*On Ash Wednesday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law abolishing the death penalty in his state, adding the Land of Lincoln to the growing list of 16 states where capital punishment is no longer an option.

“It is impossible to create a perfect system, free of all mistakes,” Quinn said after signing the death penalty law, which takes effect July 1. “I think it’s the right and just thing to abolish the death penalty and punish those who commit heinous crimes — evil people — with life in prison without parole or any chance of release.”

Quinn, who is Catholic, revealed that he turned to his faith — to the Bible and to Catholic leaders and tradition — in contemplating the bill lawmakers delivered to him in January.

The governor even quoted Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the beloved archbishop of Chicago who died in 1996, saying, “In a complex, sophisticated democracy like ours, means other than the death penalty are available and can be used to protect society.”

Religious leaders have been at the forefront of the death penalty abolitionist movement in Illinois and nationwide. But there has been a disconnect between their activism and the opinions of their flocks.

According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 62 percent of Americans support the death penalty in murder cases, with only 30 percent saying they oppose it. That figure is nearly identical to the results of a similar survey in 2007, but lower than a 1996 survey, when 78 percent of Americans said they supported capital punishment for murder and just 18 percent said they were opposed.

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