U.S., Illinois bishops laud repeal of state’s death penalty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) congratulated the Illinois bishops, the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty, and all advocates for their work to bring about the repeal of the death penalty in Illinois.

“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 at the USCCB.

Governor Pat Quinn signed the repeal of the state’s death penalty March 9, making Illinois the sixteenth U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.

The passage of this legislation would help “to begin building a culture of life in our country,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a March 3 letter to Governor Quinn.

“No longer will there be a risk in Illinois that an innocent person will be convicted and sentenced to death,” said the Catholic Conference of Illinois in a March 9 statement. “Furthermore, 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.”

In an interview with The Catholic Post in January after the legislation reached Gov. Quinn’s desk, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria said the state is incapable of imposing “the extreme punishment” in a just and equitable way.

“We have the evidence of that all over,” said Bishop Jenky, who was involved in the issue as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Bishop Jenky said his prayers and his heart go out to the victims of violent crime and “to the people who stand between us and crime” — including police officers and prison guards. But for those who are guilty, “I believe we have a better means to protect people” than the death penalty.

He said he understands that some will disagree with the bishops on this issue, but said their teaching is “a call to a deeper insight and conversion.”

Following is the full text of the Catholic Conference Illinois statement, released late Wednesday:

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“Today, Governor Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 3539 to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. the bill, which passed the General Assembly this past January, 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 law becomes effective on July 1, 2011.

“As we begin the Lenten season on 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. The end of the use of the death penalty advances the development of a culture of life in our state. Furthermore, 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 Catholic Conference of Illinois commends the Governor on his approval of this legislation and thanks all the fellow advocates and Illinois lawmakers who have supported the repeal of the death penalty in Illinois.”

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