Early on the morning of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent’s season of penitence, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois went through some final, solitary rumination. For much of his political career, he had supported capital punishment, albeit with reservations, even debating it at the dinner table with his mother. Now a legislative bill abolishing it was waiting for his signature, or his veto.
In the preceding weeks, he had heard arguments on the subject from prosecutors who spoke of the death penalty’s deterrent effect and from the grieving relatives of murder victims who saw in it fierce justice. He had reacquainted himself with about 20 capital cases overturned by DNA evidence or tainted by judicial error.
But on that decisive morning of March 9, he laid aside the secular factors and opened his Bible to a passage in II Corinthians about human imperfection. He prayed. And when he signed the bill striking down the death penalty, he cited one influence by name: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.