By LONA O'CONNOR
Palm Beach Post Religion Writer
Friday, June 08, 2007
Dale Recinella was dying. He had suffered a toxic reaction to oysters and doctors told his wife, Susan, that he would be dead within 12 hours. As he sank into a high fever, Jesus confronted him in a dream.
"What have you done with my gifts?" he asked. "What about all my people who are suffering?"
Recinella, a corporate lawyer at the time, recalls feeling "a tidal wave of shame at how selfish and self-centered my life had been. I said, 'Give me another chance.' "
It took Recinella a couple of years to fulfill his promise, but he fulfilled it to the letter. In 1998, he became a lay minister to Florida's prisoners on Death Row and solitary confinement.
Dale and Susan Recinella are scheduled to speak on the Catholic Church and the death penalty, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at St. Joan of Arc Church in Boca Raton.
Recinella, a volunteer, has witnessed five executions in nine years at Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution.
His congregation, composed of believers and nonbelievers, is equivalent to that of a medium-sized church, 1,200 prisoners in solitary confinement (now called "close management") and 390 on Death Row.
It takes him four to six weeks, working three shifts a week, to complete his cell-to-cell rounds. A priest, a retired bishop and two more lay ministers also visit the prisoners. The Recinellas also minister to victims' families.
By the time an execution happens, Recinella has gotten to know the prisoner well enough to grieve his passing.
"My hope is to be able to comfort them," Recinella said. "I offer them God's love and human fellowship. I spend most of my time listening. Some of them are very angry at God. Some have deep remorse and agony over the lives they've affected."
He is one of the last people to spend time with a condemned man before an execution. While he is inside the prison, Susan Recinella, a psychologist, stays with the prisoner's family until the execution. "I do a lot of support, not counseling," Susan Recinella said. "I'm not acting as a psychologist. I am there with my feelings and support."
Biblical rebuttal in book
Recinella felt so strongly about the death penalty that he wrote a 400-page book, The Biblical Truth About America's Death Penalty, which, in great scriptural detail, challenges the belief held by many American Christians that the Bible supports the death penalty.
The use of scripture by prosecutors seeking the death penalty is not as rare as it might seem in a country that purports to keep church and state separate, Recinella said.
"We just had a case in the Florida Supreme Court, decided last summer, that cited Romans 13. You have to be ready to answer the scriptural arguments to convince people of faith that they don't have to support the death penalty."
There is no lack of work for the Recinellas.
Florida's 390 Death Row prisoners, with an overflow wing for 35 at Florida State Prison, total the second-largest number of Death Row prisoners in the United States, after California, which has more than 600.
Despite his grim job description, Recinella looks for the bright side. He has seen 10 prisoners convert to the Catholic faith in his nine years as lay minister. He refuses to take credit.
He is more focused on eliminating the death penalty and putting himself out of work.
"Is it necessary to create a whole other circle of agony? It can't be the best way," Recinella said. "We can protect society without killing ourselves."