When a death warrant is signed, the inmate can then choose a spiritual advisor. If they choose Dale, he is then responsible for preparing the prisoner for death. This is very, very different from preparing a person who is suffering from disease for death, he says. He is preparing a healthy person who wants to live, to be killed by other human beings. Dale spends the last 5 hours with the inmate, accompanies to him to the gurney, and then witnesses the execution.
Susan Recinella is a professional psychologist who works with severely mentally ill women at the state hospital.
Many times, when a man is executed, the family comes to the prison a week ahead of time. There are no services provided for these families. On the day of the execution they are allowed, after a thorough body search, to have a contact visit with the inmate to be executed. Then 5 hours before the execution they are required to leave the premises. Susan provides a quiet place for these people to be during the actual execution, many times a Catholic Church. She asks: “what do they need?” – which is mostly to be together. Susan is able to provide that presence and support.
After the execution, Dale returns to where Susan and the family are gathered, and tells them about the death. They are anxious for details. And then they talk about their memories.
It is clear that the ministry to death row inmates and their families – that of Susan and Dale – is one ministry.
There were many aspects to the presentation that Dale and Susan gave, one of which was the spiritual burden of those who minister to prisoners. How do you keep from falling into the abyss of darkness? There is a deeper abyss, Dale says, the abyss of God’s love for all of us. You have to discover that abyss.
Prayer will sustain you, Susan says. You continually open yourself to what is being asked of you, moment to moment. “I see that God is asking us to come closer in this ministry, to show us who God is.”
Dale recounted times when the innocence of a condemned man was indisputable, and there was proof of that innocence, and yet the laws surrounding the death penalty are such that this evidence is not allowed to stop an execution. He asked us, again and again, “who is the killing for?”
We say that it is for the victim’s family, but even when the family of the victim insists that they do not want the murderer to be killed, the law does not allow them to interfere.
Dale named the darkness of the death penalty: the system of attorneys, judges, and politicians who profit monetarily from the business of Capital Punishment.
– by beth cioffoletti