Three Steps Forward, One Millennium Back
I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
November 15, 2007
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

Three Steps Forward, One Millennium Back
By: Dale Recinella

It’s Saturday of the Florida Bishops’ Statewide Respect Life Conference in Orlando, Florida.

The talks have included the seamless garment of the unconditional pro-life stance that Pope John Paul II challenged us to embrace during his visit to America in January of 1999.

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. … I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”

When four of us college students stood before the National Meeting of the Right to Life in Minnesota over thirty years ago, it seemed that abortion was the only life issue. We requested funding for the embryonic Youth Pro-Life Coalition to organize opposition to abortion on college campuses.

With the leadership of our Pope and Bishops, our understanding of pro-life has deepened considerably since Roe v. Wade. It had to. Like the storm surge before an advancing hurricane, the waters of the culture of death have swamped us on every front. The levee necessary to reclaim the ground for life spans the spectrum of human dignity in the modern world. For some of us, the most difficult ground in which to anchor a foundation is the soil of culpability, the death penalty for the guilty.

Florida has been called the belt-buckle of the death penalty belt. That’s significant as Florida has backed away from the gross inhumanity of the electric chair, has legislatively outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded and has judicially banned the execution of juveniles who committed their crimes when under seventeen years of age. These steps over the last few years have seemed decidedly in the pro-life direction.

Now there is a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot: Amendment One. If it passes, Florida will become the first state in America that has the death penalty in its state constitution. The Bishops of Florida have urged defeat of Amendment One. It’s a hard pill to swallow for some of the conference attendees.

“This isn’t really church teaching,” a bewildered participant catches my sleeve near the mezzanine coffee station. “I heard that earlier this year Cardinal Avery Dulles said this anti-death penalty stuff is from secular humanism.”

“That’s not what he said,” I offer softly. “Cardinal Dulles outlined an alternative analysis, addressing the traditional functions of punishment and balancing competing values with the common good. Yet, he came to the same conclusion as the Pope and the Bishops: abandonment of the death penalty. That’s very important.”

“Yeah, but he said something about secular humanism, too, didn’t he?”

“He addressed the possibility that European opposition to the death penalty may be rooted historically in Enlightenment thinkers. He noted the historical coincidence of timing with the Enlightenment and said that European abolition of the death penalty may owe more to secular humanism than the Gospel.”

“Well, what do you have to say to that?”

“We need to look farther back than the 1700s. Cesare Beccaria, who published On Crimes And Punishments in 1764 Tuscany, didn’t drop out of the sky. The thoughts behind his book which began the movement to abolish tortures and the death penalty came from somewhere.”

“You mean somewhere anti-Catholic?”

“Not at all. Just the opposite. Scholars have documented that such men in the Italian Renaissance drew their inspiration from the religious inspiration of the Church Fathers a millennium before. The words of Beccaria and others were the echoes of the unconditional pro-life Gospel legacy of the Church, echoes of voices that may have been unquoted for hundreds and hundreds of years—but echoes all the same. Our Bishops are urging us not to jump backwards a thousand years, not to bury our pro-life Gospel legacy again by formally enshrining the culture of death in Florida’s State Constitution.”


*Update: This dialogue took place at the October 2002 Florida Bishops’ Statewide Respect Life Conference. Five years ago, in the statewide referendum of November 2002, Florida approved Amendment One, amending its constitution to insert the death penalty and placing restrictions on any attempts by the State Supreme Court to limit its application.

First published: The Florida Catholic, October 31, 2002 © 2002 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic. Used with permission. No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission. All rights reserved Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.

I Was In Prison
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This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.

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Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

If you Like this Weekly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
Sr. Patricia Proctor
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.

This ezine edited by Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC - Poor Clare Sister
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach