Pope Francis honors Florida death row chaplain with ‘Guardian of Life’ award

Florida

FILE — In this Sept. 20, 2020 file photo, Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – Pope Francis has bestowed a newly created Guardian of Life award on a Tallahassee man for his work counseling those on death row and in solitary confinement. 

The recipient gave up a lucrative Wall Street financial career after a near-death experience.

Dale Recinella was a financial services lawyer in his early thirties until one day in 1988, he ate a raw oyster he shouldn’t have.

“Where I contracted Vibrio vulnificus, a generally fatal flesh-eating bacteria from a bad oyster,” said Recinella.

Since that near-death experience, Brother Dale as he has become known, has counseled thousands of prisoners over the last 24 years.

“He’s come along at a great time to highlight the injustices that are inherent in our death penalty,” said Michael Sheedy with the Florida Catholic Conference.

His efforts were honored in September by Pope Francis with the first-ever Guardian of Life Award.

“And the church is speaking for what it believes is god’s heart, that there is no reason to be executing people in our day and age,” said Recinella.

The award was the reason for a hundred-strong virtual recognition Wednesday, which included these words from exonerated Juan Melendez. 

“Dale helped me believe in dreams,” said Melendez, who spent a total of 17 years on death row.

It has been 26 months since Florida has had an execution. Brother Dale said that shows people are still safe.

“Do we really have to kill them? And I don’t think we do. I don’t think we’ve ever been less safe for not killing anybody who we can incarcerate and protect society from,” said Recinella.

Death row’s population stood at 304 Wednesday morning, down more than a hundred from its peak.

Dale’s wife Susan, a psychologist, has been with him counseling inmates the entire time. 

Florida has executed 99 people since 1979. At the same time, 30 people on death row have been released.

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