Bishop July radio show focuses on death penalty Print this post

Bob Reddy (Florida Catholic)


One of the most widely debated issues in the United States today is the use of the death penalty. An highly publicized case in Arkansas and the planned resumption of executions in Florida makes this topic one that needs to be addressed from a Catholic perspective.

To this end, Bishop Frank J. Dewane used his July 27 “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” Relevant Radio show, to talk about the death penalty, why Catholics should be against it, and what the faithful can do to end it.

The radio show’s timing coincides with a mid-July announcement by Florida Gov. Rick Scott that an execution has been scheduled for Aug. 24, which constitutes a resumption following a more than 18-month hiatus.

As Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development the death penalty in the United States falls under his purview. As chair, Bishop Dewane encourages people to be more attuned to what is happening in Florida and nationwide regarding the death penalty debate with the cruelty of executions, the fact that the death penalty does not reduce crimes, botched executions, fights over the medications used, and more people exonerated from death row each year.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane during a taping of his monthly Relevant Radio show on July 19 in Sarasota with host Susan Laielli and guest Mark Elliott, Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

“For these reasons, the number of people who are opposed to the death penalty has increased in recent years,” the Bishop said. “We do not want this license to kill to be used so freely as it has been in the past. We want it stopped. There is nothing restorative about killing the person.”

Bishop Dewane explained that the Church’s opposition to the death penalty is nothing new. St. John Paul II wrote in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), that in developed nations, such as the United States, where maximum security prisons can neutralize an incarcerated person’s threat to the general public, that such exceptional circumstances do not exist because “modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.”

As Chairman of the Committee, Bishop Dewane was outspoken when eight men were scheduled to be executed in a short period of time in Arkansas because the lethal drugs were scheduled to expire. Ultimately, four were executed. “This was an example which created unnecessary suffering. There was an outcry because there was something very wrong taking place. A rush to death is never a good idea.”

Bishop Dewane noted that many are very concerned when an animal is involved and needs to be rescued. “I’m not opposed to that at all, but what do we do for human person like you and me? We have to treat human beings at least equal or better, and one way is by not put them through a death that is really torturous and painful.”

To this end, the Bishop was one of the first to sign the Catholic Mobilizing Network Pledge to End the Death Penalty in May. By this pledge campaign it is hoped that American Catholics will join with people of good will to work to end the death penalty in the United States.

The Bishop pointed out that, as a nation, we need to reassess what we are doing on this issue because we are one of a very few countries which still have the death penalty, yet, at the same time is a leader in providing humanitarian aid. “The death penalty is not humane at all. It is the taking of human life.”

Importantly, the Church stands with victims of atrocious crimes and their families while also urging for justice, the Bishop stressed. Those who mourn the loss of dear friends and family members experience deep wounds, and the Church stands in solidarity with them in their intense suffering. Indeed, serious criminal activity must be met with appropriate punishment, one that is punitive and restorative. “Still, many families have asked that the death penalty not be imposed on those who have murdered their loved ones.”

Joining Bishop Dewane on the radio show was Mark Elliott, Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which works with in support of groups who are united to abolish the death penalty in Florida. “As citizens of Florida, we are compliant in executions. They are done on our behalf and at our expense. It is a burden we all share.”

Elliott also spoke of Ralph Wright Jr., who in May became the 27th person in Florida exonerated from death row. Wright, who was active duty military and a former deputy sheriff when convicted, was exonerated due to lack of evidence. He is also the 159th person exonerated from death row nationwide since 1973.

Bishop Dewane noted that this example just reinforces the flaws in the death penalty process and that more must join the fight to end this archaic form of punishment. With an execution scheduled in Florida for Aug. 24, the time to contact Gov. Scott and request for him to commute the sentences of all death row inmates to life without the possibility of parole, the Bishop said.

To hear more on the death penalty from the “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” radio show, it airs at 10:30 a.m. on the last Friday of each month (July 28), on three Relevant Radio stations in Southwest Florida: 1660 AM in Naples, as well as 1410 AM and 106.7 FM in Fort Myers. Encore presentations air the following day (Saturday, July 29) at 7:30 p.m., and then again on Sunday at 7:30 a.m.

For those outside of Fort Myers and Naples, or if you missed the show, “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” can be heard as a podcast by visiting the Diocese website at and clicking on the “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” icon on the bottom of the page where all shows are archived.

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