SPRINGIELD, Ill. -- The repeal of the death penalty "advances the development of a culture of life in our state," the Catholic Conference of Illinois said March 9.
"As we begin the Lenten season on this Ash Wednesday, and we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus and the mystery of his death and resurrection, there is no better time for this landmark law to be approved," said the conference, which represents the state's Catholic bishops on public policy issues.
The statement was issued the same day Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill to abolish the death penalty, making Illinois the 16th U.S. state to do so.
Effective July 1, the law also will direct funding to services for victims' families and for law enforcement training.
"No longer will there be a risk in Illinois that an innocent person will be convicted and sentenced to death," the Catholic conference said. At the same time, it added, society will continue to be protected and those who commit crimes will still be held accountable through alternatives to the death penalty, including life without parole.
The state conference commended Quinn for his actions and death penalty opponents for their commitment to working for the repeal. Officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington lauded the state conference and others who fought for the law, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
"These advocates have worked tirelessly to ensure that Illinois joins the growing momentum to turn away from the use of the death penalty in our country," said Kathy Saile, director of domestic social development for the USCCB.
According to an AP story, Quinn, a Catholic, said his decision to sign the measure was the hardest one he has had to make as governor. His action came two months after the Legislature passed the measure.
He also commuted the sentences of the 15 prisoners who remained on death row. The men will now serve life in prison with no chance for parole.
In an earlier letter to Quinn, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said repealing the death penalty would help "to begin building a culture of life in our country."