In Illinois the very serious season of Lent began with a very serious decision. On Ash Wednesday Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn signed into law a bill that abolishes the death penalty in his state.
In doing so he made Illinois the fourth state since 2004 - after New York, New Jersey and New Mexico - to kill the death penalty. Illinois has long had a tragic record on capital punishment which has led to the exoneration of 20 death row inmates because of their faulty convictions.
While states like Illinois, New York, New Jersey and New Mexico are to be lauded for abolishing the death penalty, many more states have ignored their lead and continue to use capital punishment. Too often a flawed system of criminal justice has led to the unjust conviction of the innocent. Since 1973, at least 139 people from 26 states have been exonerated from death row after evidence of innocence was found. Rather than showing the system is working, exonerations provide evidence that our system is flawed.
In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, the late Pope John Paul II challenges followers of Christ to be “unconditionally pro-life” and reminds us that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform” (Gospel of Life, 27). The church’s consistent stance for the dignity and respect of all human life, even the life of a violent criminal, must be heard above the cries for revenge and retribution.
We join with the Catholic bishops of Illinois in praising Governor Quinn‘s abolition of the death penalty and in recognizing that “the end of the use of the death penalty advances the development of a culture of life.” We hope and pray that more governors will come to realize that the death penalty is not the answer many claim it to be and begin to advance the culture of life across the nation.